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Israel's Iron Dome provides cover, but not normalcy (+video)

Israeli sources claim the Iron Dome missile defense system has successfully shot down most of the rockets that it has tried to intercept from Gaza.  

By Staff writer / November 18, 2012

Two Iron Dome missiles launched near the city of Ashdod, Israel, to intercept a rocket fired by Palestinians militants from the Gaza Strip, Sunday. Palestinian militants have fired at least one long-range rocket at Tel Aviv on Sunday, the fourth day in a row during which the Israeli heartland has come under fire.

Ariel Schalit/AP

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Ashdod and Kiryat Malachi, Israel

Israel’s Iron Dome system, a relatively new umbrella to stop the Gazan rockets that have been raining down over southern Israel, has achieved a claimed success rate of roughly 90 percent in its most rigorous test yet.

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Despite a barrage of more than 800 rockets this week, including several long-range ones targeting Tel Aviv and Jerusalem for the first time in decades, only three Israelis have been killed. But the high-tech system has not been as effective in addressing the other casualty of such escalations: the interruption of school, work, and family life.

“You can’t continue to live like this,” says Danny, a young navy reservist in Ashdod whose apartment shook yesterday when a rocket hit another home in the same complex. “You want to study, but you can’t. Every five minutes you have the missiles and you have to go to the shelter. How can you finish school like that?”

He points to his sister next to him, who turned 15 yesterday, and then up to the damaged apartment, with twisted metal hanging off the front. “This is what she gets for her birthday…. It is not natural.”

$50,000 a shot

The Arab world has criticized Israel's offensive, which so far has killed 53 Palestinians. Israel has justified its Pillar of Defense operation as imperative, given the incessant rocket fire from Gaza, where the Hamas government has proved either unable or unwilling to rein in various militant factions.

The Iron Dome system – part of a multilayered missile defense program that began about 20 years ago – enables Israel to target such militants in Gaza without risking nearly as many civilian casualties to its own people. So far, five batteries have been deployed – the last one only yesterday, two months ahead of schedule and just in time to intercept at least two rockets targeting Tel Aviv, Israel’s largest city.

Each battery includes a radar detection system, a command and control center, and mobile launchers that can be repositioned as necessary. When a rocket is fired from Gaza, the batteries quickly calculate whether it is headed for a populated area or sensitive target; if so, one of the interceptors is quickly dispatched, at a reported cost of $50,000. If the rocket is headed for an open area, however, no action is taken.

Of the more than 750 rockets fired from Gaza since last week, 245 had been intercepted as of last night. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has not published the number of attempted intercepts, so it is impossible to calculate the exact success rate. But Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren as well as Israel’s former director of missile defense, Arieh Herzog, have said that the success rate of attempted intercepts is about 90 percent. That is a significant improvement over the 80 percent rate achieved when the system was first deployed in March 2011.

The deployment of Iron Dome, together with the IDF’s airstrikes on Gaza, have brought a mixture of relief and hope to Israelis, says Yehudit Bar Hay, a trauma expert at the Israel Center for Victims of Terror & War, known as NATAL.

There is a “feeling that the government is at least looking at us and doing something,” says Ms. Bar Hay, who lives less than a mile from the Gazan border. “Not that we like war, but this is some kind of response that we didn’t get for these 12 years.”

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