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A Matter Of Perspective


Critics of the performance of Israel's Iron Dome counter-rocket defense system placed too much reliance on a small selection of images, Israeli missile defense guru Uzi Rubin said today in a Washington briefing, and did not pay attention to statistics covering rocket attacks, intercept attempts and damage caused on the ground. 

According to Rubin's research -- based on open sources and published information -- almost 2,200 rockets were fired into areas protected by Iron Dome: there were six batteries in place at the start of Operation Protective Edge, and three more were ready within ten days. Iron Dome's radar and computer systems assessed roughly half those missiles as being on track to hit targets within the system's coverage area, and launched interceptors. The leak rate -- rockets that were engaged but not successfully intercepted -- was 1 in 66 aimed at Tel Aviv, 15 out of 170 in Ashdod, and 84 out of 735 in the hinterland regions. The last group was closest to Gaza and therefore had the least warning time.

The overall success rate in terms of successful intercepts of threatening missiles was therefore 89.7 percent, "way beyond estimations", Rubin said. He also noted that fatalities and damage per rocket launched have declined steeply since Iron Dome was introduced. In 2006, with no defenses available, one civilian died for every 79 rockets. In the 2012 campaign, where Iron Dome was first used, the number was one death per 220 rockets;  in this campaign, with more experience in using Iron Dome and more batteries, one per 1,950 rockets. "What happened, if Iron Dome did not work?" Rubin asked. "Did people run to the shelters faster?"

The most critical problem that Rubin identifies with the analysis produced by Massachussetts Institute of Technology professor Ted Postol concerns imagery. Working from the images and videos that Postol uses is "nonsense, pure guesswork," Rubin says. Most of those images are taken from vantage points close to launch sites and are consequently drastically foreshortened -- Rubin cites the November 2010 "mystery missile launch" seen from California, which turned out to be an airliner contrail, and he shows a video of a space launch vehicle's ascent that -- from the ground -- is headed "down" the screen. Long-distance, wide-angle videos of Iron Dome intercepts show a climb and endgame maneuver, but not crossing or pursuit geometries.

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