Israeli is deploying an interceptor system it has developed at a cost of US$210 million to shoot down the short-range rockets and mortar bombs used by Palestinian and Hezbollah guerrillas.
Defence minister Ehud Barak says the system will be deployed outside the Gaza Strip by June and along the Lebanon border later this year.
If successful against Hamas-ruled Gaza, from which Israel withdrew in 2005, “Iron Dome” could eventually also be posted outside the West Bank and defuse some Israelis’ concerns about the prospect of ceding that territory to the Palestinians, Reuters reports.
Barak says “Iron Dome” would “change the equation” and could deter militants from launching attacks. “It is a major change and provides the Israeli civilian population, once deployed in the coming years, cover against small-sized rockets and missilettes,” he said.
The project was spurred by the 2006 war with Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas, during which 4000 rockets rained down on northern Israel in 34 days. A surge in such attacks from Gaza a year ago prompted an Israeli offensive which killed more than 1400 Palestinians, many of them civilians, and drew international censure, Reuters reported.
Some of the Hezbollah rockets hit Haifa, the country’s third largest city and major port. The barrage killed 44 Israeli civilians and caused some 250 000 Israeli citizens to evacuate and relocate to other parts of Israel while an estimated one million Israelis were confined in or near shelters during the conflict, the wikipedia notes.
In the south, more than 4000 rockets and 4000 mortars have been fired into Israel from Gaza between 2000 and 2008, mostly by Hamas. The overwhelming majority of rockets fired are of the artisan-made “Qassam” type of which three variants exist, ranging in payload from 0.5kg to 10kg and range from 3km to 10km (for the “Qassam 3”).
The rockets are named after the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the armed branch of Hamas, itself named for Izz ad-Din al-Qassam, a militant Syrian preacher whose death during a guerrilla raid against British Mandate authorities in 1935 was one of the catalysts for the 1936 Arab Revolt.
The wikipedia adds the focus of the design is ease and speed of manufacture, using common tools and components. “To this end, the rockets are propelled by a solid mixture of sugar and potassium nitrate, a widely available fertiliser. The warhead is filled with smuggled or scavenged TNT and urea nitrate, another common fertiliser. The rocket consists of a steel cylinder, containing a rectangular block of the propellant. A steel plate which forms and supports the nozzles is spot-welded to the base of the cylinder. The warhead consists of a simple metal shell surrounding the explosives, and is triggered by a fuse constructed using a simple firearm cartridge, a spring and a nail.
While early designs used a single nozzle which screwed into the base, recent rockets use a seven-nozzle design, with the nozzles drilled directly into the rocket baseplate. This change both increases the tolerance of the rocket to small nozzle design defects, and eases manufacture by allowing the use of a drill rather than a lathe during manufacture due to the smaller nozzle size,the wikipedia explains. “Unlike many other rockets, the nozzles are not canted, which means the rocket does not spin about its axis during flight. While this results in a significant decrease in accuracy, it greatly simplifies rocket manufacture and the launch systems required.”
Nearly one million Israelis living in the south of that state are within rocket range. Particularly heavily targetted is the small city of Sderot, about 2km west of Gaza’s north-west corner (19 000 residents).
Individual 122-mm BM-21 “Grad” (Russian: hail) artillery rockets have also been smuggled into Gaza for use with copies of the 9K132 “Grad-P” single-round man-portable launcher. With a range of about 40 km, these can reach the Israeli cities of Ashdod, Beer-Sheva (Beersheba), Ofakim, Gedera and Gan Yavne. The “Grad-P” is popular with paramilitary and guerrilla forces and was often used by the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia against South African bases in the north of that country during the 1966-1989 “Border War”.
From Lebanon the Israelis also face Iranian-supplied artillery rockets such as the Fajr-series. The Fajr comes in calibres up to 333mm. The latter, the Fajr-5, ranges to 80km. The 5.2-metre long, 240mm Fajr-3 ranges to 45 kilometres, weighs 407 kilograms, and carries a 45-kilogram warhead.
Designed by state-owned Rafael Advanced Defence Systems (RADS), Iron Dome uses small radar-guided missiles to strike down rockets with ranges of between 5km and 70km, as well as mortar bombs. However, the Israeli Ha’aretz newspaper added the system had a minimum distance of 4000m because of the necessary 15 seconds system’s reaction time.
An Israeli defence official said Iron Dome had successfully intercepted multiple salvoes in field trials and that military air-defence units were already training on it. “Our plan is to be operational by the mid-point of 2010,” the official said. Israel’s Channel 10 television said the first Gaza deployment would be in May.
The French ADIT research agency says a single missile battery would be enough to protect a medium-sized city.
The Times newspaper in London, quoted “military experts” as saying the system “can estimate where a missile will land, targeting those that will hit populated areas while ignoring missiles heading for open ground.
Iron Dome would stop missiles with a range of between 4 and 70 kilometres (2.5 and 45 miles), spanning smaller mortar shells from Gaza to the Iranian-made Fajr rockets fired by Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Iron Dome is intended to be the bottom layer in a missile defence shield, with the US-financed long-range, high-altitude Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI)/Boeing Arrow II interceptor, first deployed in 2001, to take care of ballistic missiles, and the RADS/Raytheon “David’s Sling” system (also known a “Magic Wand”), still at least two years away from deployment, designed to counter intermediate-range missiles.
The US UPI news service meanwhile reports that despite “all the media fanfare and ballyhoo about the impending deployment of another missile-defence system, Israeli commentators are warning that the Jewish state’s much-vaunted defence shield has a few chinks in it.”
It quoted Rueven Pedatzur of the Ha’aretz daily as decrying what he called a “public relations campaign accompanying the test is full of deceptions and half-truths. It has ignored the flaws in the systems and has created illusions.”
For one thing, he declared, “the stock of Iron Dome missiles is liable to run out way before the rocket barrages end. And in any case, because of the high cost of using Iron Dome for defense, the Palestinians in the south and Hezbollah in the north can defeat us at the bank, without even launching a single rocket.”
One Iron Dome interception will cost about $100,000, he calculated, while Hamas’ home-made Qassam rockets only cost at most $200 apiece. “At that rate, Israel would soon run into the red if it is faced, as most strategist expect it will be some time in the near future, round-the-clock bombardments with thousands of [rockets] unleashed by Hezbollah and Hamas, both armed by Iran.”
In 2006 Hezbollah alone was believed to have around 12 000 rockets. These days it’s reputed to have around 42 000, including some that can reach Tel Aviv, Israel’s largest urban conurbation, UPI said.
UPI adds the current estimate is 20 batteries for north and south, with each battery costing $14 million.
Israel hopes to recoup some of the tens of millions of dollars that Iron Dome will cost by selling the technology to other countries. The US and Britain have each expressed interest, along with other countries fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, Reuters added.
Pic: HAMAS mlitants preparing three Qassam rockets for firing from very simple launchers.