Israel has intercepted hundreds of rockets fired from the Gaza Strip over the past seven days thanks to a U.S.-funded defense system that intercepts short-range missiles and knocks them out of the sky.
Called Iron Dome, the Israeli defense system uses cameras and radar to detect a rocket or mortar launch and track the shell’s flight path from a distance as far as 45 miles away.
It then transmits data about the shell’s trajectory to a fire-control system that determines whether the rocket poses a threat to a populated area in Israel. It ignores missiles that are projected to hit unpopulated areas.
But if an incoming rocket does pose a threat, Iron Dome launches an interceptor missile that uses its built-in radar to help it close in on the target and destroy it over a safe area.
According to the Israeli Defense Force, more than 1,000 rockets have been fired from Gaza since attacks began Nov. 14, and Iron Dome has been used to intercept at least 359 of them.
The system is not perfect: Iron Dome has intercepted and destroyed about 85 percent of rockets that have posed threats.
“It’s extraordinary. You can watch these missiles being taken out of the sky, and for that we really owe a great debt of appreciation to America, to the president, to the Congress who have given a tremendous amount of support to this Iron Dome battery system,” Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren told Fox News.
Iron Dome was built using indigenous technology by Israeli defense company Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd., and it has benefited from financial support by the U.S.
The U.S. provided about $205 million to Israel in 2010 for the system and about $70 million this year, according to The Associated Press. Each interceptor missile costs about $40,000.
“Iron Dome has been an incredible success for U.S.-Israeli missile defense cooperation,” said Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
“This life-saving system has successfully intercepted approximately 90 percent of the enemy rockets it has engaged,” the California Republican said. “I am pleased to have been one of the earliest supporters and to have provided more than $200 million for additional Iron Dome batteries and Tamir interceptors in the [fiscal 2013] National Defense Authorization Act.”
The House’s version of the fiscal 2013 National Defense Authorization Act would provide about $168 million for general U.S.-Israeli missile defense cooperation, about $100 million more than what the Obama administration has requested.
The defense bill also proposes to authorize $210 million for the Iron Dome program for fiscal 2013 alone, and a total of $680 million to fund the Iron Dome system until 2015.
“It’s significantly more money than we have invested into the system,” said Michaela Bendikova, a research associate at the Heritage Foundation.
Ms. Bendikova said Iron Dome has garnered widespread popularity in Israel, noting a Facebook page that updates every missile that the defense system intercepts.
“Although not advisable from a security perspective, some Israelis go out and take videos of intercepts,” she said.
Israel’s military has deployed five Iron Dome firing units, or batteries, most of them in the southern part of the country near Gaza.
The fifth battery was deployed Saturday outside Tel Aviv, two months ahead of schedule. Hours later, it shot down a rocket headed toward Tel Aviv, AP reported.
Iron Dome got its first field test in March, when the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad launched scores of rockets from Gaza. The defense system reportedly intercepted about 85 percent of the rockets deemed to be threats.