Can Israel's 'Iron Dome' Blunt Hamas Rockets?

The counter-rocket defense system was tested and declared ready to operate back in February, but had yet to be deployed until now. As rockets pelted Beersheva and Ashdod, the government and the military were attacked by commentators like Yossi Melman of Ha'aretz, who asked why it hadn't yet been rolled out to protect their civilians under fire:

There can only be three explanations for this despicable conduct. One, IDF commanders and senior officials in the defense establishment -- first and foremost among them Defense Minister Ehud Barak -- are indifferent to the distress of the people in the south, who have suffered repeatedly from mortar and rocket attacks. Two, the IDF is afraid of a failure in intercepting a missile, which would publicly reveal the inadequacy of Iron Dome. On the back of remarkable success in testing, developers have boasted repeatedly it is the best system of its kind in the world.

The third, even more cynical, possibility is that Iron Dome has not been deployed because of the fear that it will be shown to have limited capabilities, which would not allow it to be sold abroad. According to reports in foreign publications over the past year, Israel is negotiating to sell the Iron Dome to Brazil, Singapore, and India.

The military, obviously, had its own explanations. One general questioned the wisdom of deploying the system before enough batteries are available to protect the entire southern region. The worry is that if only some cities are protected, Hamas will bear down and target other cities, causing more intensive damage. Indeed, when it was announced that the first battery would be set up next to Beersheva, residents of Ashdod and Ashkelon asked, "Why them and not us?"

With the knowledge that the system is still unproven, the government has taken care to lower expectations. As Iron Dome was finally deployed Sunday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made an effort to lower expectations, cautioning that it "will not give a full or comprehensive solution to the missile threat."

Even if it isn't full or comprehensive, real evidence that the expensive system with the reassuring name represents any form of solution will offer a much-needed boost of confidence to the jittery population of southern Israel.