Israel’s Iron Dome could be susceptible to precision-guided munitions launched by its enemies based on how the defense system was designed, arms experts told Newsweek.
On Saturday, Hamas, an armed wing of the Palestinian Islamic political party, fired rockets from Gaza, which it controls to Israel’s southwest, leading to the reported deaths of 700 Israeli citizens and 400 deaths in Gaza, according to the Associated Press. It has been described as the deadliest attack on Israeli soil in decades.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the attack a new war, and there since has been speculation about precision-guided munitions being accumulated and used in the future by Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite Muslim political party with an armed wing of the same name, because of Israel’s inability to potentially deter such attacks.
“The Iron Dome was designed to defend against the proximate threat to Israel in the last 20 years or so, which is Hamas firing rockets from Gaza and other places on to Israeli territory,” John Erath, the senior policy director at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, told Newsweek via phone. “So, it’s designed to work against ballistic things.
“Guided munitions, by definition, are not ballistic. It’s not what the Iron Dome is optimized to stop.”
The all-weather Iron Dome air defense system was first used in March 2011. Developed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries, it was designed to identify and destroy short-range missiles and artillery shells fired from roughly 2.5 to 43 miles away and directed at Israeli territory by Hamas and Hezbollah.
It is composed of a launcher, interceptors, a ground-based radar detection system and a control system. Estimated to possess an 85 percent to 90 percent success rate that includes defending against simultaneous attacks, the system essentially locates a rocket in flight. A rocket is fired by the Iron Dome in defense, usually intercepting the missile at a high altitude and preventing any type of casualties or major calamities.
Erath said that while the Iron Dome has shown positive results to defend against drones, for example, it remains unclear what kind of munitions Hezbollah would hypothetically be using to target Israel. Hezbollah gets its systems from Iran.
“Iranian weapons are knockoffs, mostly of Chinese designs, which some of them are knockoffs of Russian design,” Erath said. “It’s a knockoff of a knockoff, so it’s probably not that good.
“But I’m speculating wildly because the Iron Dome was initially designed to react to short-range threats, different kinds of weaponry.”
The question of continued escalation could be determined by Hezbollah’s intent, he added.
“If Hezbollah shoots anything at them, the Israelis will shoot back,” Erath said. “That’s happened before, that’s a given. The thing to watch is what Hezbollah would do with guided munitions. As the name suggests, guided munitions are designed to hit specific targets. They’re what you would use to strike a military outpost or base or some kind of target. They’re not like what Hamas has typically used to fire in Israeli cities, which is a weapon of terror.
“So, if Hezbollah is acting in support of a military ally, in a military sense, then it would be using these things to target military targets in Israel. If they’re firing them indiscriminately at Israeli cities, that’s not what these things are designed for. They’re being used as weapons of terror and that’s basically a war crime.”
And if such munitions are used in that regard, he said Israel would probably react militarily by targeting the munition launchers and launch sites in return.
“If they’re being used as weapons of terror against civilian population centers, that’s going to probably lead to a stronger response—and it should,” he said.
Bill Hartung, senior research fellow at the Quincy Institute, a think tank in Washington, D.C., told Newsweek via email that it remains unknown if precision-guided munitions could damage or disable the Iron Dome.
CNN reported on Sunday that Israel had already requested precision-guided bombs and additional interceptors for the Iron Dome from the U.S., citing sources that included an Israeli military official and a U.S. defense official.
After the U.S. contributed about $1.6 billion toward the Iron Dome and Israel’s defense between 2011 and 2021, Congress approved the allocation of more money in 2022 after concerns by Republican Senator Rand Paul held up the legislation for months.
Hartung agreed with Erath that such aggression would likely provoke a major Israeli military response targeted at Lebanon, “with air strikes at a minimum.”
“There might be limits on such a counterattack given the allocation of substantial Israeli personnel and weaponry towards Gaza, but I think that would depend on how long any counterattack on Lebanon was sustained,” Hartung said.
Newsweek reached out to the Pentagon via email for comment.