Supporting a defense system that saves lives in the line of fire

Iron Dome has no offensive capability; it is meant to protect. The need for it is urgent, and time is not on Israel’s side.

A view of the Iron Dome air-defense system. Credit: Rafael Advanced Defense Systems.
A view of the Iron Dome air-defense system. Credit: Rafael Advanced Defense Systems.
Yoram Weiss and Dalia Itzik

Israeli leaders and medical professionals are intimately familiar with the destructive force of rockets fired indiscriminately by terror groups based in the Gaza Strip onto Israeli homes, schools, shopping centers, roadways, offices, and yes, even hospitals. Doctors, nurses and soldiers are well-acquainted with the scale of human tragedy that unfolds when weapons of war are turned on men, women, children and the elderly. The pain comes with a healthy dose of gratitude from being shielded under the protective umbrella of the Iron Dome missile-defense system, without which the scale of suffering would be far greater.

In the last 20 years, Israel has had to absorb no fewer than 23,000 rockets and mortars fired onto the country from Gaza. It is an average of three attacks per day, every day, for two decades, and does not even account for the thousands of rockets and missiles fired by Hezbollah in Lebanon in the same period.

Aside from the trauma experienced by survivors, the rockets have put too many families in mourning. Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs is unique in the world in having the burden of maintaining a running list of victims of Palestinian violence and terrorism. According to this resource, at least 43 people—Thais, Indians, Israelis and Palestinians, too—between the ages of 2 and 84 have been killed by rockets. And yet, like its first responders, Israelis, Arabs, Bedouins, Palestinians, foreign workers and tourists feel blessed. Iron Dome protects all people, saving the civilian lives that terrorists are working to steal.

The system is a technological marvel. It hits a missile with a missile in mid-air, destroying it before it can inflict physical injuries on the ground. It has no offensive capability. And it has been tremendously efficient in keeping people out of hospitals and cemeteries. According to the Israel Defense Forces, Iron Dome has been more than 90 percent effective in intercepting terrorist attacks.

Iron Dome would not exist but for the friendship, generosity and steadfast commitment of the American people to helping Israel defend itself. The system was developed collaboratively by Israel’s leading defense companies and U.S. defense firm Raytheon, and has been supported by U.S. investments of more than $1.6 billion over the course of the last decade.

But safety has a cost. Each Iron Dome interceptor missile costs between $100,000 and $150,000. After having its stockpiles depleted during an onslaught of terrorist rocket fire earlier this year, Israel needs its interceptor missile stockpile to be replenished. The need is urgent, and time is not on Israel’s side.

Terrorists in Gaza are smuggling armaments over land, through tunnels and by sea, and using locally available materials to fashion homemade weapons. Separately, to Israel’s north, Iran continues to arm Hezbollah, which maintains its own arsenal of 130,000 rockets and missiles threatening the overwhelming majority of Israel. They decide when the next wave of attacks will take place and no matter when that is, the Jewish state must be ready to protect itself. But it cannot do that alone.

In June, Israel requested $1 billion in emergency support from Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin for replenishment of Iron Dome interceptor missiles. That request was received favorably by President Joe Biden, just as former President Barack Obama received such a request in 2014. Earlier this month, the U.S. House of Representatives delivered. The vote, however, was not without contention, and the Senate must still approve the appropriation as well.

The funding from this emergency support will pay for somewhere between 6,666 and 10,000 more interceptor missiles that will, in the future, destroy approximately 90 percent of the terrorist rockets that would otherwise produce hundreds or thousands of casualties of all ages and all ethnicities. Israel Defense Forces’ officials have warned, however, that the country could face more than 2,000 rockets per day from Hezbollah alone.

It is against that reality that Israelis viewed an initial vote in the House that stripped the emergency support from the legislation. A minority of representatives scoffed at the price tag of the request or opposed the measure as a statement against Israeli policies. We must hope that these officials did not consider the human toll of failing to protect civilians against terrorist threats or considered the ramifications on international peace and security of leaving Israel vulnerable to attack. And to be sure, they have not experienced life in Israel, Gaza or the West Bank without Iron Dome.

Hopefully, they and the people of Israel never will.

Yoram Weiss is acting director general of Hadassah Medical Organization (HMO). Dalia Itzik served as Speaker of the 17th Knesset and is chairwoman of HMO’s board of directors.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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