Monday, April 13, 2009

Iron Dome: Folly or Brilliance?

The Iron Dome anti-missile system being developed by Refael, an Israeli military-systems organization, is chugging along. It passed an important milestone last month, is expected to be finally tested sometime soon, and if it passes, full-scale production and deployment will begin. By next summer it may be operative, protecting Sderot and Ashkelon from Hamas rockets, and later on protecting the Galilee from Hezbullah's tender attentions. Add this to the Arrow long-range anti-missile system which is already operative and being upgraded all the time, and Israel is on its way to being protected from what-ever its neighbors will be able to throw at it except mortars and artillery. Mortars either have a very short range (about a mile) or they're large and cumbersome enough, as is all artillery, that drones can identify and destroy them; it's hard to set them up in a school-yard, shoot them off and disappear so quickly the UN personnel can pretend they were never there.

All of which means that each day that passes without rocket attacks brings us closer to the end of that chapter of our relations with our neighbors. They will of course find other ways to attack us, and we'll have to figure out an adequate response etc etc etc. The Palestinians and Hezbullah are very resourceful in such matters; it's in participating in the modern world that they're so dismally inept.

The Arrow anti-ballistic system is a fine thing. If we assume that sometime soon Iran will have nuclear weapons - a reasonable assumption, it seems to me - it will still be useful that they won't know if they have the ability to deliver through our defense systems, while they themselves have no such systems and our nuclear punch is harder. Who knows, maybe five or ten years from now we'll offer our defensive capabilities to the Saudis or the Egyptians or the Germans, heh.

The Iron Dome thing, however, isn't obviously such a fine thing. According to that article, each missile will cost $50,000m, or perhaps less in some scenarios - say, $49,800. A Kassam rocket probably costs $500, and a Katyusha, I'd guess, $2,500. Do the math and you'll see it will be worth the Palestinian's effort simply to get us to shoot Dome missiles in large numbers, for the financial burden. I'm also leery about a defensive strategy that relies completely on technology (I know about technology) rather than deterrence or, even better, the ability to disarm ones' enemies. (The option of making peace doesn't exist).

On the other hand, at the moment it's not obvious what the alternative is. I was in Sderot yesterday, and they've got these concrete mini-shelters strewn all over town; that's clearly not acceptable. Moreover, the law of unexpected consequences could kick in here, too. The Palestinian's most potent weapon agains Israel is the occupation, which is why most Israelis have long since decided to end it. Yet it can't be ended if every time we relinquish control over some territory it immediately becomes a launching pad for missiles against our civilians. Should the Iron Dome system put an end to that tactic, we could go back to the strategy most of us had already agreed upon, of dismantling most settlements and moving back to the barrier. The Palestinians, the Guardian, and Haaretz will continue to squawk that the occupation goes on, but most sensible people will disregard them, and Israel's position will be strengthened in many ways.


Womble said...

The Iron Dome will be there to supplement, not replace, other means of defence.

You are, however, overestimating the sensibility of "most sensible people". Sensible people all too often fall for the most outrageous nonsense. George Orwell observed in "James Burnham and the Managerial Revolution" that intelligent people often have a tendency towards bad judgement. The Guardian's target audience is primarily the intelligent people- and they are swallowing the paper's anti-Israeli slant hook, line and sinker.

Anonymous said...

Maybe we can stop their rockets with this "Iron Dome thing", but is it really advantageous when we pay $50,000 per rocket? If they pay $500 to make us pay 10 times that, then the exploitation hurts Israel's treasury significantly. How is this effective or pragmatic, when the last couple years has seen thousands of Kassams? Maybe I don't understand the concept of the Iron Dome. Could you explain it to me?

Gavin said...

Personally I think it's the most significant development for Israel in at least thirty years Yaacov. Rockets have been your achilles heel, they still are. I doubt you'd have ever set foot in Lebanon if it wasn't for the rocket attacks.

The cost isn't an issue, they're not as expensive as they sound & the alternatives cost a whole lot more anyway. How much did your last two wars cost? Iron Dome should pull most of Irans teeth. If it works.

I'm more concerned that the announcement of Iron Dome may trigger a large-scale attack while the window of opportunity is still open. Iran haven't been stocking up Hamas & Hizbollah with rockets just so they can have a fireworks display.

Regards, Gavin.