• Critics of missile defense must have seen their whole multi-decade, multi-million dollar campaign to stop U.S. missile defenses in danger of crashing to the ground.

  • "All flight tests of the weapon have been rigged," William Broad, New York Times, June 9, 2000.

  • The success of Iron Dome apparently gave the lie to the repeated claims that missile defense tests are rigged; that missile defense systems cannot work; that they do not save lives, and that the threat of rocket attacks must be dealt with through appeasement and concessions.

Imagine that hundreds of armed terrorists from ISIS are in a secure sanctuary in northern Mexico. For nearly two months in 2015, they launch 4479 rockets into the United States. Their targets are schools, hospitals, apartment buildings and day-care centers in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.

Then imagine that not a single person is killed from this terrorist rocket barrage (although mortar fire at one border crossing kills two Americans).

Why are so few Americans harmed? A missile-defense system along America's border with Mexico was able to shoot down over 90% of the incoming rockets that were engaged, while others could be ignored as they fell harmlessly into the southwestern American desert.

Further imagine that, say, Canada helped fund such a missile-defense. Americans would be thankful for the help of its Canadian brothers and sisters; cheer the defense industry that developed the missile-defense which, as President Reagan said in 1983, allows us to protect lives rather than avenge them; and they would thank God there were so few fatalities.

The media would tell a story of success; folks would move to support further defensive missile technology, and then tell their leaders go and find ISIS and destroy every last vestige of them.

The parallel to this is exactly what took place in the skies over Israel between July 6 and August 26, 2014.

The aggressor was not ISIS but its sister terrorist group, Hamas, which launched 4479 rockets at Israel from the Gaza Strip.[1]

Ninety percent of the rockets launched by Hamas and engaged by the Iron Dome missile defense were destroyed. This defense technology was funded in part by the U.S. Department of Defense (although developed, built and used solely by Israel in 2012 in the first Gaza rocket war).

A battery of the Iron Dome missile defense system. (Image source: IDF)

There were zero Israeli fatalities from Hamas's rocket fire in areas defended by Iron Dome, although two Israelis perished and 30 Israelis were wounded, some seriously, from Hamas rockets not intercepted by Iron Dome.

News outlets such as the Wall Street Journal[2] and CNN lauded the Iron Dome's success.[3]

Other 2014 articles echoed a similar story from Time magazine on the first use of Iron Dome in 2012: that Iron Dome was the "most effective, most tested missile shield the world has ever seen."[4]

But then the story changed.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists started the skeptical coverage on July 19, 2014 with a story purporting to reveal "The evidence that shows Iron Dome is not working."[5]

Reuter's David Axe followed up a week later with a story, complaining on July 25, 2014, "Israel's Iron Dome is more like an iron sieve."[6]

On July 31, 2014, the Middle East Monitor entitled a story "It is a lie to say that Iron Dome is Protecting Israelis from Hamas." [7]

Two weeks later, August 12, 2014, reporter Dylan Scott asked, "For all the Hype, Does Israel's Iron Dome Even Work?" [8]

What happened?

In America there is a strong anti-missile defense "industry." Most of the organizations that subscribe to its views are either highly skeptical of missile defenses, or oppose them altogether. [9]

Most have also worked for many years to stop, delay, or defund American missile defense deployments, especially those designed to protect the continental United States as opposed to our allies or forces overseas.

In tracking the success of the Iron Dome, in 2006, before it existed, Hezbollah, in Lebanon, launched 4200 rockets at Israel; they killed 53 people.[10]

In 2012, when Iron Dome was initially deployed with five interceptor missile batteries, Hamas launched 1600 rockets at Israel; they caused five fatalities.

In 2014, Hamas launched 4479 rockets at Israel, which was protected by nine Iron Dome batteries. The rockets caused two fatalities -- in an open area not protected by Iron Dome.

To compare: from 2006 to 2014, more rockets were fired at Israel than were launched by Nazi Germany against Great Britain in all of World War II. Yet Israel fatalities dropped from 53, to 5, to 2.

As noted by Uzi Rubin, founder and former director of the Israel Missile Defense Organization (in Israel's Ministry of Defense), in his September 12 briefing in Washington, D.C.[11], there were missile defense critics who seemed unhappy that Iron Dome appeared to work well.

Many critics of missile defense sometimes sound as if they assume that the proponents of missile defense want the U.S. to protect America all by itself -- without the help of other nations -- and without relying on arms control agreements with other countries. They thus described President George W. Bush's 2002 plan to build national missile defenses in Alaska and California as a "go it alone" strategy.

But is such a charge true? Today, the American Missile Defense Agency [MDA] website features dozens of nations with which the U.S. cooperates in pursuing joint missile-defense objectives -- precisely what missile defense critics complained was not being done.

Furthermore, simultaneously, from 2002-08 the Bush administration also significantly reduced nuclear weapons stockpiles with the Moscow Treaty between the U.S. and Russia, proving the compatibility of pursuing both missile defense and "working with others" on proliferation threats.

On July 19, 2004, for instance, former MDA Director Lt. Gen. Trey Obering noted in remarks to the Multinational Missile Defense Conference in Berlin, Germany,[12] three keys ways the US had been seeking international cooperation on missile defense during the Bush administration:

"That is why we emphasize in the Missile Defense Agency this simple axiom—geography counts. It matters where we locate the piece parts of the missile defense system. The role for our allies [emphasis added] here is obvious. Second, we need to present a united front to those who would seek to harm us with ballistic missiles. Our ability to deter attacks and dissuade other governments from investing in ballistic missiles will be significantly enhanced if we can speak through our alliances, friendships, and coalitions with a single voice. Third, cooperation means pooling our intellectual and financial resources." [Emphasis added].

* * *

According to Uzi Rubin[13], the aforementioned press reports relied on amateur videos and photographs of the missile intercepts over Israel, as well as on an examination of pictures of the "smoke contrails" of the Iron Dome interceptor and Hamas rocket explosions.[14]

Press reports also noted that much of the critical analysis of Iron Dome came from an assessment of the 2012 Gaza missile attacks, and not primarily from the 2014 rocket attacks from Gaza.[15]

National Public Radio [NPR], on its "All Things Considered" program, just three days after the beginning of the 2014 Gaza War, claimed Iron Dome did not work -- before most data from the 2014 attacks could even be fully collected and analyzed.[16]

After two months of the rocket attacks, some in the arms-control community, such as Subrata Ghoshroy of MIT, originally gave grudging praise for Iron Dome's success[17] while others, referenced such media coverage as the June 9 NPR story in concluding that the Iron Dome probably did not work.

Others concluded that even if the Iron Dome system did work, it does not make Israel any less blameworthy for protecting itself. As it was put in one essay from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists [18], "Israel needs to end the lockdown on Gaza." For Israel to allow enemies outspokenly dedicated to its destruction to be better able to attack it?

Still others in the arms-control community eventually went back to their ongoing, comfortable position that if it is a missile defense system, it cannot possibly work. As Philip Coyle emphasized, "No military system is 90% effective."[19]

If Iron Dome is effective, and works well, it would be a huge boost to missile defense in general and the security of the U.S. and its allies in particular.

American arms-control groups, however, have defined "effectiveness"[20] in a manner that makes achieving either workability or effectiveness for U.S. missile defenses extremely difficult.

The current missile defense of the continental United States, for example, intercepts missiles in mid-course, in space, where it is difficult to distinguish decoys and other counter measures from real warheads.

American mid-course-intercept tests have worked in 9 of 14 tests, and have overcome some key technological hurdles. But many critics continue to insist such missile defense tests are rigged and thus the missile defense technology will never demonstrate a sufficient capability to enable a high confidence in the system working. In short, its nothing but a military boondoggle.[21]

Under such assumptions, it is not surprising that as one prominent critic from the Union of Concerned Scientists [UCS], Lisbeth Gronlund claimed, missile defense was unachievable unless it was one hundred percent reliable: "It shouldn't be deployed," adding, "Something is not better than nothing."[22]

Three years later, at a May 14, 2004 UCS press conference, Gronlund said in a variation on the same theme, "No missile-defense is better than some defense," a statement echoed a week later by press conference participant Congressman Rush Holt, who called missile defense a "wasteful, dead-end program that adds nothing to our real national defense."[23]

The United States has conducted dozens of missile defense tests for a variety of systems. Such tests have been successful in 66 out of 81 attempts, including, most recently, 20 successful intercept tests in a row, including consecutively successful tests of the U.S. Navy's Aegis, and the Army's Terminal High Altitude Air Defense [THAAD] and Patriot missile defenses.

But such a success rate is still not sufficient to get the support of missile defense critics. Philip Coyle of the Center for Arms Control, for example, proclaimed at a June 4, 2014 Brookings Institution missile defense seminar that he was "surprised" that some of the American missile defense tests failed because they were all "rigged for success."[24]

As the New York Times put it in a June 9, 2000 report, "all flight tests of the weapon have been rigged". Ironically, this charge by the New York Times was made during the Clinton Administration, although subsequent reporting by the Times made it appear the "rigged" tests were solely an artifact of the subsequent George W. Bush administration missile defense program.[25]

By contrast, the success of Iron Dome upset the rhetorical apple cart of the missile-defense deniers. In the real world of an actual war, this missile defense system worked. There was nothing "rigged" about its success -- and obviously it performed in a "realistic environment."

As many members of the U.S. Congress concluded this summer after watching and hearing of Iron Dome's success, if missile defense can protect Israel, missile defense can protect America, too.[26]

The critics of missile defense must have seen their whole multi-decade, multi-million dollar campaign to stop U.S. missile defenses in danger of crashing to the ground if the American people came to believe missile defenses like Iron Dome did, in fact, work -- and work spectacularly well.

* * *

According to a briefing[27] by missile defense expert Uzi Rubin, most critics of Iron Dome were guilty of making seven key mistakes.

First, said Rubin, the pictures and videos of Iron Dome interceptors appearing to plummet to earth -- and thus giving some the idea that Iron Dome was not working -- were an optical illusion that understandably easily confused non-experts. In fact, the Iron Dome interceptors were actually homing in on their targets.

Second, the critics failed to account for nearly 4500 Hamas warheads that had to land somewhere in Israel. If they were not intercepted, where did they go?

Some Iron Dome critics, said Rubin, simply assumed that thousands of Hamas warheads, while not intercepted, either did not explode or were ineffective and thus did not cause much damage.

In fact, Rubin said, Iron Dome intercepted hundreds of Hamas rockets; others fell in open desert or vacant areas, while some did strike property and, in unprotected spaces, did cause some Israeli casualties and injuries, some serious.

By contrast, in 2006, when Israel had no missile defenses against Hezbollah rockets, many more Israelis were killed or wounded, and property damage was extensive.

Third, critics, pointing to mobile phone "pictures" of Hamas Grad rockets apparently bypassing the Iron Dome interceptors, alleged that the interceptor missile had to "hit the attacking missile head on," otherwise the attacking rocket could not be destroyed.

On July 9, for instance, three days after the Hamas rocket attacks commenced, Bob Siegel of NPR said: "As I understand it, for it to work, it actually has to hit an oncoming rocket head on." His guest assured him that he was "correct" adding, "The Iron Dome has no chance, for all practical purposes, of destroying the [Hamas] artillery rocket."[28]

According to Uzi Rubin, "the critics just got this part wrong".

What they missed, said Rubin,[29] is that Iron Dome has an "elegant capability" to destroy an adversary's rocket even if it is just nearby an incoming rocket. The interceptor, Rubin explained, must indeed "approach" the incoming rocket "head on" but does not need actually to strike the rocket at that point.

Fourth, Rubin said, damage to property in Israel was totally inconsistent with the idea that Iron Dome failed to intercept a high percent of Hamas rockets. Damage from such rocket attacks, he explained, is reimbursed by the State of Israel upon the filing of a claim, no questions asked. Even if it is not unheard of to have people fudge things and occasionally blame some "fender benders" on "rocket attacks," in 2014, despite twice as many rocket attacks as in 2012, the number of Israel property-damage claims fell by 25%.

Fifth, in 2014, despite an increase in the number and frequency of rocket attacks, Israel's fatalities fell from 53 to 2, a decrease of 97%.[30]

Sixth, in all measures of lethality, there were dramatically fewer casualties and property damage in Israel in 2014 when Iron Dome was deployed, compared to the casualties and property damage from rockets in the 2006 Lebanon War, when Iron Dome was not deployed.

Finally, Rubin explained that Israel's civil defense shelters -- often simply safe-rooms in buildings and apartments -- did not account for the low number of casualties and scarce property damage in 2014.[31] The same civil defense shelters were present in 2006 when 53 Israelis died in the missile war that year. And Israelis are not able to run for shelter faster now than in 2006.

The difference, then, between 2006 and 2014 was precisely the presence of Iron Dome.

In short, Iron Dome gave the lie to the repeated claims that missile defense tests are "successful" only because they are rigged; that missile defense systems cannot work; that they do not save lives, and that the threat of rocket attacks must be dealt with through appeasement and concessions.

Missile threats from countries such as Iran and North Korea can be dealt with, at least in part, by missile defenses.

We do not have to be victims unless we choose to be. We can successfully defend ourselves.

We should, finally, ask ourselves seriously: Is "No missile-defense better than some defense"? Really?


[1] "Israeli Missile Defense" by Uzi Rubin, who founded and was the first director of the Israel Missile Defense Organization in the Israel Ministry of Defense (MOD) and is known as the "Father" of the Israeli Arrow Missile Defense… September 12, 2014 from C-Span, read more.

[2] WSJ Video, "How Israel's Iron Dome Rocket Defense System Works", July 11, 2014, noting its successful intercept rate.

[3] "How Iron Dome blocks rockets from Gaza, protects Israelis" by Michael Martinez and Josh Levs, CNN, July 9, 2014

[4] "Iron Dome: A Missile Shield That Works", Time.com, November 19, 2012,

[5] "The evidence that shows Iron Dome is not working", Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS), July 19, 2014.

[6] . "Israel's Iron Dome is more like an iron sieve", by David Axe, Reuters, July 25, 2014. Axe writes: The conclusions were based on "Careful analysis of amateur videos and photos of Iron Dome interceptions over the past three years...most of [this] data is from a previous round of fighting in 2012."

[7] "Middle East Monitor Story on Missile Defense Quotes Phil Coyle" by Alastair Sloan July 31, 2014, subtitled "It is a lie to say that Iron Dome is protecting Israelis from Hamas."

[8] In "For All The Hype, Does Israel's Iron Dome Even Work?", Talking Points Memo, August 21, 2014, Dylan Scott asks: "But what if the U.S. government is pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into a system that isn't nearly as effective as it is claimed to be?"

[9] The Arms Control Lobby Confronts Ballistic Missile Defense: Critics Torture Logic to Discredit Anti-Missile Technology, March 2003 Capital Research Center, Washington, D.C.

[10] From Uzi Rubin, September 12, 2014, "The Gaza Missile Wars", CSpan.

[11] From Uzi Rubin, September 12, 2014, "The Gaza Missile Wars", CSpan. See also "Iron Dome—Savior, or Sales Job?", by Jim Fallows, The Atlantic, July 15, 2014, and "Does Israel's US-funded Iron Dome make the world safer?" by Azriel Bermant, The Guardian, August 6, 2014.

[12] From the MDA.org website, Address by Lt.Gen (Ret) Trey Obering, USAF, former Director, Missile Defense Agency, Multinational BMD Conference, Berlin, Germany, July 19, 2004.

[13] From Uzi Rubin, September 12,2014, "The Gaza Missile Wars", CSpan.

[14] From Uzi Rubin, September 12,2014, "The Gaza Missile Wars", CSpan.

[15] Aviation Week and Space Technology, "Iron Dome -- Are The Critics On Target?" by Bill Sweetman, Aug 25, 2014.

[16] "The Rockets from Hamas, and the Iron Dome That Could Use Patching", July 9, 2014, All Things Considered, National Public Radio.

[17] "Israel's Iron Dome: A misplaced debate", Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS), July 29, 2014.

[18] "Israel's Iron Dome: A misplaced debate", Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS), July 29, 2014. See also: "More Than a Missile: Judging Iron Dome" by Zachary Goldman, August 11, 2014, Commentary;"Iron Dome: The public relations weapon" by John Mecklin, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS). Mecklin writes: "Israel's Iron Dome rocket defense system is high-tech. So is the PR campaign around it." 27 May, 2014. And "Iron Dome Boondoggle: Has Obama Just Signed a $225M Check for a Defective Israeli Missile Shield?," DemocracyNow.org. See also David Talbot in Technology Review, "Israeli Rocket Defense System is Failing", July 10, 2014.

[19] Quoted in the Middle East Monitor story by Alastair Sloan of July 31, 2014 entitled "It is a lie to say that Iron Dome is protecting Israelis from Hamas."

[20] For an extended look at what makes missile defense effective, the June 26, 2014 update of the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis [IFPA] Independent Working Group on Missile Defense is an excellent source as well as "The Arms Control Lobby Confronts Ballistic Missile Defense: Critics Torture Logic to Discredit Anti-Missile Technology", March 2003 Capital Research Center, Washington, D.C. See Defense Dossier, American Foreign Policy Council, February 10, 2014, "Missile Defense for Today and Tomorrow" by Rebeccah Heinrichs.

[21] Missile Defense Agency - U.S. Department of Defense test data show 65 of 79 actual tests were successful (excluding two tests where the test was aborted because the target or interceptor did not launch).

[22] At the Union of Concerned Scientists, Press Conference, on July 26, 2001. At a later Washington, D.C., UCS Press Conference, on May 14, 2004, Lisbeth Gronlund said: "No missile-defense is better than some defense."

[23] Congressman Rush Holt, (D-NJ), Congressional Record, May 21, 2004, House of Representatives. Also May 14, 2004, UCS press conference and follow-up remarks on May 21, 2004 on the floor of the House.

[24] "U.S. Missile Defense Developments: How Far? How Fast?" Brookings Institution, June 4, 2014.

[25] "Antimissile Testing is Rigged to Hide a Flaw, Critics Say," by William Broad, June 9, 2000, New York Times.

[26] "Americans Should Take Notes on Israel's Iron Dome", by Rebeccah Heinrichs , July 27, 2014, Daily Signal.

[27] From Uzi Rubin briefing in Washington, D.C. provided to over 120 top defense specialists, September 12, 2014, "The Gaza Missile Wars", CSpan.

[28] "The Rockets from Hamas, and the Iron Dome That Could Use Patching", July 9, 2014, All Things Considered, National Public Radio.

[29] From the Uzi Rubin, "The Gaza Missile Wars" September 12, 2014 briefing (picked up by C-Span).

[30] From Uzi Rubin, September 12,2014, "The Gaza Missile Wars", CSpan. The rocket attacks were 4200 in 2006 and 4479 in 2014.

[31] From Uzi Rubin, September 12,2014, "The Gaza Missile Wars", CSpan.

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