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Israel’s ‘Iron Dome’ Air Defence System: What is it and how does it work

To counter the low-cost warfare initiated by Hamas, the Israel Defence Forces has now activated its state-of-art air defence system - 'Iron Dome' to protect its civilian population from the rocket attacks.

The clashes between Israel and pro-Palestine terrorist groups over territorial-control issues have now ignited a fresh wave of violence and low-scale war in the perennial battleground of the Middle East. The decision of Israel to evict illegal Palestinians from Sheikh Jarah in East Jerusalem have now given rise to fresh escalations of tensions between Israel and Palestine, resulting in large scale violence and attacks.

With the entry of the Islamic terror group Hamas, the clashes between the two sides have now taken an ugly turn. The terror group has resorted to unleashing a massive attack against Israel. The terror outfit Hamas has escalated its attack on Israeli civilians by launching hundreds of rockets.

More than 30 Israelis have been killed in the attack after Hamas launched indiscriminate rockets from the Gaza Strip. In response to the rocket attacks, the Israel Defence Forces have struck some 140 targets in the coastal enclave against Hamas. Israel has also stepped up its attacks on the Palestinian terror group Hamas inside Gaza Strip.

The Israel Defence Forces have carried also out airstrikes on targets in Gaza in response to continued attacks by Hamas against Israel. During the retaliatory strikes on Tuesday, several high-profile Hamas terrorists are said to have been killed. However, Hamas is no mood to stop their rocket attacks on Israel.

To counter the low-cost warfare initiated by Hamas, the Israel Defence Forces has now activated its state-of-art air defence system – ‘Iron Dome’ to protect its civilian population from the rocket attacks. Deploying its Iron Dome, the IDF has been successful in intercepting the continuous barrage of rockets targetting Tel Aviv and central Israel.

Here is an explainer on the Israeli air defence network ‘Iron Dome’ and how it intercepts the incoming threats.

What is Iron Dome?

Israel’s Iron Dome is an air defence system developed by the Israeli firms Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries, with support from the United States.

It is an air defence system deployed by Israel to intercept and destroy short-range rockets, artillery shells and mortars fired from distances of up to 70 kilometres, to protect the Israeli population from rampant attacks by Palestinian terrorist groups. The Iron Dome is designed to intercept short-range rockets and artillery that are fired by the Islamic terror group Hamas from Gaza and other surrounding areas.

How does the system work?

The all-weather Iron Dome relies on a system of radar and analysis to determine whether an incoming rocket is a threat and takes the appropriate response to fire an interceptor to destroy the incoming rocket. The interceptor missiles intercept those rockets that are launched to target the civilian population inside Israel.

It is a three-central component consisting of interceptor batteries that shoot rockets out of the sky, a radar that tracks the rocket as it is fired across the border into Israel, and then advanced software that predicts the rocket’s trajectory.

The information picked by the system is then used to guide Tamir interceptor missiles, which are fired vertically either from mobile units or a static launch site to detonate the incoming rocket in the air, producing explosions in the sky.

The infographic of the working of high-tech Iron Dome Air Defence System/ Image Source: Voice of America

How long has Israel been using it?

Iron Dome was first commissioned by the Israel Defence Forces in March 2011 and made its first successful intervention the subsequent month when it intercepted a Grad rocket fired from Gaza. Israel initiated its air-defence program after its war with Lebanon’s Hezbollah in 2006, when 4,000 rockets rained down on northern Israel, killing 44.

Every time Israel launches its Tamir missile to intercept rockets from Gaza, it incurs a cost of around $95,000 (Rs 70 lakhs). Due to the higher costs, Israel usually uses them only against rockets destined for residential areas, rather than those headed for open ground.

In fact, the cost of rebuilding infrastructure damaged by rockets is much cheaper than using the Iron Dome. However, with civilian lives in question, Israel has been continuously using the Iron Dome system to protect its population from rocket attacks. Reportedly, the US has partly-funded the system, pledging $429m (£303m) towards the programme.

Iron Dome – an effective air-defence system

The Iron Dome air defence system is considered one of the world’s most advanced, with a reported success rate of more than 90%.

According to experts, the commissioning of the Iron Dome has changed life for many Israelis during recent conflicts, as it now allows IDF to intercept rockets fired from Gaza with more certainty. Hence a sense of normality has returned in southern parts of the country, the region that receives a maximum number of rocket strikes. A decade later after its commissioning, the Iron Dome has thwarted thousands of rocket attacks launched by the Palestinian terrorists from Gaza.

However, some rockets fired from Gaza have made it through and resulted in deaths in Israel due to the sustained rocket launches by Hamas.

In addition to their land-based deployment, Israel Defence Forces are looking forward to deploying the Iron Dome batteries on its naval systems. The IDF has deployed the air-defence systems on its Sa’ar 6-class corvettes to protect off-shore gas platforms in conjunction with Israel’s Barak 8 missile system.

In addition, the Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries are working on a multi-tiered missile defence system and long-range air defence systems with the integration of  Arrow 2, Arrow 3, Iron Beam, Barak 8 and David’s Sling anti-missile systems.

While the Iron Dome protects civilian populations against short-range rockets fired by Hamas, usually Qassams and Katyushas, The Arrow system works to take out long-range missiles targeted against Israel. It is being developed especially to counter the Scud missiles from Syria and the Shihab missiles from Iran.

David’s Sling, currently under development, is designed to intercept medium range ballistic weapons and highly accurate missiles.

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