COLUMN-Israel's Iron Dome missile-defense system is an ironclad success

Wed Aug 6, 2014 4:01pm EDT

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(Uzi Rubin is the founder and first director of the Israel Missile Defense Organization. The opinions expressed here are those of the author.)

By Uzi Rubin

Aug 6 (Reuters) - While the troops of Israel's Air Defense Command are blasting Grad and Fajr rockets shot from Gaza out of the sky with success, there are an obsessive few who try to blast Iron Dome's evident achievements into oblivion. They insist on trivializing the missile-defense system's rock-solid record because the facts don't fit their theory that no missile defense system can ever work.

The chief Iron Dome scold is Ted Postol of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a professor with academic standing but no experience in designing or managing the development of modern missile systems. He postulates that missile defense is innately belligerent and as quixotic as "the idea that a nuclear war can be won" but admits that the public would not readily agree with his views. He casts missile defense as irretrievably faulty and wasteful, with Iron Dome - the product Israeli technical savvy and U.S. defense funds - squarely in his sights.

Judging from grainy YouTube downloads of Iron Dome interceptions that show mostly indistinct windswept smoke trails and blast clouds, Postol infers that the majority of the interceptors over Israel have missed their targets. But none of the images show the targeted rocket. He relies on his own calculations on how Iron Dome ought to work.

Ironically, Postol's fellow critic, Richard Lloyd of Tesla Laboratories, has said he believes Iron Dome's success rate to be almost eightfold higher than that calculated by Postol - 30 percent to 40 percent - though they both viewed the same footage. When two critics working so closely together disagree so dramatically in their conclusions, one may wonder at the scientific rigor of their analyses.

In real life, Iron Dome works in the skies over Israel, and impressively so. The 84 percent success rate achieved in the Gaza war of 2012 has improved to 90 percent in the current conflict, according to both Israeli and U.S. officials who have been in the command rooms and privy to top-secret interception data that, for security reasons, is not made public.

A simple question disproves the critics. How can it be that more than 2,200 rockets of all kinds have been fired at Israeli population centers since July 8, but there have been so few casualties? Just one person has been killed by a Grad rocket, and he was hit in an open desert area not protected by Iron Dome.

Postol theorizes that it is Israel's civil defense system that does the work - that people, warned in time by sirens, take cover and are saved. Yet this does not explain why so few rocket strikes are registered in the large population centers that Iron Dome is designed to protect. Of the hundreds of rockets fired at the city of Ashdod to date, for example, only 12 hit residential areas.

Are Hamas rockets that inaccurate? Why, after 60 or so heavier rockets have been fired at Tel Aviv, has not one impact been registered to date within city limits, save for the debris of visibly intercepted ones?

Moreover, can Postol explain the fact that, with all the current civil defense measures available in Israel during the 2006 Lebanon war, including public alarm systems and shelters already in place, Hezbollah rockets killed scores of Israelis while the same kinds of rockets now fired by Hamas fail to achieve anywhere near the same degree of lethality?

The only fundamental difference between the two campaigns is Iron Dome. In 2006, it was not in existence. Today, its protects Israel's major population centers.

While some would argue that the Israeli government is lying to its citizens and hiding the truth about many more rocket impacts, anyone who knows Israel's voracious media and its smartphone-toting public will understand that such allegations are ludicrous. You simply can't hide things like that in Israel.

Postol has argued that the U.S. government has been untruthful with its citizens about missile defense. Israel's government, too, is now accused of lying both to its own public and to the U.S. government about Iron Dome.

The truth is that Iron Dome works, repeatedly and reliably. It is saving lives and property all over Israel. The public in Israel - and, no doubt, U.S. peace mediators - are fully aware of and immensely grateful for the fact Iron Dome works so well. (Uzi Rubin)

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