Israel Tests Interceptor, Faces Pressure To Share Iron Dome

 - November 30, 2012, 12:00 PM
A Stunner missile supplied by Raytheon is fired during the first trial of the Israeli David’s Sling interception system. (Photo: IDF)

Five days after a ceasefire ended the latest conflict between Israel and the Hamas regime controlling Gaza, in which the Rafael Iron Dome rocket interception system featured prominently, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) announced the first successful test of a new interception system. The David’s Sling system, or “Magic Wand,” that was co-developed with Raytheon and the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) can intercept rockets and missiles in low to middle altitudes, the IDF said. Raytheon supplies the new system’s Stunner missile, which provides “all-weather hit-to-kill performance…[against] a variety of short-range ballistic missiles, large-caliber rockets and cruise missiles…at a tactical missile price,” according to the American company.

The Israeli air force (IDF/AF) said it attacked more than 1,500 targets in Gaza during the eight-day conflict. Many of these were rocket launching sites, some of them underground. The five Iron Dome batteries shot down 421 incoming rockets, for an 84-percent success rate, according to Israeli sources. However, both the IDF and Hamas reported that the total number of rockets fired exceeded 1,500, indicating that the Iron Dome batteries do not provide complete coverage of Israel’s threatened territory. They have been situated to protect population concentrations in urban areas. The David’s Sling system is being designed to protect the whole of the country, the IDF said.

Israel intends to deploy at least five more Iron Dome batteries. This system is partly funded by the U.S.; in Fiscal Year 2013 defense authorization legislation approved by the U.S. House of Representatives last May, the Iron Dome system would receive $680 million through Fiscal Year 2015 for the procurement of additional batteries and interceptors and ongoing operations and sustainment costs. Noting that U.S. taxpayers will have invested $900 million in the Iron Dome system since Fiscal Year 2011, the House Armed Services Committee directed the MDA to ensure that the U.S. “has appropriate rights to this technology.” It also calls for the MDA to “explore any opportunity to enter into co-production of the Iron Dome system with Israel. The Senate has not approved its version of the bill. In September, Raytheon Missile Systems and Israel’s Rafael announced an agreement to jointly market the Iron Dome system in the U.S.

The weapons fired from Gaza were mostly Katyusha and Qassam rockets and Kornets anti-tank missiles, all designed and built in Iran, and Russian-designed Grad rockets also made and supplied by Iran. Some longer-range Iranian Fajr-5 rockets were also fired toward Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Some of the Iranian rockets are landed in Sudan and then smuggled into Gaza via Egypt. On the night of October 23-24, four Israeli warplanes attacked a weapons site at Yarmouk in Khartoum, according to Sudan. Eight F-15Is performed the mission, according to a report in the London-based Sunday Times newspaper. Israel would not comment, but it fears that Sudan is hosting Iranian weapons production and could also be a launch site for Shahab-3 ballistic missiles, according to the newspaper.

Also before the latest conflict, Hezbollah assembled and launched an Iranian reconnaissance UAV from Lebanon on October 6 to fly over southern Israel. It was intercepted and destroyed by an IDF F-16 after a three-hour flight. The Sunday Times said the UAV is believed to be the Shahed-129, a 24-hour-endurance air vehicle resembling the Hermes 450 that Tehran unveiled only the previous month. An “Israeli defense source” told the newspaper that the UAV’s flight down the Israeli coast before its landfall over Gaza was not detected because of “unfamiliar stealth elements.”