Man behind Iron Dome addresses Milken students

Milken Community High School's middle and upper school students and teachers got a unique glimpse into the inner workings of some of the Israeli military’s most cutting-edge technology on March 7.

The best part? It was delivered by someone who had an integral role in bringing it into being: retired Brig. Gen. Daniel Gold, the mind behind the Israeli Iron Dome missile defense system.

Speaking with the assurance of a military veteran, Gold smiled with pride as he described to a packed auditorium the mechanics of Iron Dome and the breathing room that it gives to Israeli citizens, soldiers and politicians by defending Israeli cities from most of the rockets fired from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, as it did in November.

“We have systems, sensors, eyes all over Israel that monitor what is going on in our neighborhood. We know every launch, where the launch point is, where they are shooting from and where the landing point is,” Gold told the audience.

Iron Dome works as follows: Radar units across the country detect incoming rockets and calculate information about their speeds and trajectories. Those data are then relayed to the control center, or “brain,” as Gold put it.

The brain decides which rockets, if any, will hit civilian areas. It sends that information to soldiers in a command center, who in turn launch missiles from one of five deployed mobile launchers, each of which can hold up to 20 missiles. The intercepting missile — receiving updates from the control center and its own internal radar — then launches into the sky, tracking down the enemy rocket.

Gold played video footage of the Iron Dome intercepting rockets in November’s weeklong Operation Pillar of Defense. More than 1,400 rockets were launched into Israel during the conflict, threatening civilian centers such as Ashdod, Sderot and Beersheba. A few even made it as far as Tel Aviv, Israel’s largest city and economic hub.

Most of the rockets landed harmlessly in open areas, a handful evaded Iron Dome and hit Israeli cities and many — 421 to be precise — were shot down by Iron Dome missiles before hitting their targets, according to the Israeli military.

As they watched clip after clip of Iron Dome blasting Hamas rockets out of the sky, students and faculty burst into applause each time a ball of fire appeared, indicating that the target was hit.

Although Iron Dome wasn’t implemented until 2011, Gold made clear that it would have been useful during the 2006 Lebanon War between Israel and Hezbollah, when thousands of Katyusha rockets fired from Lebanon killed more than 40 Israeli civilians and displaced hundreds of thousands.

When Hezbollah terrorists fired rockets from a “civilian area site,” he said it was not the “Israeli way” to send in fighter jets. And a ground operation wasn’t ideal, especially if the rockets were deep into Lebanese territory, because of the risk it posed to Israeli soldiers.

Shying away from aerial bombings and ground operations left an obvious choice — anti-rocket missile defense. Although Iron Dome is now admired as a game changer for Israel, the Pentagon and Israeli military officials at the time didn’t take seriously a science-fiction type machine, one that could simply track down rockets — rockets that travel faster than bullets — and blast them to pieces.

As early as 2005, Gold and his team in the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv conjured up the idea that is now Iron Dome. He told a group of Milken math and science students after his speech that when the government refused to fund the research and development, he “bypassed” the Israeli bureaucracy. A 2009 report submitted by Israeli State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss accused Gold of moving ahead with the project without first receiving the required government approval.

When asked whether he was concerned about getting in trouble, he said confidently that his team completed its mission “very fast” and that he had worked around the bureaucratic process “15 times before.”

One of the advantages of Iron Dome is that in addition to shooting down dangerous rockets, it knows to not bother shooting down the harmless ones, missiles that Israel’s control center projects will land in the sea or in open fields. That becomes significant given that each interceptor missile costs between $50,000 and $100,000 (depending on the size of the purchase).

Of course, Gold told a group of students that there’s more to consider than the price tags or even the money saved by not resorting to an invasion.

“The calculation is not one-on-one,” he said. “What is the damage that you prevent? Because you prevent billions of dollars of damage [to] properties.”

One student asked Gold what role America plays in the Iron Dome. Gold responded by saying that only after Israel completed the research and development on its own did it request American aid to purchase mobile launchers and missiles. Since 2010, Congress and the Obama administration have provided nearly $300 million in Iron Dome funding, with an additional $211 million committed for this fiscal year.

Gold’s time with the students concluded with remarks from Metuka Benjamin, the organizer of the event and the president of Milken Community High School.

“I hope you feel as I do — proud of Israel to come up with such an invention that saves people’s lives,” she said.