New rocket defence system action-ready

By Anshel Pfeffer, January 14, 2010

A successful test of Israel’s newest missile defence system, the last before its deployment, has caused a stir among the country’s enemies.

Israel last week completed a two-day series of tests to prove the operational capability of all the elements of the Iron Dome system before they are handed over to the IDF for deployment. The tests, which took place in the Negev, used live missiles of the types used by Hamas and Hizbollah, up to a range of 70km.

Iron Dome also proved capable of intercepting a salvo of missiles launched in one go.

The decision to develop Iron Dome was taken by former Defence Minister Amir Peretz three years ago in order to give the citizens around the Gaza Strip a defensive shield that would enable them to carry on life as normal despite missile attacks from the Gaza Strip.

The system is expected to be operational by May.

The first components will be handed to a new battalion of the Israeli Air Force’s Anti-Aircraft Corps, which will be based near the town of Sderot. In the future there are plans to buy more Iron Domes which would be based on Israel’s northern borders.

This is the only system of its kind which is effective against missiles from the ranges of six to 70km and the American military has also shown an interest in purchasing it.

The tests received wide publicity in the Arab media. Palestinian and Hizbollah spokesmen referred to the Iron Dome in their statements, saying that Israel would not be able “to hide” behind the system and they would continue to fight Israel in different ways.

Israel’s defence establishment praised the engineers of RAFAEL, the national armament development authority, for developing the system on such a tight schedule. But some experts believe that Israel should have invested in the Nautilus laser system instead.

Their criticisms are based on the fact that Iron Dome will not be effective against the many short-range mortar bombs and rockets used by the Palestinians and that each interceptor missile launched by Iron Dome costs about £20,000, while a Kassam missile costs around £100 to manufacture.

A defence official involved with the project said that “Iron Dome has a tracking system that enables it to calculate the trajectory of the incoming missiles and will fire an interceptor only at those which threaten civilian areas. The great majority of missiles won’t need intercepting anyway. The Nautilus laser system, unlike Iron Dome, failed to work as a mobile unit, and the greatest threat are the missiles which fly over six or seven kilometres. The IDF can deal with the shorter range rockets using its ground forces.”

Defence Minister Ehud Barak said this week that “while Iron Dome is an incredible achievement, it is not a solution to all the missile problems and we will have to continue fighting them”.

Last updated: 4:38pm, January 14 2010