BARACK OBAMA encountered an unprecedented welcome when he visited Israel in March. He was greeted at the airport not just by the usual dignitaries but also by a hot new weapon—Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system against short-range rockets. A battery was stationed only a few footsteps from Air Force One, so the president could walk over and congratulate his hosts on their successful use of the antimissile weapon during Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) launched Operation Pillar of Defense on November 14 in response to increasing rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip as well as other actions by militant Palestinians. The seven-day operation involved Israeli air strikes against Hamas targets in Gaza, but there was no ground invasion such as the one launched in 2008–2009, called Operation Cast Lead. The IDF had four Iron Dome batteries in operation prior to Pillar of Defense and deployed a more advanced fifth battery during the operation. According to the IDF, the system, developed by Israel with joint U.S. and Israeli funding over the past decade or so, provided a sense of security to many Israelis by preventing injury, loss of life and property damage. Reports indicate that some Israelis even ignored air-raid sirens, remaining exposed in the hopes of photographing an Iron Dome interception.