Explaining the Iron Dome

You have seen the videos of rockets exploding in the night sky like fireworks: they have gone viral and are played on news channels, along with talks of the Iron Dome. But what is this Iron Dome and why is it important? 

What exactly is it?

The Iron Dome is Israel’s missile defense system, which intercepts and destroys short-range rockets and artillery that are within 70 kilometers from each missile defense battery. These batteries are highly mobile, and their locations change frequently to avoid detection from adversaries. Each missile defense battery has three parts: the radar, control center, and missile launcher. The radar detects information about the speed and trajectory of incoming rockets. The control center determines whether an incoming rocket will hit a populated area. Finally, the missile launcher fires missiles towards threatening rockets. Israel has ten such batteries, each with twenty interceptor missiles. The Iron Dome is highly effective against short-range rockets, with a success rate of over 90%, and functions in any weather conditions. However, the Iron Dome is not entirely foolproof: it can only defend against so many rockets, a weakness that Hamas has tried to exploit.

What do Israelis say about the Iron Dome? 

The Iron Dome is credited with saving thousands of Israeli citizens’ lives, as its missiles destroy rockets that are projected to land in populated areas. In 2021 alone, the Iron Dome intercepted more than 3,946 rockets that otherwise would have likely hit populated regions in Israel. The Iron Dome is used to protect Israel from rockets fired by Hamas, a Palestinian Islamist terror organization, and Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shia Islamist militant group. Israeli citizens rank security as their top concern, and thus, are generally pleased with the Iron Dome’s capabilities to diminish the number of fatalities due to rockets.  

How is it relevant to the US?

Operational since 2011, the Iron Dome has been largely funded by the U.S. Most recently, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that would provide $1 billion towards Israel’s Iron Dome, in the spirit of the 2016 U.S.-Israeli military aid deal. The U.S.-Israeli deal ensures that the U.S. will give Israel $38 billion over the decade, as long as Israel does not seek more funding and instead, spends more money on U.S. defense companies. While the $1 billion has since been stripped from the bill, due to conflicts within the Democratic Party, the resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives will continue until December 3. The U.S. also possesses two Iron Dome batteries: one of these batteries will arrive at the Andersen Air Force Base in Guam by mid-October to be tested in order to develop U.S. defense systems.

What makes the Iron Dome so controversial? 

A point of contention is whether the Iron Dome saves or costs Palestinian lives in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and apartheid, an enduring struggle for land and sovereignty: the former argument is based on the idea that the Iron Dome means fewer Israeli ground offensive approaches and thus fewer lives lost, and the latter that the Iron Dome reinforces Israel’s capacity to prolong the conflict. There is also an obvious disparity in casualties that results from the Iron Dome that raises concerns about the Iron Dome’s effects on civilian lives: 260 Palestinians killed in the 2021 conflict, compared to 13 Israeilis killed. Because of the Iron Dome’s ability to secure Israel from most air-borne attack, Israel has stalled with finding a deeper solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

This controversy is reflected in U.S. public opinion, as 50% of Americans  believe that the U.S. should reduce military aid to Israel and prohibit the use of the funds in military operations against Palestinians; this disagreement also extends to Congressional representatives, who are contending with this concern.  

Erin Kim is a freshman majoring in Political Science and International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. She is from Irvine, CA and is an editorial member of the Hopkins Podcast on Foreign Affairs.

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