Israel’s Air and Missile Defense During the 2014 Gaza War

Israel’s Air and Missile Defense During the 2014 Gaza War

שיגור טיל על ידי מערכת כיפת ברזל

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Iron Dome missile launch
Iron Dome missile launch

In the escalation that precipitated the 2014 Gaza War (Operation Protective Edge) and during the war, Israel was subjected to the fiercest and longest reaching rocket assault in its history, including the rocket fire from Hezbollah in the 2006 Lebanon War. In preparation for the assault against Israel, the Palestinian factions in Gaza amassed more than 10,000 rockets, some with ranges reaching most of Israel’s territory.

Nearly half of this stockpile consisted of locally produced rockets by the newly established Palestinian military industries, and inspired and supported by Iran. More than 4,500 rockets and mortar bombs were fired from Gaza during the fighting. The rocket fire interrupted civilian air traffic to and from Israel’s major international airport and threatened Israel’s gas fields in the Mediterranean.

The Palestinians added an air threat to their rocket assault, launching armed UAVs toward Israel’s main metropolitan centers. In spite of intensive efforts by Israel’s Air Force and Navy to destroy the launchers, the Palestinian rocket fire was neither silenced nor reduced in intensity until an agreed cease fire ended the fighting.

The Palestinians’ offensive achievement was matched by Israel’s defensive success. Israel’s Air Defense Command deployed an efficient active defense array consisting of the Iron Dome rocket defense system and the Patriot air defense system. The nine Iron Dome batteries that protected most of Israel’s civilian areas shot down nine out of every ten rockets aimed at their defended areas.

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The Patriot batteries shot down Palestinian armed UAVs and brought their assault to a full stop. Therefore, the casualties and damage from the Gaza rockets were significantly less than in previous rocket assaults. Israel’s active defenses provided the sinews for Israel’s public resilience, safeguarded Israel’s international air and sea ports, and allowed most Israelis in the threatened localities to continue their daily lives with minimal interruptions.

Skeptics in Israel and the US voiced doubts about the disclosed achievements of the Iron Dome system. US critics used commercial and private videos of rocket interceptions to allege that the system was significantly less successful than claimed. The low number of casualties was attributed by them to the efficiency of Israel’s public alert system and extensive shelter network, as well as the supposedly low lethality of the Gaza rocket warheads. However, a comparison of losses and damages in the 2014 Gaza War to those from the 2006 Lebanon War, when no active defense system existed, refute the critics’ allegations.

The 2014 Gaza War exposed the powerful war machine that the Gaza Palestinian factions had been building since the middle of the previous decade. In spite of Israel’s defensive success, the fighting revealed gaps that require corrective action, including adding Iron Dome systems, improving the capability to shoot down UAVs, countering the mortar bomb threats and providing the Israeli Navy with the means to defend Israel’s energy sources in the Mediterranean against rockets.

Written by: Uzi Rubin, Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies