The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
How Effective Is Israel's Iron Dome?

After Operation Pillar of Defense, during which Hamas and other Gazan militias launched hundreds of missiles into Israel, the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) claimed its Iron Dome defense system intercepted 84 percent of incoming missiles. That would mean just 58 rockets landed in Israel. If these figures are correct, wonder MIT’s Professor Theodore Postol and two other scientists, how is it possible that those 58 rockets caused enough destruction to warrant the 3,200 missile damage reports filed by Israeli civilians?

Moreover, Ha’aretz reports:

They [Postol and the two other scientists] also uncovered a strange phenomenon whereby the Iron Dome’s missiles followed identical trajectories, and self-destructed at precisely the same time. In some of the videos, it appears that the Iron Dome’s missiles made a very sharp turn shortly before self-destruction. That cannot be, say the scientists, as there is no way that the missile defense system could “remember” that it needs to turn in the direction of the incoming Grad missile a quarter-second before it self-destructs.

In some cases, it seems as if the trajectories of Iron Dome missiles were preset.

There are obvious reasons for crediting the rosiest assessments for the effectiveness of systems like Iron Dome. For one thing, you want your foes to believe in your own aura of invulnerability. For another, the manufacturers of these systems want customers to buy them. Similarly, there are reasons, political and otherwise, for massaging these numbers in the opposite direction, which is why we approach both these numbers reported by Ha’aretz and the official IDF numbers with a healthy dose of skepticism. We just hope the people deciding whether to build (or buy) these systems have good reasons for believing the numbers they’re using.

Whichever numbers you believe, countries like Israel and the United States are going to continue to develop missile defense systems like Iron Dome as technology improves. (And countries like South Korea and India are going to continue to express interest in buying these systems.) As long as missile threats emanate from places like Gaza and North Korea, missile defense will be a growth industry.

Published on March 11, 2013 3:47 pm