Washington, Mar. 12- Israeli officials are touting the success of the domestically-built anti-missile system “Iron Dome” as hundreds of rockets continue to rain down on southern Israel.
"The system is working very well," Brigadier General Doron Gavish told reporters in Ashdod Monday.
The system’s three operational batteries are protecting the densely-populated cities of Ashkelon, Ashdod and Beersheba, which combined count for almost a half-million residents, from the over 200 rockets that have fallen on Israel since Friday. As of 6.30pm Israel time Monday, the network of sophisticated anti-missile batteries had stopped around 54 rockets out of 69 attempts, a 78 percent success rate, since the current escalation began.
The Israeli Defense Forces killed a Popular Resistance Committee terrorist, Zuhir Mussah Ahmed Qaisi, on Friday. He was reportedly planning a Sinai-based terror attack on Israel.
One of the rockets on Monday hit the area around Gedera, which has a population of over 21,000 and is only 17 miles from Tel-Aviv. It is the farthest a projectile has fallen inside Israel in the current volley.
“Iron Dome” shoots down rockets by first identifying their path through a central computing system. Most rockets have fallen in more rural parts of Southern Israel, but if the technology senses that the missile is headed towards a populated area, the system fires a guided missile faster than the incoming projectile to intercept it at high altitude.
The success of Iron Dome has given Israel the ability to withstand greater amounts of rockets without having to put civilians at risk, even as the psychological trauma of constant missile attacks has hit residents in southern Israel hard.
"It is a new tool being brought into the basket of tools... a tool we didn't have before," Gavish said. "We have something new in the arena that obviously plays in our favor."
Yet the system, which was developed by Israel’s own Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd., has once malfunctioned in the current situation. On Saturday, two Grad rockets struck Beersheba because of a “technical failure” on one of the system’s components, an IDF spokesperson said. The rockets hit an empty school and a parked car in a residential area.
The system is also expensive to operate: Each interceptor missile costs around $50,000, while a battery costs approximately $45 million. Last year, the United States allocated $205 million to funding and helping Israel develop the system. Israel has said that it hopes to allot an additional $1 billion in the future, and plans to eventually have 10-15 batteries in operation.
The system, which has an operational range of 21 miles, first shot down a Gaza-fired rocket on April 7, 2011.