The current round of violence at the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip commenced when Israel assassinated the General Secretary of the Popular Resistance Committees, Zuhair Al-Qaisi, together with Ahmed Al-Hanani, a PRC member from Nablus who was deported to the Gaza Strip. According to the Israeli army, the two were “planning a combined terror attack that was to take place via Sinai in the coming days”. PRC responded immediately to these murders, firing rockets into Israeli territory.
Israeli officers told local press that whilst they considered the possibility of an immediate Palestinian response to the assassinations, they trusted Israel’s newly developed Iron Dome anti-rocket system. Indeed, the current exchanges of fire represent the first time the Iron Dome system is being tested in full operational conditions since it was deployed in March 2011.
The Iron Dome anti-rocket system is designed to counter short-range rockets and 155 mm artillery shells with a range of up to 70 kilometers. The system has three central components: a detection and tracking radar built by Elta, a battle management and weapon control (BMC) built by mPrest Systems, an Israeli software company, and a missile firing unit, that launches the Tamir interceptor missile, equipped with electro-optic sensors and several steering fins for high maneuverability. The missile is built by Rafael.
The system’s radar detects a rocket launch and tracks its trajectory. Then, the BMC calculates the expected hit point according to the reported data, and uses this information to determine whether the target constitutes a threat to a designated area; only in this case an interceptor missile is fired to detonate the rocket before it reaches the expected impact area. The system is designed to only intercept rockets identified as heading for designated targets.
The developers of the Iron Dome anti-rocket system claim it operates day and night, under adverse weather conditions, and can respond to multiple threats simultaneously. The system had a limited operational testing following its deployment, but the current wave of violence provides a precious moment to test its works in field conditions after first errors were detected.
The Israeli army reports that Iron Dome has intercepted more than 90 percent of the rockets it has targeted during the first two days of violence, and 80 per cent later. The developers of the system claim this is a higher rate than anticipated.
The chairman of Elta, the company which built the system’s radar, Major (ret.) Nissim Hadas, is quoted on the Israeli army website that “the feeling is that we’ve succeeded in producing a system that provides protection”. However, he also stated that despite “the Iron Dome’s proven success, improvements will continue to be made.”
The development of the Iron Dome system was financed partially by the United States, which granted US$205 million toward its development. On 9 May 2011, Haaretz reported that Defense Ministry Director General Maj. Gen. (res.) Udi Shani said that Israel plans to invest nearly US$1 billion in the coming years for the development and production of Iron Dome batteries.
“We are defining the final target for absorbing the systems, in terms of schedule and funds. We are talking about [having] 10-15 Iron Dome batteries. We will invest nearly US$1 billion on this. This is the goal,” Shani said.
Three Israeli companies are involved in the development of the new system. One is Elta Systems, Ltd., a subsidiary group of Israel Aerospace Industries. Elta is one of Israel’s major defense electronics companies specialising in a variety of fields. The company was established in 1967 and its 2006 sales reached US$805 million, of which 90% were exported to armed forces worldwide and 10% were sold domestically.
For development of the Iron Dome Elta partnered with Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd., an Israeli company founded in 1948 as Israel’s National R&D Defense Laboratory for the development of weapons and military technology within the Ministry of Defense. The Iron Dome was developed as a final product by Rafael.
In 2002 Rafael was incorporated as a limited company under Israeli government ownership and earned a $37 million profit on $830 million in sales in its first year.
Currently Rafael is competing for a US Army tender issued in October 2011 to supply a system of defence against short-range rockets, such as the 107 mm Katyusha. According to a press release published by the company, Yossi Druker, head of Rafael’s air-to-air directorate, said that the tender would initially lead to the sale of the Iron Dome system to the US Army for evaluation, but that it could lead to a larger deal if the system is found to be suitable.
In this bid Rafael is competing with Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman Space & Mission Systems which, according to Aviation Week, were awarded in February 2008 US$8.6 million and US$5.9 million, respectively, to design prototype hardware for similar systems to intercept short range rockets. Both companies are expected to present their competing systems to the US Army by the end of 2012.
Aviation Week also claims that other companies developing similar defense systems include Raytheon, which offers the Centurion Land-based Phalanx Weapon System, which has proved effective in Iraq. Centurion has reportedly intercepted and prevented more than 110 mortar attacks.
The magazine claims that the Centurion system is also able to intercept rockets, artillery rounds and mortar bombs in the air and has recently been upgraded with an improved system, designed to prevent firing at friendly forces and sensitive areas.
Rafael hired mPrest Systems to develop the battle management and weapon control system of the Iron Dome. mPrest is a private Israeli company, developing high performance critical systems of several types, including Command & Control (C4I) and Homeland Security (HLS) systems. mPrest was founded in 2,000 and is 50% owned by Rafael..
So far three Iron Dome batteries have been operationally placed. According to Jane’s Missiles & Rockets, a fourth battery was due to be deployed by the end of 2011 or in the first weeks of 2012 in Haifa, to protect the oil refineries and ammonia tanks located in the city’s port. Jane’s added that the Israeli Ministry of Defence has allocated a budget to manufacture an additional three Iron Dome batteries by the end of 2012.
Presumably the current wave of Israeli violence against the Gaza Strip will assist Rafael in presenting its product to the US Army, but at the cost 23 Palestinian men, women and children who have lost their lives since Friday, and of transforming millions of Palestinian and Israeli citizens into lab rats.
* This Article was published by the Alternative Information Center