Iron Dome explained – and why it is not a panacea

Find below a reblog from the Conversation‘s Raoul Heinrichs with friendly support of the Conversation webpage.

Explainer: Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system

By Raoul Heinrichs, Australian National University

The breakdown of an initial ceasefire between Israeli forces and Hamas last weekend played out to a familiar soundtrack: the wail of air-raid sirens and the menacing hiss of incoming rocket fire, followed in many cases by the concussive crackle of Iron Dome missiles intercepting their targets.

The Iron Dome anti-missile system first attracted attention two years ago, when it achieved between an 80-90% success rate.

But the sudden escalation of rocket attacks from Gaza in recent weeks, coupled with the success of Iron Dome in averting death and destruction by neutralising rockets headed for populated areas, has renewed interest in the system’s workings and wider strategic implications.

A ‘system of systems’

So how does Iron Dome operate? In the arcane lexicon of military technology, Iron Dome is a “system of systems” and comprises three principal components:

  1. a radar tracking station
  2. a control-centre
  3. up to three missile batteries.

Each component is responsible for a distinct phase of what military wonks call the “detect-to-engage” cycle. When a rocket is fired, it is detected in-flight by an advanced radar specially designed to track small, fast-moving objects.

That data is then passed via wireless connection to the control centre. Here, teams of Israeli military personnel assess the trajectory of the incoming rocket and determine whether or not it should be intercepted. Given the high cost of Iron Dome’s missiles, only those headed for populated areas are selected for interception.

When it’s necessary to intercept a rocket, a launch order is transmitted to the Iron Dome missile batteries, and a Tamir interceptor missile, using a sophisticated guidance system and information from the control-centre, is directed into the rocket’s path. The whole process takes between two to three minutes.

Iron Dome is capable of intercepting missiles launched from between four and 70km away.

Iron Dome was developed in just four years and has been in service since 2011. Surprisingly, the impetus for the project came not from Hamas.

Despite its prolific use of rockets in the years following Israel’s 2005 disengagement from Gaza, Hamas rockets mostly fell harmlessly on sparsely populated Negev. So long as casualties remained low, and damage to property limited, the rockets were considered more a political nuisance than a national emergency.

The birth of Iron Dome

This perception was shattered in July 2006, with the outbreak of war against Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. What began as a terrorist attack on Israel’s northern border quickly escalated into an all-out exchange.

Over the course of a month, Hezbollah fired around 4,000 rockets into northern Israel, necessitating an expansive campaign of air-strikes, a blockade and a costly ground invasion. By the time Israeli forces eventually brought the rocket-attacks under control, the damage was done.

The daily barrages exacted a human and economic toll and dealt a serious blow to Israeli morale. Out of the recriminations which followed, Iron Dome was born.

The problem with rockets

For Hamas and Hezbollah, rockets have long been attractive. They are cheap, highly mobile and their use requires no great technical expertise.

Rockets can be launched at Israeli cities from inconspicuous locations well within friendly territory, without the need for air-superiority. Rockets are also readily available from Iran, a country determined to undermine Israeli security. Most importantly, rockets are effective at instilling terror amongst the populations against which they are directed.

An Israeli Iron Dome interceptor blasts apart a missile fired from the Gaza Strip.
EPA/Jim Hollander

There are two main reasons Iron Dome offers Israel incomplete protection. First, each Tamir missile costs Israel between US$50-90,000, compared with only a few hundred dollars apiece for the rockets they intercept. Given such a profound cost imbalance, a sustained rocket campaign could have a crippling effect on Israel’s defence budget.

Second, rocket attacks are effective regardless of whether they hit their targets. The disruption they cause is what matters most. Civilians still take cover as rockets approach. Sirens sound, which is frightening and humiliating. The mere possibility that rockets could cause death and destruction is enough to sow terror on the ground.

Despite its apparent success, Iron Dome does not represent a significant technological breakthrough in missile defence. The reasons are fairly straight-forward.

The kind of rockets Iron Dome can intercept only fly short distances. Lacking any meaningful guidance system, they fly slowly along a low, predictable arc and are relatively easy to track and destroy.

Long-range ballistic missiles, by contrast, leave the atmosphere and re-enter at supersonic speeds. While they also follow a parabolic arc, they can be assisted by decoys, multiple manoeuvrable warheads, and electronic counter-measures – and the difficulty of interception can be increased by the launch of additional missiles.

For these reasons, and despite an impressive 90% success rate, Iron Dome remains a stop-gap measure tailored to the specific circumstances in Israel and of questionable value elsewhere.

The Conversation

Raoul Heinrichs does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.


Here’s the Thing about Democracy

Hello everybody,

One of modern history’s most famous enfant terribles, Winston Churchill is quoted:

“Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried.”

– Winston Churchill

Or is it? I, as most European kids my generation, was raised in blind belief in democracy. Really, in retrospect it was some kind of a religion. A religion where there was only one dogma, and who ever would question it would be an outcast. A individual considered utterly insentient a waste of time to discussed with. Questioning democracy was unquestionable. And so it was to me, in a way, loving democracy and blindly defending it whenever possible was kind bred into me.

“Democracy is itself, a religious faith. For some it comes close to being the only formal religion they have.”

– E. B. White

Of course for a pretty good reason given what had happened in my country a mere half century ago. Democracy, I was made to understand, is a beautiful gift one has to cherish and take care of, for loosing it was the worst that could possibly happen and, certainly, the end to all freedom. Well, actually, the end to all the life I was used to.

Then came 9/11 and afterwards came the Patriot Act and alike bills all over the world. With it came the end of many privileges of democratic societiesand a widespread questioning of the extend to which “democratic” nations could still be considered democratic. The US for instance, where apparently elections were stolen from the elected president in order to bring another man to power. Where people were denied basic civil rights because of a crime they were merely suspected of or, even worse, just because of their skin colour or an interest group they belonged to. It came a time where zillions of people all over the world rallied for peacehowever remained unheard by their elected democratic leaders. Unthinkable things have happened during those last years and they have happened in front of all of our eyes. However for one reason or another suddenly no knight in shiny armour could be found to stand up for our all-holied democracy.

Whilst everybody who knows a little about education of children, knows that being a good rule model is the most important thing to do. Every parent knows he cannot make his kid obey rules he is seen ignoring. However no democratic leader I have seen doing the “free elections”-rally to Backwardistan your random challenged country lately could be bothered to be a good example of living democracy in his own nation. Let’s face it: People in the western world just don’t give a shit about democracy any longer. They don’t attend elections. They don’t engage in democracy or government (either because they can’t be bothered to or because their “elected” leaders can’t be bothered to). Yet all of this doesn’t prevent any of us for a split second of going of to every given “non-democratic” nation and praising democracy as if it alone was the guarantee for any given utopia you could imagine.

Might it be that it is a little daring to claim so wholeheartedly democracy was the only acceptable form of governmentfor all of the world’s nations regardless their culture? I mean … if we really do belief in democracy, why can’t we vote against it? And why don’t we grant that very right to every other given people? The only thing the 20th century’s global raid for democracy has produced, is a number of pseudo-democracies, where there are elections held with a known outcome. Where the party of possible leaders is so limited due to socialisation, ethnic structures etc. that it just doesn’t make any differencewho’s elected in the end. Is this really better for people then living with the way of government they had beforeand had possibly had working for millenia?

“The spirit of democracy cannot be imposed from without. It has to come from within.”

– M.K. Ghandi

For quite a bunch of countries democracy really seems to work pretty well. Or let’s say it provides the people with exactly that government they deserve. But where different ethnic or religious groups with different objectives and philosophies can be found sharing one nation it gets difficult. Then democracy is turned into as abstruse sets of rules as for who has to be represented in parliament through whom as can be seen in Lebanon. Positive discrimination still is discrimination, guys.

A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.

– Th. Jefferson

Perhaps this is one of the biggest issues of modern democracy: It works well for majorities, but if you’re a minority you’re screwed. Whilst there’s all that talk about democracy guaranteeing everybody’s freedom I just don’t get it where freedom is when, as a member of a minority group, I have to step back from my rights, my way of living, because the majority group has another philosophy towards it. Just think about this: If the whole world was really democratic as a single meta-nation we would be governed by Chinesefor Chinese are the most numerous and could elect their government as world government. Is that really desirable? Do you want your country to end up like Tibet just because its smaller then China?

Even if people don’t like it: Tending for democracy, freedom, all of that parcel we call “western” means questioning it. Looking for points of friction, for issues we have to care for. In a way those challenging democracy most are, in the end, its most important supporters.



Prisoner Swap

Shalom lakh,

it’s days like this when I can’t help but shake my head in disbelieve. And anger. A lot of anger no matter whether I know that anger hardly ever contributes to a situation in a positive way. I have a good friend of mine who is Pagan and very much into Star Wars and the Jedi knights. She, too, thinks that anger is the closest road to the “dark side of the force.” To abuse of power and the production of even more agony.

“A jedi shall not feel anger nor hatred nor love.” – Joda, Star Wars Episode I

And the thing with emotions is that the more power you posses the more dangerous they are if they lead you to taking actions. This is why the Jedi, the most powerful among the galaxies, are to keep from these most powerful emotions. On days like this I know why I could never be a Jedi nor a High Priestress. I just couldn’t see how I could force myself into remaining quiet and calm today when I feel like destroying something. Anything. Even if it is only people’s believe.

Five terrorists and some truck loads of bodies (exactly 199 according to ynet 185 according to JPost) left Israel today on their journey to freedom in Lebanon. What for? For the little bit of hope that was left for Israeli soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev’s families. Despite rumors that had been around for weeks now that both were long dead. Quite sure the IDF and Israeli Government knew very well that all hope was to be lost yet still it wouldn’t keep them from the prisoner swap. So what returned to Israel today after 735 days was no more then the bodies of Regev and Goldwasser which have been identified and transfered to their home towns for military burials so their families, among them Goldwasser’s wive, can at least say farewell and, finally, grieve so that hopefully one day they will be able to let go of their beloved ones.

The family of Gilad Shalit though is still caught in the spheres in between fear and hope. And he, too, might be the one where hope is still existing for he is reported to be held in Gaza 752 days after his abduction during an attack at Kerem shalom on 25 June 2006. 752 days as a captive of Hamas … I daren’t think about it. Especially after Hamas refused to share any details on Regev and Goldwasser’s death. They for sure do so for a reason though I that reason might well be people’s imagination.

As for the group that left Israel today I guess they spend something rather close to a nice beach holiday in Elat in Israel. Samir Kuntar, most well-known of the group for smashing a small girl’s head on a rock when caught by security forces, is reported to have earned a B.A. degree during his time in prison. I doubt Shalit, Regev or Goldwasser have had the opportunity to read as much as a single book. Now Kuntar, who has earned the rank of a hero of the “Palestinian’s fight for freedom” has returned to Lebanon where he will find little time for studies anytime soon for endless celebrations.

In fact the parties have already started as a massive celebration of propaganda as Letters from Rungholt‘s Lila reports:

Shortly after the implementation of the Israel-Hizbullah prisoner exchange deal, candy was handed out to residents in Gaza

and of course

[Hamas’ Prime Minister of the Gaza Strip] Ismail Haniyeh, congratulated Kuntar and Hizbullah for “the great victory of the resistance, which proved the rightness of our way.” (source)

The PA’s president Mahmoud Abbas naturally was no different.

Abbas congratulated the family of released Lebanese murderer Samir Kuntar and sent his condolences to the Lebanese families receiving their loved ones’ bodies as part of the deal. (source)

Of course none of them, all convicted criminals was sent to prison. I mean … I can emphasise with the wish to execute your citizen’s sentence in your own country where you can make sure they are threatened according to your understanding of justice. That is something that happens all the time all over the world. But then, if I think about it a little longer, I am afraid they are being threatened according to those people’s understanding of justice in which a murderer of a child can be a national hero because of that.

As for Israel where life is often described as being sacred a commenter at Israel Matzav however put in words what quite a lot of people, including myself feel today:

What I don’t understand Carl – is why no one in the IDF takes on himself to have Samir Kuntar shot dead. Nothing in the deal says Israel has to return that butcher of a Jewish family alive. You know my feeling already. That would be more than Hezbollah deserves and I don’t see why Israel has to keep that promise to them.

I think there’s little to add to that. That point should have been made clear by now. Very clear in fact. Whatever more has to be said can wait.

may memory lighten pain



just as usual

Hey there,

I have to cede that I grew a little tired of current Israeli and Middle Eastern Politics lately. In the end it’s just always the same. Some people dreaming of peace in the most wonderful words and so full of hope that one wants to believe it. Others state that there will never ever be peace at long as one or both parties were alive for hating each other was kinda breed into them. And Israel is holding more or less sincere peace talks with Syria which are said to include the possibility of a complete withdrawal from the Golan Heights which in turn is used for pre-campaign PR by former and future Prime Ministers. Meanwhile still nobody could tell me why in all the world Syria would secretly investigate nuclear technology if she is so interested in an enduring peace with Israel.

That Israel still is a rather functioning democracy despite corruption is being ignored by most “outsiders” investigating the “conflict” just as usual. There it is just so easy for a single man to make commitments but in fact it of course isn’t easy at all as shown today. Perhaps we are just so used to  at least one party of a conflict – usually the “bad guys” – being a dictatorship where there are no such things as  different political parties or the population wanting to have a word at it.

And of course there’s Lebanon where Hizbullah (the guys that organized the 2006-attacks on northern Israel that eventually led to the summer 2006 Lebanon war) just earned veto power within the government and Fuad Siniora finally stepped back after having fought a really astonishing fight for his country. It is yet to be awaited whether the short-term stabilisation of Lebanon for the price of giving more power to Hizbullah and giving them the message “you can press us into things if you just scare us with another civil war” will prove expedient on the long run for both Lebanon and the whole region.

So much to keep you updated for the moment.



The Parents Circle

Hi there,

I just found out Lila from Letters from Rungholt is back to blogging after rather long absence. Welcome back!

And exactly there I found the one link I absolutely want to pass on to you, who might not be able to read Lila’s German blog: It’s the “Parents Circle“, a organization that brings “beraved” families, meaning families who lost someone in the Middle East Conflict, together. So palestinian-arab and israeli families get to talk and forgive each other and so on.

I really love the idea. It’s a gorgeouse one. Yet somewhere in the back of my mind I know that those 400 families are just a tiny little piece of the whole picture. Furthermore I am 100% sure that a majority of both Israelis and Palestian-Arabs would be very willing to sit down on a table and not only discuss peace but practise it. In the end every israeli student shared their rooms in the dormitories with Arabs (so much as for Israel being an “apartheid state” …). And as important as it is to keep both groups talking to each other and encourage mutual contact I’d wish that another group of people, the government of both countries is made to think. Somehow. Either that or just exchanged completely with other people that still have their brains where they belong. And this does include all of those foreign governments and diplomats who fly to the Middle East every once in a while for peace-talk-tourism and a little bit of PR.

By the by: Have you followed the news about Lebanon these days? It looked like another civil war just arround the corner but the sitation seems to be more stabel now. Only for what price? As much as was made public the Siniora-government gave in to Hizbullah’s request and for sure the militia went out of the crisis even stronger then before and I doubt there’s a lot to keep it from trying once more. Don’t get me wrong: I wouldn’t take Siniora’s job as a gift! It’s amazing how he at least tries to keep things going in Lebanon and managed to keep it out of civil war so many times. Yet looking at it from a mid- to long-term perspective I don’t like what I see. And looking at the issue from the israeli angle I like it even less.

And then there’s UN with it’s still ongoing mission in Southern Lebanon. I didn’t hear any single word about them. Neither sometime in the last months or during the recent crisis. I’d wonder what they do all day if I didn’t know all too well …

Letters from Rungholt’s Lila, who’s living in a Kibbuz in the North, wrote that they are already fearing for rocket attacks from the North again which would make Israel a country with two fronts to fight at whilst there’s no reason to trust either Syria or the PA’s government plus Iran still capable of nearly everything.

Consider that and ask yourself why Israelis seem to be a little paranoid about their neighbours … As for me the pure idea of having rockets fly on my homeland from one destination is enough to understand a lot; If that happened to any European state the whole world would be fast to – at least talk about – help. But in Israel it can happen for months and months and months and nobody reacts safe going after Israel for reacting …

Strange world yet unfortunately just the usual stuff 😦