After Operation Pillar of Smoke (yes, I know it’s Pillar of Cloud, but I prefer to call it “smoke,” as “up in…smoke”), the IDF claimed that its Iron Dome anti-missile system performed brilliantly destroying 84% of its targets. Defense Minister Barak sang its praises, Israeli civilians breathed a sign of relief to finally have a weapon that could protect them from incessant Gaza rocket attacks. Home Front Minister Avi Dichter even used a truly capitalist metaphor to convey Israel’s admiration:
“Were Iron Dome traded on the (Tel Aviv) stock exchange or Nasdaq, it would have multiplied its share value several times over.”
Turns out it’s a good thing for investors they couldn’t buy shares in this thing because, while it’s not exactly a fraud, the IDF lied through its teeth about the results. Their investment would’ve gone bust. Writing in Haaretz (Hebrew and English), military affairs columnist Reuven Pedatzur quotes three technical specialists who severely downgrade the effectiveness of Iron Dome.
The experts are Theodore Postol (whose findings are summarized in English here), Dr. Mordechai Shefer, and an unnamed scientist who worked for Iron Dome’s manufacturer, Raytheon, till recently. After examining hundreds of videos of Iron Dome launchings during the military campaign, they came to the conclusion that the anti-missile weapon may’ve shot down 5% of its targets. They define a definite kill as a missile hitting the nose of the rocket, where the weapons payload is. The IDF’s claims of success, they explain, result from confusion about the explosion that often occurred as the missile approached its target. In the vast majority of cases, the explosion was that of the missile self-destructing when it detected it would not strike the Palestinian rocket.
Postol also evaluated the success rate of Patriot missiles during the Gulf War and found that they didn’t hit any of their targets.
The experts also note a wide discrepancy between the number of damage claims by Israeli civilians (3,200) and the number of rockets the IDF concedes struck built-areas (58). Even the Israeli police reported 109 incidents in which they investigated damage from Palestinian rockets, which is double the number that the IDF claims.
If we keep in mind that Palestinian rockets are slow-moving, extremely primitive weapons and note the failure of Iron Dome at hitting them, missile experts have noted the anti-missile system would have much greater difficulty hitting more sophisticated rockets fired from missile launchers (such as what Hezbollah might mount).
Before Israel and the U.S. rush into a billion-dollar spending spree for this whiz-bang system, it’s best that sober-minded people examine its real capabilities. The price of Iron Dome is mind-boggling. Israel wants 13 more batteries with each costing $50-million. That’s close to $600-million. Missile experts have estimated that during an intense military attack Israel might spend $380-million a DAY on defensive operations. While I’m all in favor of protecting Israeli lives, is it worth a sum in the billions to shoot down 5% of the enemy rockets that it targets?
It’s fascinating to note that the IDF response to this report was not what I would expect. They did not reaffirm the 84% accuracy rate of which they boasted earlier:
Operation Pillar of Cloud will be investigated in all its aspects, including the activity of the Iron Dome system. All interceptions [of missiles] by Iron Dome are investigated, with cross-checking of system data, radar [data], reports of different sources on the ground and other information. The data of [Iron Dome] activity was arrived at based on this process.
This to me indicates that they have little confidence in their former claims.
The hype and fraudulent claims around Iron Dome are characteristic of the entire Israeli national security system. It makes extravagant claims either about the danger posed by an enemy (Iran) or about the success of a weapons system. Many of which turn out to be based on little more than wishful thinking. Israel bases much of its strategic military thinking on what it wants to happen, rather than what will or may happen. Which is how it gets into trouble when it actually has to fight a war or military campaign.