The Iron Dome system is a very mixed blessing. During recent rocket attacks the system intercepted many (but not all) rockets fired at populated areas. Now an additional battery is being deployed to protect Ashdod, one of the targets for Grad missiles.
War, like many things, is an economic activity. Resources must be allocated where they will be most effective, and there is never an unlimited amount of money. So deploying Iron Dome to protect the civilian population is a decision to use scarce resources in a particular way.
Some critics say that the system enables the terrorists’ economic warfare against Israel, since each projectile fired by Iron Dome costs $40,000, while rockets are relatively cheap. But of course the cost of the damage caused by rockets which get through (not to mention possible loss of life) as well as the cost of alternative means of deterrence — helicopter missions aren’t cheap either — must be considered.
In my opinion, Israel should not rely on Iron Dome or similar systems for defense of the civilian population for a different reason. This is that while passive defense systems may useful tactically, dependance on them is a poor long-term strategy, from military, psychological and political points of view.
Militarily, reliance on defense allows the enemy to stockpile missiles and build infrastructure without interference. A large stockpile of missiles allows them to attack by ‘saturation’, firing more missiles than the systems can intercept in a given period. No matter how many batteries are deployed, it’s always possible to overwhelm them by firing enough missiles. In addition, if the terrorists are allowed to continue infrastructure development undisturbed — digging tunnels, building bunkers, etc. — then this will be disadvantageous if (when) at a later date there is a direct confrontation.
It is also the case that shooting down rockets does not deter the enemy from building and firing more of them. Only retaliation directed at the enemy soldiers, the storage and manufacturing facilities, smuggling tunnels and commanders of the terrorist groups can do that. These kind of operations must not have resources diverted from them on the grounds that Iron Dome will protect the population.
Finally, it is simply too expensive to deploy so as to protect all possible civilian targets, especially as the enemy is likely to develop countermeasures that will render it less effective (this is borne out by history). If there are weak spots, these are where the enemy will attack, and rockets will get through.
Psychologically, reliance on defense is a signal that the terrorists are allowed to shoot at us. Retaliation makes the opposite statement. The world press barely covers rocket fire into Israel (although it does cover Israeli retaliation). The world is coming to expect and accept that Jews may live in a shooting gallery. Paradoxically, even negative coverage of a strong response sends the message that we won’t permit it.
Politically — and this may be the strongest point of all — the existence of somewhat effective defensive systems can and will be used as an excuse to prevent Israel from aggressively striking back at the terrorists, which is the only way they will be defeated. In particular, the Iron Dome’s cost of approximately $50 million per battery [!] is primarily being funded by the US. Does this give Barack Obama room to argue that Israel should not retaliate or preempt terrorist attacks? I think it does.
Iron Dome can be highly effective in protecting critical military or industrial infrastructure, like airbases or oil refineries. But in my opinion, it should not be deployed — and expected — to defend the civilian population. Rather, Israeli policy should be to retaliate with deadly and escalating force against the groups firing the rockets. This will do the following:
- It will weaken the enemy by killing its soldiers and destroying its infrastructure
- It will deter the enemy from future attacks, and deter potential enemies from making war
- It will send a message that the Jewish state and the Jewish people will not permit themselves to be a target