Is Israel's Iron Dome Missile Defense Really That Impressive?

Michael Peck

Key point: There is a debate over the effectiveness and cost of the Iron Dome system.

Israel’s Iron Dome is more than a missile defense system. It’s practically an icon, a symbol of how technological creativity can enable one rocket to knock another rocket out of the sky.

But did the system fail earlier this month? And what does this mean for the U.S. military’s planned buy of Iron Dome?

Any thoughts of an invulnerable missile shield evaporated when Hamas fired six-hundred-and-ninety rockets and mortar shells from Gaza into Israel earlier this month. Out of that six-hundred-and-ninety total, ninety never managed to cross into Israel, according to Israeli figures. Iron Dome intercepted two-hundred-and-forty, of which the Israel Defense Forces claim an 86 percent kill rate, with thirty-five rockets landing in populated areas.

Critics have questioned the accuracy of the IDF’s Iron Dome statistics during the 2014 Gaza conflict. But with four Israeli civilians dead (though one was hit by an anti-tank missile fired directly from Gaza), even Israelis are expressing doubts about the system.

Hamas says it deliberately fired enormous numbers of rockets at a specific target zone to saturate Iron Dome. Some Israeli experts agree that it is difficult to defend against massed salvoes with short flight times when fired from launchers situated a few miles away in Gaza. Israel has ten Iron Dome batteries of three launchers each, firing ten-foot-long Tamir interceptors that cost about $100,000 apiece. Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed force in Lebanon, has an estimated 130,000 rockets.

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