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Under fire

Blair Cunningham, Jerusalem
July 15, 2014

It’s been labelled a unique innovation, a strategic asset and a savior. But there's also a sense of complacency creeping in on the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem about Israel's iron dome defense system.

Image: picture alliance/landov

Israel currently has seven of the crate-like iron dome batteries, which have been stretched to capacity in the last fortnight intercepting Hamas rocket fire from Gaza.

Each iron dome battery costs around $50 million (37 million euros) to produce and each time a rocket is intercepted and exploded mid-air it costs Israel about $20,000.

While warding off rockets from Gaza, fired as far north as Haifa, it's had an 85-90 percent success rate of intercepting the missiles and either blowing them up before they reach ground or pushing them out to sea or over open paddocks.

Such a success rate has some experts worried that it may be so efficient that Israelis are starting to feel complacent when they hear code-red sirens informing them a rocket's on its way.

"I would say this is mostly true...there is complacency, people are not panicked, people even tend to take the alarm sirens carelessly. However nobody ever promised 100 percent protection," Yiftah Shapir, missile defence expert and senior fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, told DW.

One of the iron dome's co-creators, Reserve Brigadier General Danny Gold, agrees. He said there is a definite risk people could become complacent and careless about the risk to their safety, especially members of the public.

He told DW there's increasingly a tendency for people to continue going about their daily business, safe in the knowledge that any missile will be intercepted overhead.

rocket being fired copyright: DAVID BUIMOVITCH/AFP/Getty Images)
The success rate is impressive, however not 100 percentImage: DAVID BUIMOVITCH/AFP/Getty Images

The idea for such an anti-missile system was first floated in the mid-1990s when the Lebanon-based group Hezbollah began firing into Israel. It wasn't until 2004 that the iron dome concept gained real traction when Gold became head of the Israel Defence Force's research and development team.

In 2007, the idea for the dome was commissioned and since then local company Rafael Advanced Defense Systems has been working on the project.

An eighth iron dome is about to begin its duty and the United States is working with Israel to fund additional batteries. Essentially there are three components - the detection and tracking radar; the battle management and weapon control; and the missile firing unit.

'Complacency not the right word'

While there's a general sense amongst residents in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem that complacency could be creeping in, others say they still treat the situation with the seriousness it deserves.

Jerusalem resident Sarah Grossman doesn't think complacent is the right word. "Thankful is better. Besides, everyone knows that even with the iron dome working, debris still falls afterwards so it's best to stay inside," she told DW. "Basically, if I'm home or otherwise near a clear shelter, I go down as fast as I can as per protocols."

people in a shelter copyright: Daniel Bar-On/AFP/Getty Images
Trying to stay safeImage: Getty Images/AFP

"I was on a bus during one siren, and there was no good place to seek shelter, so I sort of just watch the incoming rockets and iron dome because I do assume that it'll be okay," Jerusalem-based Ari Roth told DW.

Operation Protective Edge holds painful memories for 25-year-old Rishon LeZion student Niav Hashaoshan. During Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012, he was lucky to escape uninjured when the neighboring building was blown up. He agrees people are a little more relaxed now than they were during the first few sirens, mainly because of the security offered by the iron dome.

"I think people are reasonably security conscious. Because of the iron dome and because we know how to deal with this situation people feel really secure. You walk in Tel Aviv and everything is normal, except at the time of the siren."

Danny Gold warns against complacency and said the iron dome is not the only line of defense against Hamas.

"Defence is a combination of the iron dome, the sirens, and massive intelligence as well, like we see - all layers to support each other. There's no way people should sit at home and do nothing because they think the iron dome will do everything 100 percent correctly above their head."

Saving Israeli lives

Gold is trying to keep a low public profile at the moment but told DW when he meets people in the street who know he helped with the iron dome, they shake his hand, thank him and call him a hero.

"The main issue when creating the dome was saving Israeli life. I think it's an enormous achievement not only of me but also of a few hundred people working for a few years - they're best of the best, the crème of the crème of hi-tech in Israel."

He said secondary to saving lives was the desire to limit economic losses to cities around Israel and to minimize damage to people's properties and assets. "The iron dome is a strategic asset for the country."

Gold rejects recent criticism from Richard Lloyd, a weapons expert and consultant, that the iron dome is a "total failure" because the system isn't detonating explosive warheads containing shrapnel when intercepting the missiles. Instead Gold said Lloyd had made the wrong assessment. "He has no connection to iron dome technology or even to reality, but the reality is iron dome is taking almost everything down."

Gold is also at pains to reassure people that while recent rocket fire from Lebanon may be stretching the system, the iron dome will be able to cope.

Back on the ground in Rishon LeZion, Niav Hashaoshan said he's worried for the future of Israel but he's also mindful of what's happening to Gaza.

bombed out car on street
The other side of the coinImage: Reuters

"I really feel bad for the people in Gaza, there are civilians, they did nothing wrong, they only live on the wrong side of the map."

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