Israel hails Iron Dome defense as rockets fly

  • Article by: ISABEL KERSHNER
  • New York Times
  • November 18, 2012 - 8:58 PM

JERUSALEM - An abiding image of former Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz was a photograph of him peering at a military drill -- with the black lens caps still on his binoculars. Peretz resigned months after the 2006 war in Lebanon, which was widely regarded as a failure.

Yet on Sunday, as rockets fired by Gaza militants streaked toward Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities, Peretz, a resident of the rocket-battered border town of Sderot, was being hailed as a defense visionary for having had the foresight to face down skeptics and push for the development of Iron Dome, Israel's unique anti-rocket interceptor system.

Naysayers now are few. In the five days since Israel began its fierce assault on the militant infrastructure in Hamas-run Gaza, after years of rocket fire against southern Israel, Iron Dome has successfully intercepted more than 300 rockets fired at densely populated areas, with a success rate of 80 to 90 percent, top officials said. Developed with significant U.S. funding and undergoing its ultimate battle test, the Iron Dome system has saved many lives, protected property and proved to be a strategic game changer, experts said.

Israel Defense Minister Ehud Barak described Iron Dome as "probably the most technologically impressive achievement in recent years in Israel." He called its performance "almost perfect."

By preventing mass casualties, experts said, Israel's leaders have retained public support for the continuing operation and have had more time to weigh a possible ground incursion.

Casualties on the Israeli side have been kept low by the Iron Dome system and by the fact that most Israelis have followed instructions to take shelter in the 15 to 90 seconds they have between the warning sirens and the landing of a rocket.

About a decade ago after primitive rockets fired from Gaza began crashing into Sderot, the Israelis started working on defending against short- and midrange rockets that now travel 12 to 50 miles.

Soon after the monthlong war in Lebanon in 2006, when the Lebanese Hezbollah organization fired thousands of Katyusha rockets and paralyzed northern Israel, Peretz, officials said, budgeted roughly $200 million for the first two Iron Dome mobile units.

With the Israelis racing against the growing capabilities of rocket developers in Gaza, the first units were deployed in March 2011. An upgraded fifth unit was deployed on the outskirts of Tel Aviv on Saturday, two months ahead of schedule.

Iron Dome is part of what professionals describe as a "multi-layer shield" that includes the Arrow system, which is being upgraded, and the Magic Wand, now in development. When finished, the system should guard against destruction from crude short-range rockets made in Gaza to ballistic missiles from Iran.

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