Israel is also working with Boeing on a more sophisticated system known as Arrow 3, designed to intercept missiles that can travel hundreds, even thousands of miles. It is feared that Iran or North Korea could someday mount a nuclear warhead on such missiles.
The success of the Iron Dome system has energized missile defense advocates, who contend its success rate validates the decades-old vision of being able to shoot down a missile with another missile.
That vision, first elevated by President Reagan during the Cold War, has been controversial. The United States has spent hundreds of billions trying to achieve success.
Max Boot, a defense policy specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote in a widely read column in Commentary magazine this week that “the latest Gaza war is only a few days old, but already one conclusion can be drawn: missile defense works.
“This is only the latest vindication for the vision of Ronald Reagan,” he added.
Talk radio host Neal Boortz has posted about the Iron Dome system to his more than 100,000 followers on Twitter. “That’s the Star Wars technology developed under Reagan that the left absolutely HATED. Thought you ought to know.”
But technical experts called such statements misleading, pointing out that the most sophisticated missiles that can travel across continents and rely on satellite guidance systems are generations removed from the low-tech rockets that have been screeching into Israel.
For example, the next level of missiles, such as those designed to be intercepted by the new Raytheon weapon, travel “about four and a half times faster” than Hamas’s rockets while an ICBM, or intercontinental ballistic missile, “is 13 or 14 times faster,” said Postol, of MIT. “We are not even close to being able to hit those in combat. We don’t know how to tell the difference between real missiles and decoys” — an assertion that was recently backed up by an official Pentagon study.
Kingston Reif, director of nuclear nonproliferation at the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation in Washington, agreed the comparisons are more than a little stretch.
The Gaza rockets “don’t operate outside the atmosphere, which eliminates a potential huge stumbling block,” he said.
But the more immediate threat to Israel is seen as something in between the superpower-type missiles being developed by Iran and North Korea and the makeshift ones in Gaza. And for that reason, a lot is riding on the new Raytheon-built missile.
As one Israeli commentator, referring to the pending test in Negev Desert with a dummy missile, put it, “very many eyes in Israel and the US will be glued to the monitors.”
Bryan Bender can be reached at email@example.com