Amid the recent rocket barrage that has terrorized southern Israel, the Israeli defense community – as well as the general public – has been consoled by the resounding success of the “Iron Dome”, which is reported to have successfully intercepted 85% of all incoming Grad rockets. On the surface, this “good news” offers not only respite from the fear and trauma that permeates Israeli society today, but also offers a much-needed sense of security. In reality though, the Iron Dome represents a total failure of vision and the concept of deterrence for the state of Israel. That is, we wait for our enemies to attack before demonstrating our strength, militarily and morally; and the only measure of success is the effectiveness of our reaction.
No one can deny that the Iron Dome represents a revolution in modern warfare, but this cannot obscure the critical fact that it entrenches a political myopia that has dire ramifications for military strategy. Considering that each Iron Dome battery costs an estimated $50 million, and each missile costs between $70,000-$100,000, the long-term cost for its continued deployment suggests that it should be renamed the “Golden Dome.” Moreover, defense officials have said that Israel needs to deploy at least 13 batteries to effectively safeguard against rockets fired from Gaza and Lebanon. It currently only has three operational batteries, all in the south.
Proponents of the Iron Dome laud the fact that it is able to determine a rocket’s probable target and then decide if it is worth sending one of these costly anti-missiles to protect civilians or let the rocket destroy “a few crops or trees.” Still, our sense of sovereignty is so eroded that we resign ourselves to the violent encroachment on our land by Gaza terrorists, while our sense of power is derived narrowly from our ability to determine the extent of the damage.
A state cannot accept such daily encroachments on its sovereignty as a fait accompli, but the Iron Dome – as well as the separation barrier – has succeeded in normalizing diminished sovereignty and reframing the issue from eliminating the threat to containing it. Indeed, both the Iron Dome and the barrier save lives, but Israel can ill-afford for these these limited “victories” to serve as a substitute for an actual strategy.
The Iron Dome is another, hi-tech manifestation of the siege mentality that guides Israel’s cultural and political narrative. From media to academia to politics, Israel’s celebration of this so-called “strategic” weapon system – that neither neutralizes its threats nor enhances Israel’s geo-political position – is an indictment of the degree to which Israel has accepted this siege mentality, and of its resignation to a permanent defensive posture. Instead of tools of victory, Israel designs modes of survival, where a siege in our backyards and playgrounds is preferable to a frontal assault on our enemies in their territory. But it is only with a proactive outlook and with offensive instrumentalities that threats are neutralized or deterred. Seen through this lens, Israel only truly enjoyed such a posture in the six years between its preemptive Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War.
Iron Dome may represent a new layer of defense, but it in no way brings Israel closer to eliminating the threats emanating from Gaza. Rather, it only keeps us on par with them: our military-technological innovation combating their blockade-busting, weapons-procuring creativity. Wars are not won by repelling attacks, but by taking the initiative. A nation should never make the mistake of believing that such defensive weapons can shield it from overwhelming force. Overwhelming force must always be countered with overwhelming force. Israel’s isolated regional position demands a new paradigm of deterrence, one that Israel can and will employ on an asymmetric battlefield, one that will dominate its enemies and take the battle to them.
Having the right political and military posture requires as a prerequisite cultural vigor that promotes initiative and rewards risk-taking. Yes, Israelis are known for these qualities, but of late they have been employed primarily for defensive purposes. Only by a true recognition and reassertion of its sovereignty in what is clearly a Just War – where inaction and/or passive defense has far worse results than the bellicose but hollow accusation of “disproportionate response” – will circumstances change for Israel.
There are various initiatives that Israel could undertake, depending on what one considers Israel’s greatest threats. They range from reoccupying a buffer area in Gaza and deploying the Iron Dome from within Palestinian territory, to intensifying investment in its UAV and space programs for the purpose of effective cryptologic intelligence-gathering and weaponization. Whatever the direction, it must be forward-thinking and strategic in nature. Israel’s instrumentalities of power should force the enemy to adapt to it, and not vice versa, as with the Iron Dome.
This is the only way to break a siege, not by building one’s walls higher, but by making one’s reach greater and more devastating. Iron Dome, despite the great technology involved and tactical advantages it provides, does neither.
Rafi Harkham and Ariel Harkham