Sunday, February 7, 2010

February fools - no Iron Dome for Sderot

February started with bad news for the citizens of Sderot. The city is located near the border to the Gaza Strip and has suffered heavy rocket and mortar fire over the last nine years. Less than a month ago, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said the Iron Dome would have its first deployment on the Gaza front to defend the city such attacks. Well, we have another exaxmple of how quickly such political commitments expire. The Haaretz correspondent Amos Harel reported on February 3 that the Israel Defense Forces and the defense establishment decided to place the first Iron Dome battery, which will become operational in four to six months, in military storage in the south and not deploy it for the defense of Sderot and its neighboring communities. Even though it seems now certain, that Sderot will be left outside the dome, there seems to be some inconsistency in the leadership. Amos Gilad, Director of Policy and Political-Military Affairs at the Israeli Defense Ministry, said on Februar 5 that Israel's new anti-missile system will not be deployed on the front with Gaza as expected, but rather kept on the front with Lebanon to counter Hizbullah's attacks in case of conflict with its regional sponsor Iran. Hizbullah fired during the 2006 war some 4,000 rockets into northern Israel. Hizbullah is now believed to have an arsenal of some 40,000 rockets.

Some commentators claim that the Iron Dome was never meant to defend Sderot and the border communities but that this was only a pretext used to serve other interests:

The decision to develop Iron Dome appears to have been, from the start, an effort to keep the Rafael scientists employed and compensate the company for not benefiting from the research and development funding for the Arrow system, which is being developed by Israel Aerospace Industries.
If this is the case, the Iron Dome was a very costly occupational therapy: US$270m for the development and US$50m for each battery. Other sources come up wit NIS 50m for a battery, which equals roughly US$13.4m. It seems that dozens of batteries will be necessary to defend Sderot and the other communities bordering the Gaza Strip. Depending on the price of the batteries, the costs will sum up to at least US$300m or US$1bn, respectively. It is clear that Israel will not be able to invest such sums. However, there are also other constraints than just money: a defense offical said that there are currently only two batteries under construction. A far cry from the 20+ needed to protect the Gaza Strip area. Defense Minister Ehud Barak acknowledged this by saying on January 18:

"We can't sow the illusion that now that development has been successfully completed, tomorrow morning there already will be complete protection for the Gaza area or the north […] It will take years before we are equipped."
Update: Defense Ministry is working on allocating the funding to manufacture seven Iron Dome missile defense batteries over the next two years, defense officials said on January 18.

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