"We have become addicted to Iron Dome"

Iron Done credit: SOPA Images
Iron Done credit: SOPA Images

Hilla Haddad-Chmelnik, who helped develop the missile defense system, says that although impressively effective, Iron Dome has caused complacency.

More than a decade has passed since the first operational success of Iron Dome, which has since become Israel's main line of defense against the threat of rockets from the Gaza Strip. The missile defense system has an impressively high level of success in intercepting and downing rockets, rising from 75% in Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012 to more than 90%in the most recent operations against Hamas and Islamic Jihad. But it seems that in recent years the revolutionary system in protecting Israel created a feeling of complacency among many Israelis, and allowed the country's decision makers "to live in peace" alongside the terrorist organizations across the border.

"We got addicted not only to Iron Dome but the whole defense policy, just like building a fence with cameras and advanced technology," Hilla Haddad-Chmelnik, a senior partner in the development of the Iron Dome system, told "Globes." "Iron Dome did allow the decision makers to take a breather, so that they are not 'provoked' into reacting rashly but to make well-considered decisions, but when you have too much time to breathe, it leads to hesitation."

She recalls that, before the development of the system, the public and the decision makers showed zero tolerance to death and injury. "In the Second Lebanon War (2006), for example, eight civilians were killed by a direct hit to a railway depot, and there was pressure to intensify the Israeli attack in retaliation. On the other hand, in Operation Protective Edge (2014), many human lives were saved thanks to Iron Dome, so there was no quick pursuit to end the operation, which dragged on. But this is what Iron Dome, like Israel's entire defense concept, creates. Ultimately, Iron Dome has been something good with a sting in its tail because ultimately, the line of defense will be breached.

"The balance between defense and attack needs to be calibrated by the political echelon. This has political implications. It is the role of the military echelon to provide the tools for this."

"The systems does not provide hermetic protection

Haddad-Chmelnik (39) has served as Ministry of Transport's national Infrastructures project and a director general of the Ministry of Innovation, Science and Technology. Today she is chairperson of DOTS, which deals with agricultural data. She is a space and aeronautical engineer and durimng her military service as an air force officer, she took part in the development of several projects including the Arrow 3 and Iron Dome. She says, "When I was the head of Iron Dome trials, I was able to examine the weakness of the system and understand the conclusions from that. It has improved since then but does not provide hermetic protection."

Indeed, in recent years, and especially during the current war, we have witnessed the challenge facing the system due to heavy rocket barrages, in which thousands of rockets are launched at Israel over several days. By the middle of Operation "Guardian of the Walls" (2021), for example, the IDF reported that about 3,100 rockets had been fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip. 450 rockets landed in Gaza, and 2,650 reached Israel, of which 1,210 were intercepted by Iron Dome. That is, of all the rockets that crossed the border from Gaza into Israel, about 40% were actually intercepted (Iron Dome only targets rockets headed for populated areas). It can be assumed that in a war as long as the current one, the system will not intercept everything.

"Similar to Israel, Hamas manages the firing. Even now, the rate of fire is slowing because they understand that we are in a more significant event than the previous rounds. They fire almost every day at Tel Aviv to maintain visibility, but it is only symbolic fire. There are no longer 4-7 barrages on Tel Aviv each day as it was in the initial days of fighting."

Can Iron Dome cope with a multi-front war?

On black Saturday October 7 Israel was caught by surprise. During the difficult events and atrocities, heavy barrages of rockets were launched into southern and central Israel and even northern towns. "And yet," emphasizes Haddad-Chmelnik, "Since the war broke out, over 7,500 rockets have been fired at Israel and there are not many casualties. Finally, the air defense system is working."

She stresses that there is also an advantage from an economic point of view: "When property is damaged by a rocket, the state is responsible for compensation. This compensation, let's say for damage to a house and shrapnel hitting a vehicle, can be higher than the cost of launching a Tamir (interception) missile from Iron Dome, (which costs an estimated $50,000).

However, following the events that unfolded on October 7, and the growing concern of war on more than one front, the question arises as to whether the Iron Dome is prepared to deal with the current map of threats. Meanwhile, US officials have announced that the US will restart manufacturing weapons for the Iron Dome missile defense system, including Tamir interception missiles. "The issue is being handled by the best minds," says Haddad-Chmelnik. "The air force and air defense system is taking into account everything that needs to be taken into account, and has put everything on the table."

"If you hear a boom in the air - you can be happy"

As in previous rounds of fighting against Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the pressure threshold increases and anxiety among people rises. Many residents report every day sounds of explosions throughout the country, even when no sirens are operated in their city. "The meaning of a loud 'boom' is a successful interception," Haddad-Chmelnik explains. "Iron Dome's missile doesn't make much noise, and a direct hit by a rocket will also make less noise, because there are objects that will block the sound. But when it explodes two kilometers above us, the sound wave reaches more people and therefore is heard in nearby cities."

Beyond the technical explanation, the fact that the number of launches from Gaza toward Israeli territory has increased dramatically in the current war also affects the intensity of the noise. "The rockets that reach the center are even more loaded with explosives, and this time there are more such launches. Their dispersion is also greater, and this means that there are more interceptions in absolute numbers - and these cause more noise. If you heard a big 'boom' in the air, you can be happy that there was a successful interception. But you still have to be careful, because there are fragments that fall from the air without exploding."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on October 26, 2023.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2023.

Iron Done credit: SOPA Images
Iron Done credit: SOPA Images
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