While Israel has one of the most advanced missile defense “shields” in the world, analysts stress that it is not fool-proof
Two rockets fired last week from the Syrian Golan Heights landed in Israel’s Sea of Galilee, or Lake Kinneret. A fierce offensive by Assad regime forces in southern Syria—backed by Russian air power and Iranian-aligned Shiite fighters on the ground—has resulted in spill-over into Israeli territory, with “code red” alert sirens now commonly heard in border communities.
The Israeli military retains a unique capacity to intercept incoming projectiles, in addition to shooting down drones and, recently, a Russian-made, Syrian-flown fighter jet. As such, it was surprising to many that two rockets penetrated so far into Israel, splashing down in a body of water frequented by tourists.
In fact, Israel has one of the most sophisticated missile defense apparatus’ in the world. The Iron Dome, the first protective “layer,” intercepts short-range projectiles including mortars and is typically deployed in the vicinity of the Gaza Strip border. The David’s Sling, which is slated to replace the American-made Patriot system, is designed to intercept tactical ballistic missiles, medium- to long-range rockets and cruise missiles with ranges up to 300 kilometers. The Arrow 3, the highest defensive tier, can intercept intercontinental ballistic missiles during the outer space portion of their flight.
While the David’s Sling and Arrow 3 are essentially new and not battle-tested, the Iron Dome is among the most well-known and successful defense systems ever created, with an interception rate of over 90 percent. It works by using radar to detect threats, with an algorithm then calculating whether an incoming projectile is on course to strike a strategic or populated area. If so, an interceptor missile is launched.
Notably, however, the system’s batteries are usually not placed in the north, where longer-range Iranian-and Syrian-produced missiles are of greater concern.
“Let’s be clear about it, [the] Iron Dome does not cover the entire state of Israel,” Uzi Rubin, founder and first director of the Israel Missile Defense Organization, a unit of the Israeli Ministry of Defense, told The Media Line. “It covers only the areas [where it is stationed],”
When contacted by The Media Line, the Israel Defense Forces would not comment on whether an Iron Dome battery was in the north at the time of the incident. Instead, the military would only confirm that “IDF aircraft targeted the [Syrian] rocket launcher [the missiles] were fired from [and] the area surrounding it was [hit] by artillery.”
Brig. Gen. (ret.) Shlomo Brom, a Senior Research Associate at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, believes that “even if the [rockets] could have been traced in real-time it is uncertain if they would have been engaged. If the information shows that they will not fall [among people], then they are not [intercepted].
“There is always a certain low percentage of what we professionally call leakage,” he qualified to The Media Line. “When you say 92% [success rate] it means that 8 out of 100 rockets will land on the target.”
Rubin suggests that the firing of the rockets into Israel could have been a deliberate ploy by rebels, a move that was “improvised in the moment in order to try to provoke [the IDF] into attacking [Syrian] posts.” In other words, with the rebels under heavy bombardment, they may have attempted to use to their advantage Israel’s policy of retaliating against Assad regime targets irrespective of whether Syrian forces are directly responsible for a given attack.
Brom concurs that it is unlikely the Syrian regime was behind the rocket fire. “If there was information that pointed in that direction I assume that the reaction would have been tougher and broader, many more positions would have been targeted.” Moreover, he stressed, it is possible that the incident was simply the result of errant fire during what the IDF has described as “intense internal fighting in Syria adjacent to the border with Israel.”
In Brom’s estimation, however, intent is often of secondary importance. Syrian forces or the rebels, including an Islamic State-affiliated organization, “could choose to react to Israel’s counter-attack and that could cause further escalation. This time [it] did not happen.”
(Jinitzail Hernandez is a Student Intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Student Program)