Israel might be West Asia’s predominant military power, but recent wars have exposed an Achilles’ heel: the vulnerability of its population centres to missile attacks.
In a 2006 campaign against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon and again during an offensive in late 2008 and early 2009 against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip, Israeli cities within range were pounded by rockets, testing resilience of ordinary Israelis and their support for the war efforts.
That experience has spurred the development of missile defence as a critical part of the Israeli arsenal.
To demonstrate Israel’s capabilities, the military took foreign journalists on Thursday to the Palmachim air force base, south of Tel Aviv, for a rare look at its latest air defense weapons.
A highlight was the Iron Dome system, which in its first operational deployment last month successfully intercepted rockets fired at southern Israeli cities by Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.
Designed to defend against short-range rockets that can travel up to 45 miles, Iron Dome is the bottom tier of Israel’s multi-layered missile defense system, which also includes the Arrow for long-range ballistic threats and a system under development known as David’s Sling, designed to intercept medium-range rockets and missiles.
During a flare-up of violence across the Gaza border in April, two newly deployed Iron Dome batteries downed eight of nine rockets fired at the southern cities of Ashkelon and Beersheba, the Israeli army reported.
The system, developed rapidly in four years, had a 100% interception rate when it was test-fired, according to a Defence Ministry spokesman, who added that it could be considered “a game changer” in Israel’s confrontation with Gaza militants.
“We’re very satisfied with the operational results in the field,” said Brig Gen Doron Gavish. He added that it was “the first time in history” that a short-range interception system anywhere had successfully downed incoming rockets.
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