Missile defence system delayed ground invasion, say experts

A shocked resident of Kiryat Malachi (Photo: Flash 90)

A shocked resident of Kiryat Malachi (Photo: Flash 90)

Many defence experts said that it would be technologically impossible and prohibitively expensive to design a system capable of tracking and destroying incoming rockets with interceptor missiles.

Iron Dome, however, is now a reality and not only has it prevented multiple casualties and untold damage, it is one of the main factors enabling Israel’s decision-makers to pause and take stock instead of launching a much wider ground offensive. That is why it is being called a “game-changer” in defence circles.

In the first six days of Operation Pillar of Defence, Palestinian groups launched 1,147 missiles towards Israel, 347 of which were intercepted by Iron Dome. The large majority of the remaining rockets fell in uninhabited areas and others hit targets in areas not covered by the defence system.

Home Front officers stressed to the residents of the southern cities that the Iron Dome was not perfect and that they still had to take cover when the warning sirens went off.

In Beersheva, there was a swift awakening on Tuesday morning when 16 missiles were fired at the city. Thirteen were intercepted, but three got through and caused considerable damage. There were no casualties.

Defence officials estimated that the system had achieved a success rate of around 87 per cent. “This is an unprecedented rate of interception for a new system still undergoing development,” said a Defence Ministry spokesperson, “and you can imagine the toll in lives and property if the Iron Dome wasn’t there.”

Last Thursday morning, in the town of Kiryat Malachi, there was no need to use any imagination. For 30 minutes, the Iron Dome battery was not operational due to a technical fault. During this period, a Grad missile hit a fourth-floor apartment, killing three Israelis and wounding six.

Over the past six years, the Iron Dome has been the focus of much controversy. Initially the IDF was not interested in a defensive system and certainly was not in favour of funding it from the defence budget.

Defence Minister Amir Peretz, himself a resident of Sderot, forced the system on the military. It was developed in only four years and rushed into service 19 months ago. The Obama administration showed its trust in Israeli technology by approving $200 million for an additional two batteries, and recently, when Defence Minister Ehud Barak petitioned the cabinet for NIS 750 million for three more batteries, there was little, if any, opposition.

Last updated: 2:45pm, November 22 2012