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Israeli soldiers walk near an Iron Dome battery deployed outside of Beersheba.
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The Iron Dome, produced by the Israeli Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, uses small radar-guided missiles to blow up incoming rockets in mid-flight.

Iron Dome Shoots Hamas Rockets Out of Sky

In its first week of operational deployment, Israel’s Iron Dome rocket defense system stunned observers by shooting down eight out of nine Grad-style Katyusha rockets fired by terrorists toward Israeli cities. The system’s success in April against rockets fired by Hamas from Gaza marked the first time in history that any military has intercepted short-range rockets. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the new system as” a great achievement,” offering his praise to its creators and operators. (Watch a video of the Iron Dome in action.)

The Growing Rocket and Missile Threat

Iron Dome aims to help protect Israeli civilians living in both the north and the south of the country within striking distance of short-range rockets. Southern Israeli cities such as Sderot, Ashkelon, Ashdod and Beersheba, with a combined population of hundreds of thousands of people, have been victimized by more than 7,000 indiscriminate rocket and mortar attacks since Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005. In the north, some 4,000 rockets launched by Hizballah during the second Lebanon War in 2006 killed 44 people and spurred the evacuation of 250,000 others.

Israeli defense experts believe that Hizballah has since re-armed with assistance from Iran and Syria, and is now in possession of up to 55,000 missiles and rockets. Within range of Hizballah’s arsenal are major population centers such as Tel Aviv. Meanwhile, Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups in Gaza are believed to possess an estimated 5,000 rockets.

How Iron Dome Works

The Iron Dome Rocket Defense System, produced by Israel’s indigenous high-tech defense industry, uses small, high-velocity interceptors to destroy incoming rockets, missiles and mortar shells before they can hit their targets. The system uses cameras and different types of radar to detect incoming rockets and then shoots them down within seconds of their launch. A battle management and weapon control center measures and analyzes the trajectory of each projectile immediately after it is fired. If an incoming rocket is headed toward populated areas and deemed a critical threat, then within a fraction of a second, interceptors are launched to blast it out of the sky.

If a rocket in flight is calculated to fall outside a populated area, it is allowed to land harmlessly. Thus, the system is not intended to shoot down every incoming warhead—an expensive and unnecessary solution, especially considering that each interceptor is estimated to cost $35,000-$50,000.

A Multilayered Israeli Defense System

Iron Dome is just one part of a multilayered defense shield that Israel is assembling to protect itself from short-, medium- and long-range rockets and missiles. While Iron Dome guards against short-range rockets, a system know as David’s Sling or the Magic Wand is being developed to take down missiles with a medium range of 25-185 miles. Meanwhile, the Arrow, which was jointly developed by the United States and Israel, was created with long-range, high-velocity missiles in mind.

According to Defense Ministry Director General Udi Shani (Maj. Gen. Res.), Israel’s air-defense system “will be the largest technological development project in the field of missile interception in the world.” Getting its multi-tiered defense system in place is crucial for Israel, which seeks to blunt the impact of future missile barrages that could come from any one of a number of adversaries, including Iran, Syria, Hizballah, Hamas, or other Gaza-based terrorist groups.

U.S. Support Critical to Expanding Iron Dome

Israel currently has two Iron Dome batteries deployed, each one at a cost of $80 million, but it needs another 13-15 systems to simultaneously defend cities and citizens across the country. The United States is assisting in the effort by providing funds for four of those systems this year.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military has closely monitored the progress of the Iron Dome, which it sees as a potential tool in its own defense efforts against similar short-range rocket threats that could emanate from a number of places, including Afghanistan, Iraq and North Korea. The fiscal year 2011 budget included $205 million to help fund Israel’s urgent procurement needs of Iron Dome batteries.

The allocation for Israel received overwhelming bipartisan support. Funding of this program reflects the importance of U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation, including the missile defense programs that have long been a cornerstone of the bilateral partnership. BACK TO TOP