Last week’s heavy salvos of mortar shells and rockets fired by Gazan terror groups at civilian areas in southern Israel formed a first real-life test for several Iron Dome rocket-defense crews.

They sprang into action, intercepting projectiles heading into Israel’s southern communities to save lives, many of them putting their training into practice for the first time in their military service.

Lt. Shani Amos, commander of an Iron Dome company that defends the Ashkelon region and which intercepted its first live enemy fire during the latest Gaza flare-up, told JNS about the day of combat she and her personnel encountered on May 29.

Every attack by the enemy “is training for us. This teaches us, more than anything else,” she said.

“I can testify that my Iron Dome battery took a central role in defending the State of Israel,” she added. “We intercepted projectiles heading for communities and villages that could have been hit. They were aimed at striking kindergartens and civilian homes.”

Amos summed up the intensive day as “successful in terms of air defense.”

Lt. Shani Amos, commander of an Iron Dome battery company in the Ashkelon area. Credit: IDF Spokesperson Unit.

At the same time, she added, “I am in training—and am training others continuously—during routine times and emergencies. We are prepared. We ensure that we can act when we get the order and that we are able to identify targets heading towards Israel, so that we can operate in the most professional way.”

Taking part in air defense operations of this nature is an experience that’s difficult to describe, she noted. “There is a sense of tension; these are moments that we train for every day, so that when the day arrives, we can defend our sector. When our shift began, I briefed the squad and told everyone that now we will be intercepting. They looked at me and chuckled. And within minutes, we detected targets moving into our sector. The whole squad shifted gear and managed the system, keeping their cool. I can safely say that we carried out our mission.”

‘Best training we can get’

The Iron Dome batteries and their personnel are part of the Israeli Air Force’s Air Defense Division. As with all activities conducted by the air force, a lengthy, in-depth inquiry takes place following any incident to search for ways to improve the next time.

“We are always seeking lessons,” affirmed Amos. “We stayed up until the small hours of the night, inquiring. We can always be better. But I can say with full confidence that we defended the area. This is the best training we can get for our teams. The heart beats faster [during interceptions], and these events prepare us for more complex events.”

Iron Dome is manufactured and developed by the Rafael Advance Defense Systems company. In the latest security escalation, it intercepted short-range mortar shells as well as rockets—something the system has always been designed to do, but which it is improving at with time.

A Rafael company source added that upgrades to the batteries remain ongoing.

A separate Rafael system still under development, called Iron Beam, which is designed to shoot down mortar shells with laser beams, has yet to go operational.

“The defense systems are good, but they do not provide a hermetic defense. Civilians must listen to the instructions by the Home Front Command,” emphasized Amos.

The officer also praised the technical teams that take part in the inquiries and help adapt the systems according to the results: “Our systems are developing. The operational experience enables us to adapt them.”

“In a single day, more than 100 projectiles were fired,” she reported. “After a day of combat like that, we can see that we have the ability to deal with mortar shells. We offered a full defense of the Ashkelon sector.”

As proof of such security, local residents frequently approach the air-defense personnel, offering gifts and thanks, she added, saying “many come up to us to say thank you.”