Future Challenges for Israel’s Iron Dome Rocket Defenses

Author data: 
Ari Kattan
Publication Date: 
February 2018

CISSM Working Paper

Missile Defense, Extended Deterrence, and Nonproliferation in the 21st Century
Document Type: 
Working Papers

After Hezbollah fired thousands of rockets at northern Israel during the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah War, the Israeli government began a crash program to find a technological solution to the rocket threat. The result was Iron Dome, which shot down its first rocket on April 7, 2011, and saw large-scale combat during wars in 2012 and 2014. The system has been hailed in Israel and worldwide as a success, with the Israeli military claiming a 90 percent interception rate. Some American defense commentators have even touted Iron Dome as evidence in favor of ballistic missile defense. However, serious questions remain about Iron Dome’s true technical efficacy, both in terms of its past performance and how it is likely to perform in the future under different conditions. Because so much about Iron Dome is classified, information provided by the Israeli military cannot be independently verified. Analyses performed by outside experts—both those questioning Iron Dome’s efficacy and those defending the Israeli government’s claims—are inconclusive. 

Assuming for the sake of argument that Iron Dome did, in fact, perform as advertised during its previous engagements, it is far from certain that it will be as successful in future engagements, where the volume of rocket fire will be higher and the rockets more accurate. This paper argues that Israel may have already reached “peak Iron Dome,” and the system’s military and political benefits will decrease in future wars until another technological breakthrough is made on rocket defense. This is not to say that Iron Dome was not worth the cost and should not have been procured. But expectations about Iron Dome from the Israeli military, Israeli civilians, and interested parties abroad should be tempered. If they are not, Iron Dome’s decreased success rate in future wars may pose political problems for Israel domestically and give Israel’s adversaries a decisive propaganda victory.