The Dominant Dome

Israeli scientist verifies success rate of Iron Dome missile defense system on eve of Obama visit

Israeli Iron Dome battery / AP
March 19, 2013

JERUSALEM – Claims made by an American scientist that Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile defense system downed only 5 to 10 percent of rockets fired from Gaza during Operation Pillar of Defense last November, and not more than 80 percent as Israel claims, were refuted yesterday by the former head of Israel’s anti-missile development program.

"The rocket battles, successful or not, during Pillar of Defense have been fully reconstructed and analyzed, interception after interception, and the results are unambiguous," wrote Uzi Rubin in Haaretz. "The success rate matches the defense establishment statements."

The success of the system was widely seen as a game changer that virtually neutralized the single effective weapon in Hamas’ arsenal: rockets. Hamas fired more than 1,500 rockets into Israel during the weeklong skirmish and it and Hezbollah reportedly have thousands more in reserve.

The Iron Dome radar is capable of detecting a rocket’s likely impact point within moments of liftoff. If the rocket is heading for an open field or a park within a built-up area, the Iron Dome battery will ignore it. Of the rockets fired during the November battle, two-thirds were thus ignored.

Time magazine reported Israeli officials saying at the time that 90 percent of incoming rockets had been destroyed while then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said "more than 80 percent" had been intercepted.

No precise breakdown has yet been given. Rubin wrote that Israel "reported that more than 80 percent of the rockets aimed at built-up areas were intercepted and destroyed in the air."

There were only two fatal impacts despite the large number of rockets fired: three were killed in a house and one was hit in an open field.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Theodore Postol has studied American missile interception systems. He determined in the wake of the 1991 Gulf War that the success rate of the much-vaunted Patriot anti-missile system "could have been less than 10 percent, perhaps even zero," the BBC reported.

Rubin wrote that Postol based his judgment about the Iron Dome system on videos filmed by civilians on their smart phones and on admittedly incomplete information.

Postol's claim "bears no resemblance to real scientific research," Rubin said.

Citing figures of the total number of rockets fired by Hamas provided by the terrorist organization and Israel, Rubin is unclear how Postol can reconcile his claims to the data we now know.

"According to Defense Ministry figures, about 480 rockets were about to fall in built-up areas," Rubin wrote. "If only 10 percent of them were intercepted, where did the nearly 430 rockets that apparently fell nowhere, at least not in one piece, vanish?"

Israel is rushing more Iron Dome batteries into production and upgrading the ones it already has in preparation for a possible outbreak of hostilities with Hezbollah.

An Iron Dome battery was deployed at Ben Gurion Airport for President Barack Obama's inspection upon his arrival Wednesday.