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Can Israel’s ‘Iron Dome’ Blunt Hamas Rockets?

The cutting-edge weapon faces trial by fire.

by
Allison Kaplan Sommer

Bio

March 31, 2011 - 12:00 am
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For many weeks, it seemed as if Israel was successful at staying out of the turmoil rocking the Middle East. First Tunisia, then Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, Syria, and Jordan: as anti-regime demonstrations caught fire across the Middle East, Israel’s supporters were able to argue convincingly for the first time in decades that the presence of the Jewish state is not necessarily the source of all instability in the region.

But suddenly, it seemed as if Hamas leaders in Gaza, like angry toddlers realizing they weren’t getting enough attention, decided they needed to make some noise and grab some headlines. Perhaps they were worried that there was too much bashing of Arab dictators going on — and not enough bashing of Israel.

Whatever the reason, they began to attempt to provoke Israel into action. After months of disturbing but essentially harmless launches, the rocket attacks escalated dramatically. On March 19, without warning, 50 rockets fell in one day in the area surrounding Sderot.

The attack was the biggest barrage of rockets fired in the two years following Operation Cast Lead, and it was only the beginning. In an act of deliberate provocation, not only did the number of rockets missiles fired at Israel increase, they began to be aimed clearly at the most populated areas in the south. On March 23, Grad rockets landed square in the middle of Beersheva, Israel’s fourth-largest city, which was also a target two years ago during Operation Cast Lead.

In what was unlikely to have been a coincidence, on the same day, a bomb exploded at the central Jerusalem bus station, killing one woman and wounding tens.

And as the week wore on, rockets hit the city of Ashdod. Schools across the south were canceled, daily life in the south of the country was utterly disrupted, and suddenly, Libya and Japan were off of Israeli television screens as people wondered whether war in southern Israel was imminent, even as the allied bombs were dropping in Libya from NATO planes.

The Israeli Air Force was making attacks of their own — consistent, but relatively restrained — with bombing targeted at the launch sites in response to each wave of rocket fire on Israeli cities.

Under tremendous political pressure to do something more substantial, the government of Binyamin Netanyahu indicated that a real solution with an impressive name was on its way: a counter-rocket defense system called “Iron Dome.”

The Israeli Defense Forces are billing the Iron Dome system as a comprehensive solution to the threat of short-range rockets and mortar shells fired across Israel’s borders. They promise that it will be able to identify, intercept, and destroy the weapons before — not after — they land in Israel’s civilian population. It has been under development since 2007, when Hezbollah rockets threatened northern Israel. It is one part of a three-pronged defense: systems are also being developed against mid-range and long-range missiles.

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