Millions of Israelis run to bomb shelters, as sirens warning of rockets sounded across the country. The Israeli night’s sky was lit up by small, amber dots – dozens of rockets heading in their direction. Israel was on high alert, as the country has been under the heaviest barrage of rocket fire and air strikes by Hamas’ militants since the summer of 2014. In response the Israeli army pressed ahead with a fierce air offensive on the Gaza Strip. This was the situation in Israel in the last days. But a ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas in the Gaza Strip has come into effect on Friday night bringing to an end 11 days of violence.
Israel was targeted with thousands of rockets, but the vast majority of them were intercepted by the Iron Dome system – an Israeli marvel of modern defense technology made by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, one of the two large state-owned companies in Israel. It is the strategic Israeli lifesaver, as the radical Islamist militant group Hamas seems to be relying on the strategy of firing a whole tirade of rockets in quick succession. The militants probably wanted to test Iron Dome’s capabilities and bring the system to its limits. But Iron Dome has given evidence that is really iron and highly efficient, as it successfully has prevented Hamas’ rockets from causing serious casualties – 12 people in Israel since the beginning of the violence eruption on 10th May.
According to Israel’s military spokesperson, Lt Col Jonathan Conricus, quoted by Western media, Iron Dome had a roughly 90% interception rate and he called it a “lifesaver”. Defense News has reported that since May 10, approximately 3,000 rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip at Israel and Iron Dome intercepted more than 1,000 of them, representing about 90 percent of those determined to pose a threat. Many rockets fell in open areas or didn’t even leave the Gaza Strip due to malfunctions. A large part of Iron Dome’s success was due to a sophisticated radar system made by Elta Systems, a subsidiary of Israel Aerospace Industries, the other large state-owned defense company. This radar has enabled Iron Dome to determine rapidly which incoming rockets were likely to strike built-up areas and which would land harmlessly on open ground, explained in an interview with Irish Times Justin Bronk, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, a British think-tank. “The Israeli technological superiority provided through Iron Dome and the multi-layered defense system is a cornerstone of Israel’s defense”, the Israeli Minister of defense Benny Gantz said. Furthermore, the air defense system intercepted a drone belonging to Hamas, which happened for the first time in the history of Iron Dome at least in a real battle, according to the country’s defense forces quoted by some media. Israel intercepted six drones altogether.
What is the Iron Dome system?
Iron Dome is a tailor-made air defense system developed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems together with IAI-Elta, which is in charge of the multi-mission radar (MMR). Rafael is responsible for system engineering, integration, launcher, and interceptor, the latter being the key element in establishing the performances and capabilities of the whole system, and dictating the design of all the other elements.
Iron Dome is designed to stop short-range rockets and artillery like those fired by Hamas militants. Additionally, as it turned out to be, the system has recently received updates to help it cope with new threats like drones and UAVs.The system came on line in March 2011. Since then it has been used to intercept rockets regularly launched from the Gaza Strip by Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups. Some Israeli experts claim Iron Dome has changed the strategic rules of the game in the region.
Iron Dome relies on its radar and detailed analysis to determine whether an incoming rocket is a threat, firing an interceptor only if the incoming rocket risks hitting a populated area or important infrastructure. An Iron Dome battery consists of a radar unit and a control center that can detect projectiles soon after their launch and calculate their trajectory and target. It takes seconds for an approaching projectile to be detected. This is crucial because depending on how far they live from the Gaza Strip, people in Israel might only have 15 to 90 seconds to get to safety when the sirens start wailing. A battery also has three or four rocket launchers with 20 missiles each should projectiles be headed toward populated areas. The interceptor missiles can be maneuvered in the air. They are not designed to strike an approaching projectile but to explode close by and destroy it in the process.
Warning the population of an incoming threat
However, Iron Dome is not only a system that neutralises rockets and missiles launched from neighbouring countries – another major role is that of warning the population of the incoming threat, as it neutralises the effects allowing people to take shelter. “The Iron Dome radars made by IAI and the electro- optic sensors are key in providing warning, which is another element that saves lives, the alert system allowing enough time for the people to find shelter in protected structures,” Brig. Gen. (res.) Pini Yungman, Rafael’s Executive Vice-President, explained to btv.
There are currently 10 mobile Iron Dome systems in use in Israel. According to Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, a single battery can protect a medium-sized city and intercept rockets fired from a maximum of 70 kilometers away. So, experts calculate that 13 systems would be needed in order to defend the entire country.
March 2021 marked a decade since the groundbreaking Iron Dome system was first deployed. It has exceeded expectations, intercepting over 2,500 rockets and missiles in a range of weather conditions, and saving hundreds if not thousands of lives. “Every rocket intercepted by the system would have hit a civilian populated area, potentially causing severe damage and casualties,” the Israeli Defence Forces praised the system on their website. The system is comparatively low cost, because it fires only on threats to human life or infrastructure, fewer interceptors are needed, military experts explained. An advantage that makes Iron Dome attractive to foreign governments, including the U.S. Army, which has bought two batteries itself.
This spring the Israeli Ministry of Defense announced an upgrade to the Iron Dome system that enhances its ability to address evolving threats such as UAVs, missiles and rocket barrages. “10 years after the first operational interception of the Iron Dome system, we are completing a technological leap in the system’s capabilities. In three series of experiments within a few months, we have jumped the capabilities of the Iron Dome system into the next generation of threats: complex, loaded and challenging missile and rocket barrages, clusters of unmanned aerial vehicles and more”, Moshe Patel, the Ministry’s head of missile defense, said in a statement. The upgrade was made just on time. In the current conflict Iron Dome has demonstrated its ability to engage cruise missiles and small drones, as well as low-flying aircraft, as well.
Iron Dome has changed life for many Israelis
Since Iron Dome became operational in 2011, the Israeli air-defense system has saved countless lives and bolstered public resilience in times of conflict. It has changed life for many Israelis during recent conflicts, allowing a degree of normality in southern parts of the country that were once under the heavy shadow of rocket strikes. Positioned near residential areas the Iron Dome air-defense batteries stand ready, always on guard.
“They are the ones who are protecting our lives by intercepting in real-time rockets that are being fired at us. Their response time is a minimum. A few seconds is a privilege. If it wasn’t for the Iron Dome many Jewish and non-Jewish Israeli citizens would have been killed”, wrote Dr. Tuvia Book in The Blogs of The Times of Israel.
Iron Dome has given Israeli civilians an unimaginable sense of security even in the current situation of violence escalation. It is not by chance that 61 percent of Israelis chose the Iron Dome as the most innovative Israeli invention in the history of the country.