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Iron Dome Missile Defense

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Iron Dome Missile Defense

The Israeli Iron Dome missile system in Ashkelon, Israel. Tension is rising along the Israel-Gaza Border as Israel retaliates to rockets fired by Hamas militants with air strikes and shelling, killing at least 18 people.

Uriel Sinai/Getty Images
Definition: Israel's Iron Dome missile and rocket defense system is an American-funded, Israeli built, $200 million project the Israeli government awarded Israel's Rafael Advanced Defense Systems in 2007. The mobile system is designed to intercept rocket fire from Hamas in Gaza or Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The missile system was deployed for the first time in late March 2011 on the outskirts of Beersheba, a city in Southern Israel. The deployment was rushed because of rising tensions between Israel the Hamas-controlled Palestinian government in Gaza, from where rocket fire resumed against Israel in 2011 after a long lull.

“Iron Dome is still in the experimental stage, and we do not have the possibility of deploying batteries to protect every home, school, base and installation,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the day of the deployment. The Obama administration provided enough funding for the construction of eight or nine batteries, about half what the Israeli government said it needed in 2011.

The system uses cameras and radars to track incoming rockets and shoot them down. It is a scaled down version of the U.S.-built Patriot missile defense system developed by Raytheon, the American weapons manufacturer. The system has a range of about 43 miles, or 70 km.

Iron Dome is "a uniquely Israeli solution for a uniquely Israeli problem," said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org and an expert on defense technology and policy. "Nobody else has the problem of being that close to an enemy you can’t annihilate. Because if it was a stand-up war, and the guy who was shooting at you was only a couple miles away, you would just blow him up, and that would be the end of it. But you can’t do that here."

But the Iron Dome system has faced severe criticism because of its cost and suspect reliability. Each Iron Dome missile costs about $100,000. Each rocket it aims at costs about $5.

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