One Size Does Not Fit All: The Limits of Iron Dome
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One Size Does Not Fit All: The Limits of Iron Dome

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If Israel eventually makes good on its years of threats and strikes Iran’s nuclear facilities the Iranians have promised to “respond with everything they have.” One means of retaliation available to Iran is launching missile attacks against Israel both directly and through proxy groups like Hamas and Hezbollah.

How Israel is likely to cope with this depends in large part on its new missile defense system, which includes “Iron Dome,” the latest jewel in Israel’s opulent military crown. Iron Dome is seen as a panacea for a country perpetually targeted by missiles: it is a $210 million, mobile all-weather air defense system developed by Israeli firm Rafael Advanced Defense Systems (with additional funding from the U.S.), working jointly with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Designed to intercept and destroy short-range rockets and artillery shells fired from distances of up to 70 km away, it is, so Israel’s leaders say, the future of the country’s defense.

Iron Dome has its roots in the 2006 Second Lebanon War. During the hostilities, the Lebanese militia group Hezbollah fired around 4,000 mostly short-range Katyusha rockets at northern Israel, including at its third largest city, Haifa. Scores of Israelis were killed and thousands were forced to cower in bomb shelters. Meanwhile, in the south of the country things had been bad for years. Between 2000 and the Second Lebanon War, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military arm of Hamas, fired thousands Gazan-made Qassam and Iranian-made Fajr-5 rockets into the south of Israel, where almost 1 million Israelis live within rocket range.

The seemingly endless missile attacks from Gaza and Lebanon were enough to prompt the Israeli government into action. Shortly after the Lebanon War, in February 2007, Israeli Defense Minister, Amir Peretz, announced that Rafael Advanced Defense Systems would develop a new missile defense shield – Iron Dome – that was to be Israel’s defensive solution to the country’s short-range rocket threat.

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