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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Iron Dome is fantastic. But it doesn't solve anything.

The star of Operation Pillar of Defense - indeed, practically the source for the very name of the operation - was undoubtedly Iron Dome.

Iron Dome is purely defensive. It is remarkably effective. It is an impressive technological achievement. It probably saved scores of lives. And almost certainly it is going to bring a lot of countries to Israel's door to buy the system for their own needs.

President Obama said (possibly as a carrot to convince Netanyahu to accept a cease fire) that  he would seek more money to help pay for more of the anti-missile systems to help enhance Israel's protection even more.

What's not to love?

Here's the problem:

You know how Western nations are eager to say that Israel has a right to defend itself? They have systems like Iron Dome in mind. It doesn't kill anyone, it seems to magically protect Israelis, and its name even evokes a protective shield. But when Israel actually take the offensive - bombing terrorists and their infrastructure, striking missile sites, destroying tunnels - people start to die, and that makes Israel's allies skittish. Can't those brilliant Israelis just come up with lots of Iron Dome-type solutions and stay happy? Why rock the boat?

The reason is that Iron Dome might save lives, but it does not stop terror.

Terrorism has two components, one tactical and one strategic. The tactical part of terrorism is attacking civilians and civilian targets. But the word "terrorism" is not named after the attacks themselves, but after the strategy: to instill terror in a large population so that they cannot live normal lives.

While Iron Dome managed to stop an amazing 84% of rockets it aimed at, did it allow people under fire to live anything resembling normal lives? Were schools and businesses open as usual? Did people ignore the alarms and laugh because they know they were protected?

Obviously not. Iron Dome could stop most of the rockets from killing people, but it did not stop the rockets from terrorizing people. Which means that, from Hamas' perspective, Iron Dome was unable to stop the entire strategy of terrorists: to terrorize millions of people.

You don't have to take my word for it.  Hamas and Islamic Jihad media are filled with photos of Israelis running to shelters. They certainly celebrate deaths, but they celebrate the terror just as much. They revel in the fact that Israeli schools are closed or that thousands move north. Their currency is fear.

It is wonderful that so many lives were saved by Iron Dome, and the system is worth every penny. But that doesn't solve the real problem: that Israel has a murderous neighbor who can and does terrorize Israelis at will - and is willing to wait for centuries if needed to drive all the Jews out of the Middle East. Forcing them to cower in safe rooms at all hours of the day is a very good step towards that goal.

I don't know if there were any backroom deals for the US to convince Israel to drop plans for a ground war. I am not even certain that a ground war can solve the problem without a complete re-occupation of Gaza, something that most Israelis would consider delusional. (Those that think that more Israeli concessions will magically bring peace and goodwill from the Islamists are even more deluded.) A ground war could have added a layer of deterrence that could have kept things quiet for a while - in the case of Lebanon, it has been quiet now for six years.  Maybe that is the best that can be hoped for until a better long-term strategy is developed.

Right now, there is little added deterrence and it will only take a year or so for Hamas' weapons arsenal to be replenished.

Celebrating Iron Dome as some sort of model for Israel's security is very shortsighted. It saves lives but it doesn't reduce terror very much at all. And unless somehow the cease-fire has some teeth in it that has not been made public, the entire operation didn't reduce terror for Israelis either.