When it comes to getting rocketed, nobody has more experience at it than the Israelis. For years now everything from sophisticated military missiles to backyard drainpipe firecrackers have been raining into Israel by the ton. And whilst they’re used to dealing with incoming ordnance from Gaza, the West Bank and Southern Lebanon, Israel now has a new launch pad to consider: the Sinai.
The dramatic attack on an Egyptian police post this month heralded the appearance of Islamist militants in the Sinai, and whilst that first action was a surprising choice of target, it should be no shock that next on their hit list were the Jewish neighbours.
Since the start of August roughly a dozen Grad style rockets have been shot over the border at the Israeli port of Eilat. Some of the weapons over-flew the town and landed a whole other country away in the Jordanian resort of Aqaba. Ironically, the only casualties so far have been Jordanian Arabs, with one dead and four wounded when their taxi was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
It’s likely Hamas is mixed up in this Sinai business, if not as an outright perpetrator, then at least as an organiser or condoner; Egyptian Bedouins aren’t just wandering around the desert with Soviet rockets strapped to their camels, so they have to be sourcing them from somewhere.
And while the next rocket attack is no doubt being planned in the tea houses of Gaza, the Israelis are doing some anticipating of their own and putting up an Iron Dome.
This delightfully named air defence system is one of Israel’s solutions to the perennial rocketing it receives. Iron Dome uses radar and some rapid number crunching to shoot its own missiles at incoming enemy weapons and break them up before they hit their target. Part of the system’s brain also calculates where the enemy rocket is likely to land and doesn’t bother to engage if the impact area is unpopulated.
After all, at around $40,000 a shot, you don’t want to be zapping a flying drainpipe that’s destined for a patch of desert.
Specialised in quick reaction, low angle intercepts, the Iron Dome batteries have claimed 93 ‘kills’ since they came on line in 2011. The system is particularly effective against Grad rockets, exactly the type that’s now coming out of the Sinai.
Effective anti-missile defence is obviously something of a fetish for the Israelis and they have been tipping a great deal of money into it for decades. Often with the R&D and funding boosted by America, Israel is attempting to put an impenetrable roof over those parts of the country threatened by militant attacks. Iron Dome is just one component of this strategy, with other weapons systems, such as the even more coolly named “David’s Sling”, being phased in for other intercept niches.
There was even a long running program to develop a laser energy device for burning up incoming rockets, but the cost became a factor when America pulled out. Sitting there in one place and defending against a pounding is not really a part of Pentagon doctrine, and when your home turf is a long way from the action, you don’t need to so much about needing an air defence system on the roof of the local mall.
Whether the Sinai becomes a regular venue for launching attacks is yet to be seen. It’s unlikely the Egyptians will be happy to play host to such provocations, especially when their own guys are getting killed. But the more important issue is whether Israel might one day move from just catching incoming rockets to pre-emptive strikes at their source on Egyptian soil.