The success of Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system is one of the great stories to emerge from the Gaza conflict, but its importance may still have been underestimated.
First, even enthusiasts for Iron Dome tend to exaggerate its variable costs. It is often said that Hamas can make rockets and mortars very cheaply, while each interceptor rocket fired by Iron Dome costs as much as $50,000. But a recent column in the Jerusalem Post (found here) points out that such figures include the system’s development costs to date. Procurement of future interceptors will cost far less and economies of scale will soon be reflected; per unit cost may fall to $5,000 or far less. Meanwhile the estimated cost to Iran and Hamas of the Fajr rockets they fired at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv often does not include the cost of smuggling them from Iran to Sudan to Egypt to Gaza, including all the expenses and bribes along the way.
Second, Iron Dome is only one part of Israel’s fast-developing missile defenses. Iron Dome itself is constantly being improved as new generations of radars come into use. Another system entirely, David’s Sling, was tested successfully last week in the Negev. An article in Defense News reported this:
Known here as Magic Wand, the [David’s Sling Weapon System] is planned as the second layer in Israel’s multi-tiered national missile defense network, tasked with intercepting threats eluding Israel’s first layer — the Iron Dome — as well as ballistic missiles leaking through the protective envelope of the U.S.-Israel Arrow. Future plans call for expanding the capabilities into a full multi-role system, capable of intercepting not only rockets and missiles, but aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles and cruise missiles.
Preventing attacks on Israel by Iranian weapons is a central goal of the Israeli government and involves more than defensive systems. That is why Israel in January 2009 appears to have attacked a truck caravan of Iranian weapons traversing Sudan and headed for Gaza, and why on October 23 a warehouse full of Iranian weapons was destroyed in Khartoum. By way of background the web site Now Lebanon tells the story here of a “comprehensive network seeking to provide Palestinians with all kinds of weapons” and involving Iran, Hezbollah, and the Assad regime. That story mentions two individuals involved in this network, Syrian general and “Special Presidential Advisor for Arms Procurement and Strategic Weapons” Mohammed Suleiman and Imad Mughniyah, who was the leader of Hezbollah’s terrorist operations. Both men are now dead. Both assassinations have been attributed in the press to Israel, and if that is right it is further evidence of Israel’s determination to prevent Hamas from acquiring advanced weaponry that can threaten Israel’s major population centers.
I can remember analyses and stories five or ten years ago speculating that because of the missile and rocket threat Israel would soon find it impossible to defend itself, but it seems that technology may be able to defeat terror. For the United States, which maintains scores of military bases overseas and in dangerous locations, that is good news indeed.