Demystifying Iron Dome

June 25, 2013 Topic: SecurityDefenseMilitary Strategy Regions: Israel

Demystifying Iron Dome

Mini Teaser: The successful missile-defense system doesn't herald similar gains against ballistic missiles.

by Author(s): Peter DombrowskiCatherine KelleherEric Auner

A more critical measure of missile-defense ideology must be added to the explanatory mix, however, to understand the enthusiasm of neoconservative writer Max Boot, Kentucky senator Rand Paul and other cheerleaders for Iron Dome or any form of missile defense that promises to protect Israel, the United States, U.S. East Asian allies and other countries from the missiles that adversaries might field. Iron Dome’s clear successes in the recent conflict, then, are simply more fodder for missile-defense enthusiasts. At a time when the Obama administration’s regional missile-defense plans are promising to spread modestly capable missile defenses against limited threats to the eastern Mediterranean, Persian Gulf and Northeast Asia, critics of the administration demand still more. Members of the U.S. House of Representatives are focused less on regional arrangements than on a return to a robust national system. The wishes of these critics were partially fulfilled when Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel recently announced the deployment of additional ground-based interceptors to Alaska. Some demand an East Coast site for ground-based missile defense, regardless of whether the West Coast sites in California and Alaska are well tested and operationally effective. Moreover, American allies and potential partners in regional missile defense ask for subsidies, technology transfers and support for their own ailing defense-industry firms that might contribute to joint missile-defense efforts.

The recent demonstration of Iron Dome’s promise was a boon for missile-defense proponents across the globe, as it raised a quiescent issue to the top of the security agenda at a time when military- and political-establishment figures were looking for an impetus to push the issue. But scholars, analysts and decision makers should recognize that Iron Dome is a limited system with limited applicability to a relatively small number of unique circumstances. It no more validates Reagan’s vision than it makes a serious contribution to the larger game of preventing intermediate- and long-range attacks from those few states armed or potentially armed with such weapons. It is just another conventional weapon among many and not a magic bullet, unfortunately, for the Israelis or anyone else.

Peter Dombrowski is a professor of strategy at the Naval War College, where he serves as the chair of the Strategic Research Department.
Catherine Kelleher is a senior fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University and College Park Professor of Public Policy at the University of Maryland. Eric Auner is a senior analyst at Guardian Six Consulting

Image: Flickr/Israel Defense Forces. CC BY-SA 3.0.

Image: Pullquote: Some Israelis even ignored air-raid sirens, remaining exposed in the hopes of photographing an Iron Dome interception.Essay Types: Essay