Why Is Obama Financing Iron Dome?

Why is Obama investing over $200 million in the troubled Iron Dome defense project?

The Iron Dome defense project was designed to provide an automated defense shield against rocket fires originating in Gaza and Southern Lebanon, yet the project has been meet with substantial resistance, outside the US that is.  Despite relative the relative cost inefficiency and questions of the projects efficacy, President Obama has called on the US Congress to provide an additional $200+ million to fund the project in addition to the $300+ billion the US is to provide Israel this year.

[tweetmeme] At first glance, the President’s decision seems like a waste of money.  In tests, the Iron Dome defense shield has been proven to be rather ineffective against the Qassam rocket, the most popular kind of projectile hurled at Israel.  Iron Dome is effective against rockets shot from farther than 4 km, though most rockets are launched from Beit Hanun on the Gaza border, less than 2km from Israel.

As for the cost-efficiency of the project, each Iron Dome missile (used to shoot down the rockets) costs somewhere around $100,000 while a Qassam can cost as little as $5.  Iron Dome’s sister system, ‘David’s Sling’ is potentially worse.  Used to shoot down longer range missiles and projectiles, each defensive rocket costs around $1 million.

From the Jerusalem Post:

“The Iron Dome is all a scam, [Tel Aviv University professor and noted military analyst Reuven Pedatzur] said. “The flight-time of a Kassam rocket to Sderot is 14 seconds, while the time the Iron Dome needs to identify a target and fire is something like 15 seconds. This means it can’t defend against anything fired from fewer than five kilometers; but it probably couldn’t defend against anything fired from 15 km., either.”

Added Pedatzur: “Considering the fact that each Iron Dome missile costs about $100,000 and each Kassam $5, all the Palestinians would need to do is build and launch a ton of rockets and hit our pocketbook.

The David’s Sling is even worse, he said. “Each one of its missiles costs $1 million, and Hizbullah has well over 40,000 rockets. This issue has no logic to it whatsoever.”

The logic behind Obama’s decision to invest $200 million in a ‘scam’ is thus blurry at first, but becomes clear when one considers the timing.  Even if the system is ineffective against rockets fired from a close proximity, it represents an effort to provide a sense of security to Israelis living in border towns such as Sderot.  While the town has been the target of many Qassam rockets over the years, such attacks have diminished in recent months, thanks to Hamas and the Islamic Jihad renouncing such rocket attacks.

Obama’s decision to invest in the system is most likely an investment not in Israeli security, but in the perception of Israeli security.  One of the most destabilizing arguments against the current proximity talks is the perceived threat of the Qassam rockets.  If Israel feels secure, there is less of a reason to undermine the talks (as if the opponents to the proximity talks needed more ammunition, so to speak).  Furthermore, the US investment reiterates the US support for Israeli security during a time when this support is being questioned.

It is possible that the US investment is a waste of money, but it is wasted money well-spent.  The US cannot afford to allow the perception that it does not support Israel to proliferate (a ridiculous, yet often repeated claim considering the recent row between the two countries).  If Israelis feel the US is backing the Palestinians more than Israel, it provides an easy excuse to withdraw from negotiations or, worse, to revert to more draconian means of defense (see: Gaza 2008-present).

Thus, it is entirely possible and even likely that Obama realizes the deficiencies of Iron Dome, but has decided to allocate money for its development anyway.  If this is true, the money provided to Israel for the project is far more symbolic in purpose.

Photo from Israel Matzav

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2 thoughts on “Why Is Obama Financing Iron Dome?

  1. Wonderful post (in fact it should go on another website…). One question I have: What is the possibility that the Iron Dome will work?

    Then it would be

    A) Jobs in Israel vis Defense
    B) Perceived US backing to the support of Israel aginst an on-going threat
    C) Though a long shot, the possibility that this system might work aginst the next mode of warfare in the Middle East

    And not necessarily in that order, too.

    In the end, it’s cheaper (and safer) to just let the Palestinians have a state… but who are we kidding? So this seems like a good way spend a little (a lot) of money.

    1. Cheers Abu, I’ll get this guy over now. I think the answer to your question really depends on what your definition of ‘work’ is. Does the system work if it knocks out 99% of Qassam rockets (as it reportedly can – albeit rockets shot from farther than 5 km)? What about 80%? 50%? Israel seems pretty intent on setting this up, in phases, so your 3 points are all certainly possible.

      a) Israel’s defense industry is massive. A full implementation would certainly produce more jobs, but keep in mind it already churns out a lot;
      b) I think this one is the most important. Doesn’t help much with perception vis a vis Iran or Hezbollah, but it doesn’t hurt either; and
      c) What is the next mode of warfare? The system has been proven to be inadequate against nuclear missiles (if that is what you were implying); Iron Dome – with David’s Sling – supposedly covers rocket fire; the IDF has the strength and technology to push back and defeat any land invasion; strict border control limits the amount of smuggled terrorist devices (though I suppose it is impossible to eliminate). Virtual warfare? Satellite warfare? Seems unlikely that this technology helps in those arenas. Chemical, biological? Perhaps.

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