Defense-Update: A number of articles published recently in Israel and abroad – including one in Haaretz daily newspaper, by Reuven Pedatzur which was widely quoted worldwide – have questioned the performance of the Iron Dome counter-rocket, artillery and missile (C-RAM) system praised for defeating most of the rockets fired at Israel by Palestinians during Operation Pillar of Defense, in November 2012.
The source of these articles is a study conducted by Professor Theodore Postol, a well-known expert at MIT, together with Israeli researcher Dr. Mordechai Shefer and an unnamed engineer from Raytheon.
Unlike past studies published by Postol, we have not yet managed to access the Iron Dome study online and, therefore, rely on second hand review by Reuven Pedazur’s article which was widely referred to online in recent weeks.
The article said Postol’s report claims that Iron Dome was able to intercept only five percent of all the rockets fired at Israel during Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012, a far cry from the 85 percent success rate boasted by Israel.
Pedazur, a long time critic of all Israel’s missile defense programs, said Postol claims that Iron Dome did not succeed in hitting the warheads of the enemy rockets and shooting them out of the sky. Since the MIT researcher did not get scientifically recorded evidence, he reached this conclusion mainly from an analysis of video footage of interceptions (gathered online from youtube etc.)
“There is a major difference between legitimate criticism and adamant claims that the Israel defense establishment’s claims about Iron Dome are fraudulent, and that these lies are typical of the defense establishment. Such mudslinging is unreasonable and unacceptable.”
According to the report’s authors, most of the explosions appear spherical, which indicates that the interceptor missile warhead is exploding, and that this is not a secondary explosion of the rocket’s warhead. Otherwise, they contend, there would have been two explosions visible, or at least something asymmetrical. They also identified Iron Dome interceptors exploding shortly after they made a sharp turn. In their opinion, this was a pre-programmed trajectory and not pursuit of a target. Another ‘anomaly’ that testified to the Israeli authorities lying about the C-RAM success is the Israeli Property Tax Authority reports indicating that 3,200 claims were made for damages caused by the rockets, as well as a report from the southern district of the Israel Police that 109 rockets fell in built-up areas, which is almost double the 58 reported by the IDF.
The Israeli Institute of National Security Studies published a rebuttal to these claims, raising serious doubts about Postol’s methods and conclusions.
“The report’s claims appear puzzling, to say the least, particularly the contention that Iron Dome did not succeed in causing the rocket’s warhead to explode. This claim is reminiscent of claims from the 1991 Gulf War, directed then at the Patriot missiles, which in fact were not successful in hitting the Scud warheads, for the simple reason that the Patriot was designed to intercept and shoot down planes, not missiles. It appears that criticism of Iron Dome draws on claims made against US missile defense systems and pasting them on to the Israeli system, while ignoring the clear differences between the systems and between the different strategic situations.” Yiftah Shapir, INSS researcher commented.
“A Grad rocket is not a Scud,” Shapir commented, “Professor Postol claims that he knows exactly what happens when an Iron Dome Tamir interceptor explodes next to a pipe several meters long with a 20 kilo warhead. However, the fact is that the defense establishment has understandably not published this information, and therefore we can only guess what actually occurs.”
“The report’s findings are based on an analysis of dozens of video clips. These clips were not filmed during sophisticated trials; they were taken by civilians who photographed them using their smartphones and uploaded them to YouTube. In general, it is not possible to know where they were filmed or the direction in which the person filming was looking. It could be that the dozens of clips on Youtube belonged to a single interception and were filmed by different people from different directions. It is very difficult to conduct precise analyses, and it is generally difficult to learn from the film about the geometry of the missile’s flight.”
Moreover, it is also important to remember that not all the rockets that fell in built-up areas were failures of Iron Dome, for the simple reason that not all cities in Israel were protected in the first place by Iron Dome. “A rocket hitting an unprotected target, painful though it may be, does not indicate that Iron Dome failed.” Shapir added. The critics see them as proof that the defense establishment is lying: 109, not 58. However, the Israel Police reported calls from citizens, and these include reports on falling fragments, rocket parts, and duds. How many of the reports were really about rockets? Even if 109 rockets were actually falling on target, that means 1391 did not – and a substantial number were defeated by ‘something’, definitely, not something scoring five percent kill rate. About claims to Property Tax Authority, it is obvious that 58 rockets did hit populated targets, killing and wounding civilians and causing significant damage to property. The fact that 3,200 claims were filed actually shows the devastated effect of such rocket strikes and the need for an ‘Iron Dome’ to defend from such attacks.
“It appears, then, that critics are happy to disparage the Iron Dome system and belittle the lessons from Operation Pillar of Defense, using only dubious research without access to credible data. Debating various aspects related to Israel’s defense establishment, weapon systems, and strategic choices is both legitimate and welcome, if deliberations are based on reliable data.” Shapir concluded, “However, there is a major difference between legitimate criticism and adamant claims that the Israel defense establishment’s claims about Iron Dome are fraudulent, and that these lies are typical of the defense establishment. Such mudslinging is unreasonable and unacceptable.”