The Iron Dome, Israel's highly advanced air defense system, faces the risk of being overwhelmed by missile attacks in the event of an expanding regional conflict stemming from the ongoing conflict with Hamas in Gaza.
This U.S.-backed system comprises interconnected radar and mobile missile batteries with the primary purpose of intercepting rockets, missiles and mortars that pose a threat to Israeli population centers and critical infrastructure.
Notably, it has received praise for achieving a 90 percent interception rate during previous attacks.
However, like any air defense system, the Iron Dome's effectiveness depends on having an adequate supply of interceptor missiles, and it can be outmatched when confronted with a large-scale assault.
In a surprising Oct. 7 attack, Hamas fired a staggering 3,000 rockets within the first 20 minutes, a significant escalation compared to previous operations. These rockets were also more technologically advanced than those used in earlier incidents.
American officials are now concerned about the prospect of Iran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon launching precision missiles at Israeli cities, while Israeli forces are engaged in intense urban warfare within densely populated Gaza. (Related: WWIII: If Israel follows through with Gaza ground invasion, Iran promises “huge earthquake” attack by Hezbollah.)
Hezbollah is renowned as "the world's most heavily armed non-state actor" and maintains a substantial and diverse stockpile of unguided artillery rockets, ballistic missiles, anti-aircraft weapons and anti-tank missiles. It has around 100,000 missiles and rockets at its disposal.
Even a slight drop in the Iron Dome's interception rate to approximately 80 percent would result in a significantly higher number of rockets penetrating its defenses if Hamas or other groups initiated another round of intense attacks.
Shaan Shaikh, an associate fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C., recently warned that if Hezbollah becomes involved in the ongoing conflict, there is a genuine risk of the Iron Dome defenses becoming overwhelmed by rocket fire.
Adding to the challenge is the fact that Hezbollah's missile arsenal surpasses that of Hamas both in terms of quantity and precision.
The potential introduction of more advanced weaponry into the conflict may prompt Israel to utilize additional defensive systems, such as "David's Sling" and Patriots, which are designed for longer-range rockets and drones.
This would substantially increase Israel's defense costs at a time when the military is already stretched due to a rapid mobilization of reservists.
Each Iron Dome interceptor costs tens of thousands of dollars, as reported by Israel's Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), whereas Hamas' rockets, though more advanced than before, are less expensive to produce, making it easier for the group to replenish its stocks.
The U.S. has already dispatched extra military aid to augment Israel's supplies, including Iron Dome interceptors and other air defense systems, with many in Washington advocating for further support.
The Iron Dome, a collaborative effort backed by the U.S. and produced by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and Raytheon Technologies, is designed with resource limitations in mind. It selectively intercepts rockets that are on a trajectory to strike populated areas while ignoring those destined for unpopulated zones.
The system is made up of multiple batteries, each containing 60 to 80 interceptor missiles, and is equipped with radar that detects incoming rockets. A command-and-control system quickly calculates whether an incoming projectile poses a threat or is likely to hit an unpopulated area.
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