Meet the laser that guides the Iron Dome (soon to be made in the USA)

Six months after the Iron Dome defense system rendered Hamas rockets largely ineffective during Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza,  I got a tour of the factory that produces its most vital component: a laser.

The system, which can shoot down rockets within a circumference of 65 sq. miles, takes two trucks to transport and tens of millions of dollars per unit to build. In November’s Gaza fighting, it boasted almost 90 percent accuracy.

The laser is responsible for that success rate – the machine’s brains: once the Iron Dome is in place, the laser detects every flying object and decides – based on trajectory and velocity – whether it’s a bird, a plane or a missile aimed at an Israeli town.

Then, judging from the missile’s arc, the laser can determine the two most vital pieces of information – where the missile came from, and where it’s going. Israel then fires at the launching pad. If the missile headed toward a populated area, a siren goes off warning residents while the Iron Dome shoots an interceptor missile to take out the incoming bomb.

And what decides where that interceptor missile goes, and guides it toward its target? The laser.

All of this happens, by the way, in a matter of minutes. And it’s all automatic.

“You do not have the luxury to have a person in the loop,” said Meir Conforti, head of North American marketing for Elta, the Israel Aerospace Industries subsidiary that manufactures the laser. “You have people in the loop to stop it if they see something is mistaken.”

For all of its functions, the laser isn’t lithe, and looks like a huge, smooth metallic green rectangle that towers over people’s heads. It’s not easy to transport, either. It takes several hours to a day to move it around Israel, and its movements are followed closely. Where the Iron Dome is deployed has become a way for Israelis to judge which border is tensest. Recently, following flareups in Syria, the defense system moved north.

Soon, though, part of the laser may be made in the U.S. For my tour, I tagged along on a visit from Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, widely considered a contender for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. Elta plans to manufacture parts for the laser in a Maryland factory.

But regardless of how effective the radar is now, Conforti stressed that improving it is key to the Iron Dome’s success.

“The world is not static,” he said. “The radar of today can cope with the current threat.”

But, he added, “Kassam missiles are getting better every day.”

U.S. aims to support Israeli defense systems despite budget cuts

New U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met with his Israeli counterpart on Tuesday, expressing strong support for Israeli missile and rocket defense systems despite fiscal uncertainty caused by across-the-board spending cuts.

“Secretary Hagel is committed to working with members of Congress to ensure that there is no interruption of funding for Iron Dome, Arrow, and David's Sling rocket and missile defense systems,” a U.S. defense official said.

Hagel's nearly two-hour-long talks with Israel's Ehud Barak represented his first face-to-face meeting with a foreign counterpart since he took over the Pentagon on Feb. 27.

Reporting by Phil Stewart

Pogroms interrupted: The era of Jews fighting back

As I’ve been watching images of Hamas rockets falling on Israel, I’ve asked myself: If Hamas had the ability to murder thousands of Jews, wouldn’t they? And if Israel didn’t have a strong army, wouldn’t we surely witness another pogrom? 

Since the destruction of the Second Temple some 2,000 years ago, has there been a more physically abused people than the Jews?

How many Crusades and Inquisitions and pogroms have been recorded where Jews were virtually helpless to defend themselves?

Oh sure, we always managed to survive and pull through. We were strong with our values, our Torah, our culture and our wits in adapting to whatever limits were imposed on us.

But physically? We were always at the mercy of our landlords.

My ancestors in Morocco survived only because they knew their place. You never heard of a Moroccan Jew fighting for the same rights as Moroccan Arabs. Jews were the dhimmis, the second class citizens of the state. And still, there were stories of pogroms against Moroccan Jews.

The physical abuse of Jews reached its darkest and most murderous hour with the Holocaust.

In Alcoholics Anonymous, they say you have to reach your own bottom before you can turn things around. Well, the Holocaust was our absolute bottom.

Perhaps not coincidentally, within a few years we were blessed with our own sovereign state. What would happen now? Would our enemies still come after us?

Indeed they did, but this time, something weird happened.

The Jews fought back.

A ragtag band of Jews fought mano a mano against five invading Arab armies and won.

That miraculous victory saved Israel and signaled a new era in the story of the Jews.

The era of Jews Fighting Back.

We’ve been in that era now for 64 years, and the truth is, we’ve become pretty good at it.

This has shocked our enemies. After 2,000 years of seeing Jews cower so as not to get slaughtered, they've seen these weak Jews transformed into fighting warriors.

This doesn't seem very “Jewish.”

Even among Jews, this success has created a lot of handwringing and intellectual agony: What shall we do with all this power? Are we using it responsibly? Will it corrupt us?

I have to confess, I’ve had very little agony over this. The Jews’ ability to finally fight back has been a source of great satisfaction for me.

Of course, I’d be a lot happier if we were at peace and didn’t have to fight in the first place– if we weren’t surrounded by enemies trying to destroy us.

I wouldn’t have to shed tears when I’m alone in my car, thinking of Israel at war, or talk to my daughter in Herzliya about bomb shelters.

But if Israel is destined to live, at least in the near term, surrounded by enemies, what are we to make of this dark circumstance?

Is it possible that all this fighting might be serving an additional purpose, beyond the essential one of defending the country?

As I’ve been reflecting on all this, the thought occurred to me that maybe Israel is more than a country.

Maybe it’s also a statement.

An official statement that says to the world: The Jews will never go away.

This statement of strength after 2,000 years of weakness is so astonishing that it needed a singular, dramatic instrument to make the point.

And what better instrument than a strong country?

A country so powerful it has managed to thrive on so many levels despite being virtually under siege for 64 years.

So, that is my Jewish take on all this ugly fighting: Our enemies need to see, once and for all, that the Jews will never go away.

Maybe only then will there be peace.

The other night, at a Technion event at the home of Frank Lunz, our Consul General, David Siegel, said: “Our enemies have tried for thousands of years to destroy us, but they’ve always failed.”

The difference now is that we’re surviving on our own terms, not by cowering but by holding our heads high.

I’m sure some people will find this tone of defiance a little unseemly, not very nuanced.

But there’s no nuance in hatred. There’s no nuance in the desire to murder Jews. There never has been.

The statement that the Jews will never go away is a statement that must be made. We can thank Israel for making that statement in the most compelling way possible, even at the risk of upsetting a world not used to seeing Jews fight back.

At the Technion event, they played a video showing some of Israel’s global accomplishments, such as finding renewable energy, curing diseases and helping crippled people walk.

We can thank Israel for that statement, too: A world in which the Jews survive is not just good for the Jews, it’s also good for the world. 

10 things you should know about Israel’s Iron Dome

Israel used a new missile shield, Iron Dome, to shoot down rockets fired by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip in recent days.

Here are some details:

  • Developed by state-owned Rafael Advanced Defence Systems Ltd to counter rocket fire from Lebanon, which hit Israeli towns during the 2006 war with Hezbollah, and from Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, where Hamas Islamists took control in 2007.
  • Each truck-towed unit fires radar-guided missiles to blow up short-range rockets, notably of the Russian Katyusha type, as well as mortar bombs, in mid-air.
  • It successfully shot down multiple rockets simultaneously for the first time in tests during July 2010.
  • In the past four days, Israeli officials said Iron Dome shot down 77 percent of those rockets it targeted coming in from Gaza. In all, Israel counted 170 incoming missiles, but the system does not target every one, only those deemed a threat.
  • Industrial sources put the base price of each battery at about $50 million. Each interception costs at least $25,000.
  • It was first deployed near Gaza in March 2011. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said 10 to 15 batteries would be needed to provide full, if not hermetic, cover.
  • Israel’s main ally Washington has underwritten development costs. U.S. President Barack Obama asked Congress in May for $205 million to support the project.
  • The U.S. Army was reported last year to be interested in buying the system to protect bases overseas. India and Singapore have also expressed interest as potential buyers.
  • The system’s radar, which detects targets, has been developed in Israel by Elta. The system which calculates the aim of each interceptor is from Israeli software firm mPrest Systems. Among weapons fired by Iron Dome is the Tamir missile.
  • Among computations the system is capable of, it can launch interceptors against only those incoming rockets that are on target to hit populated areas, saving on pointless firing. It also works out the safest spot to detonate the incoming missile.

Sources: Reuters/
Reporting by David Cutler, London Editorial Reference Unit; Editing by Alastair Macdonald