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.


Chaos and Confusion

Shalom everybody,

there is a comment I’ve had to approve for quite a while now. I don’t know whether you know how it works on WordPress: but basically you can choose to approve each comment right away or have the comments of first-time posters emailed for approval – which I think works great against spam. Posters already known to the blog, by their email address I’d suppose, get approved right away and all I get is a notification via mail. Which comes in pretty handy if you are a lazy bum like me not checking in on the blog as often as I probably should.

So this comment reached me during my mail account right after it was posted on April 23. I probably got it before coffee or during some other altered state of mind since when I skimmed through the comment that was supposed to go on the “about Migdalit” page I quickly decided “spam” and left it alone, again being too lazy to log into the blog just to spam one comment. It was only today that I logged in – because I got another very nice comment that made me aware that probably I should really write more often and that there are people out there who actually give a shit about this blog.

However, approving said second comment I came back at the “spam”-comment and, right before the moment I would have spammed it stopped. ‘Wow’, I thought, ‘that’s the first spam that replies to a former comment.’ It wasn’t spam, indeed, and I feel like I have to apologize to its author, Òlofur Björnsson, for the long wait. But then, reading it again I became a bit wary about what to do with it:

Hello Alan [Price] if the Nazis had succeeded in exterminating the entire Jewish population of the World perhaps that would solved the issue of ” the extraordinary chaos and confusion that has reigned ever since “, that you speak of. By the way Mr Price are you a racist scumbag ?

I can only assume this was meant to be rather sarcastic but still, it leaves behind a bad taste. And than attributing Alan, who by the way runs an interesting, though not easy blog himself, as a “racist scumbag”, isn’t quite following the netiquette (do today’s kids know about the netiquette, after all?). So Òlofur, if you come back to the blog and read this, would you please be so kind to clarify. I’d be especially interested in where you find Alan a “racist scumbag” as the comment you refer to just says:

I am interested in the history of the Jewish immigration to Palestine prior to statehood and all of the extraordinary chaos and confusion that has reigned ever since.

And even after more then a year in German exile, where everybody really is oversensitive to any syllable that might be racist I just can’t find any racism in there. I’d rather second Alan on the term “chaos and confusion” when talking about different historic narratives in the region – which of course doesn’t exclude the option that some of this “chaos and confusion” was brought about on purpose. For bot you, Òlofur and Alan I’ve kinda summed it up a while a ago – as far as all of this can be summed up in a single post, you’re welcome to resume any pending discussion there or in this post’s comment section, but for the time being, Òlofur, I’m not approving your comment on the “About Migdalit” page, as I really think it doesn’t belong there.

so long and hopefully being back with more soon



“The Jewish History ended in 70 AD”

“The Jewish History ended with the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD, as it regards Palestine, since then, for 1940 years its heritage has been Christian-Muslim”

where would you think you’ll find this sentence, printed on one of a series of colorful posters advocating the declaration of the Al-Aqusa Mosque as World Heritage, by the way. Whatever you thought: think again. I just found it in one of United Nations Organisation Vienna HQ’s conference facilities.

Seriousely, if I wouldn’t quite know what to think about UNO already I’d be severely shocked. Luckily, though, I’ve already had enough of UN and it’s officials so it feels more like “and I had hoped so much there wouldn’t be any of it this time

Hope dies last.

A note on Israeli “Settlement expansion”

Shalom everybody,

as it is a repeating topic in the media these days – since US President Obama started his obligatory piece of Middle East Peace Rally – I felt like adding a paragraph about the “expansion” of Israeli “Settlements” in the Western Jordan territories:

“Expanding” of settlements does not mean building a new settlement! Neither does it mean transfering even more (Jewish) peopleto already existing settlements in the West bank. The only thing it means, in fact, is building new housesfor people already living there. Children born to “settlers”, who have meanwhile grown up and set up families on their own, so apparently need a home on their own to host it.

Actually this is a big problems within the settlements: The Israeli government, for whom settlement politics are an issue they can only fail with, avoids “expanding” any settlements because of the international and national hullabaloo it causes due to press attendance. However settlers have always been a rather fertile species– in fact they are upon the little areas of Israel where there is a positive birth : death – ratio – and their numerous offspring has meanwhile reached the age to set up own families. Yet the impossibility to build new houses makes it pretty tough for many young “settler” families. They are forced to choose between either leaving behind their home and the support of their extended families there to go to some place in “Israel proper” where they won’t be able to afford a house anyhow, or stay in their village where they’ll have to make do with some tiny hutor staying with their families in their tiny huts. Other then the impression implicated in the media settlers don’t quite live in luxurious estates. Most of them are happy with very little, as they tend to be very passionate about living in their settlementsand in their, often irregular, ways, however there’s a limit to all passion.

So if PM Netanyahu “expands” some settlements again you can be sure as hell he just had to cause else he would have been slaughtered by a mob of raging “settlers” sick of living in overcrowded houses hosting three generations. And you can be sure as hell he’s not going to provide one more square meter of roofed space then absolutely necessary to keep that mob from ending his existence (at least the political one).

Well, actually if I think about it that way, I wouldn’t object of him undercutting that limit all too much …




Hey folks,

So tell me your most favorite “apartheid” regime. The one state that is still treating its citizens and residents according to their skin color. Israel, naturally, but, oups, Ramallah, we’ve got a problem here: It’s just all so tough to distinguish your poor discriminated Muslim Palestinian from your evil oppressive, conspiring Jewish Israeli. For one reason or another they just look so similar you could mistake them for each other and accidentally pity the Jew instead of the Muslim.

However there are states that lack this problem. States where a single look from the far distance is sufficient to decide who’s good, poor and oppressed from who’s evil, rich and oppressing. What a good luck god gave people different skin color! (Just why didn’t he do it in Israel / Palestine?) How else could your random binary thinking neighbor possibly be made to tell one from the other?

The state I’m talking about is the homeland of the concept so eagerly adapted by evil, oppressing Israel. It’s the state that used to be the only economically stable place in all Africa until … well … until the oppressed took over from the oppressing thereby somehow forgetting to ask the oppressors how the heck a state as big as that is run. And then that nation I’m talking about shares one more affinity with evil oppressive Israel: Their affection towards corrupt rapist head of states of the kind any sane person would put straight into jail (and no, certainly not to Robben Island!). As far as Mr. Zuma is considered there however is even one more demerit to add to the record (don’t tell Mr. Katzav, he might go into depression for knowing that there are more messed up heads then his governing nations): His highly visible lack of competence. Or could you picture any official of a state facing 21,5 % HIV infections among its citizens declaring – during his lawsuit for rape – he wasn’t afraid of an HIV infection for, of course, he took a hot shower after intercourse!?

Apartheid officially came to an end in 1990 yet in daily life it is still as existent as in 1980. They might use the same supermarket these days but there are black pubs and white pubs, there are black schools and white schools, there are black sports (soccer) and white sports (rugby) and of course there is a black party (well, two in he meantime) and a white party (two them are enough anyway, isn’t it?). You can comfortably life in South Africa as a white person without any danger of having to face a black person in any of your communities. But of course African society did improve. These days racial boundaries can be crossed. When a black person climbs up the career ladder to where only white people used to be, for instance, he or she will be considered a white person. A traitor and collaborator as far as black people are considered.

South Africa is the one place where white people can learn what it is like to be discriminated because of skin color. What it is like to be looked down at because of something you had nothing to do with. Apartheid did happen (and actually there are plenty of black South Africans openly saying they’d rather have Apartheid back then living with the current situation) yet whatever happened isn’t the fault of today’s generation. Gosh those are people whos families have lived in South Africa for generations. Being South African is their identity as being American is for any American, but right now a lot of white South Africans are getting the hell out of the only homeland they’ve ever known for they are afraid. They are afraid of xenophobics against whites, of what could be done to them simply because their skin is white, not black. And they are facing grave discrimination; Do you really think a white could possibly ever get a job a black applied for?

It’s just so simple to blame the evil oppressing white people of South Africa for what they have done to the poor oppressed black people of South Africa. Just as it is simple to blame Israelis for what they have done to Palestinians. But have you ever tried to walk in the other party’s shoes? Have you ever imagined growing up as a white South African? Have you imagined living the life of an Israeli? Yet sure with binary thinking there is no imagination for a thing like that.