Israel’s missile shield aces first serious test
JERUSALEM — Israel’s Iron Dome rocket shield has aced its first serious test. Gaza’s Hamas rulers have been careful to stay on the sidelines. And Islamic Jihad — now closer to Iran than is its larger rival Hamas — is taking the lead in this round against Israel.
These are some of the trends emerging from four days of fighting between Israel's air force and Gaza rocket squads, triggered by Israel’s killing of a militant leader last week. Twenty-four Palestinians have been killed, including seven on Monday, and about 1 million Israelis in rocket range have seen their lives disrupted by the threat of rocket attacks, with frequent sirens warning them to run for cover.
Egyptian truce efforts appeared to stall, as both sides said they were willing to keep fighting.
Gaza militants insisted that Israel stop firing first and that it promise to halt airstrikes aimed at killing Gaza militants for good, a guarantee Israel is unlikely to give. Egypt sided with the Palestinians in their demands.
Iron Dome uses cameras and radar to track incoming rockets and intercepts only those that would pose a threat to people and property, ignoring those that are expected to fall in open areas.
The military said that of 143 rockets fired since Friday, it tried to intercept 63 and succeeded in all but nine of those attempts. No Israelis have been killed in the current fighting, and property damage has been relatively minor.
Uzi Rubin, a missile expert and former Defense Ministry official, said Iron Dome has exceeded expectations. “The performance up to now has been almost flawless,” Rubin said, adding that the perception could change quickly in the event of casualties.
Military analyst Yiftah Shapir said Iron Dome would likely score fewer interceptions if Israel were attacked by a larger number of missiles simultaneously, a scenario Israel would have to consider if it attacks Iran over its nuclear program. Tehran’s proxies on Israel’s borders — the Lebanese Hezbollah militia, along with Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza — are believed to have a stockpile of tens of thousands of rockets and missiles.
Shapir said Iron Dome has given a psychological boost to those living in rocket range, but it has not reduced the economic damage caused by closing schools and keeping hundreds of thousands of people from their jobs and daily routines.
Others noted that each intercept costs about $100,000, arguing that the cost could be prohibitive if Israel were fighting a full-fledged war.
In the current round, Islamic Jihad, the second largest militant group in Gaza, has taken the initiative.
Islamic Jihad has maintained close ties to its sole sponsor, Iran, while Hamas in recent months has drifted away from its longtime patron, in part because of disagreements over Syria’s brutal crackdown on regime opponents. Iran has punished Hamas for refusing to side with Syrian President Bashar Assad, including by cutting funding.