If there is one thing clear as war breaks out in southern Israel and the Gaza strip, it is that Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system works and works in spectacular fashion. Faced with the launch of over 70 missiles, many of them simultaneously, the Iron Dome interceptors picked them off quickly, one by one.
Iron Dome and many of Israel’s other missile defense systems, particularly Arrow, owe a lot to Dr. Uzi Rubin. Rubin served as the first head of Israel’s Ballistic Missile Defense Organization from 1991 to 1999.
This was the formative period when Israel modernized its air defenses as missile threats grew. Recall that it was 1990 to 1991 that the first Iraq War broke out.
Iraq fired 42 Scud missiles into Israel from January 17-23 February 1991. While few of them hit their targets, the reality of a missile threat to Israel became clear. US-supplied air defense systems, especially the Patriot, were not effective in stopping the Scud attacks.
While the US started working on improvements to Patriot – a process that is ongoing – Israel mostly had to strike out on its own to confront threats coming from Syria and Iran as well as terrorist organizations Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria.
As Iran moves ahead on developing nuclear weapons that will eventually be part of their missile arsenal, the challenge has become existential for Israel and the region.
Stephen Bryen is a Senior Fellow at Yorktown Institute.