The Origin of the Iron Dome

The relationship between the United States and Israel is characterized by the American contribution to the development and the implementation of the Israeli defense industries, in particular anti-missile systems.

A major shift in the countries’ relationship occurred under Reagan’s administration whose foreign policy started to treat Israel, not only as an ally, but also as a strategic partner.

In 1983, Israel was included in Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) program (later called the Ballistic MD initiative) that propelled Israel as one of the world’s leading technology developers and top-tier defense manufacturers in the world. Reagan announced the SDI program stating that: 

“What if free people could live secure in the knowledge that their security did not rest upon the threat of instant US retaliation to deter a Soviet attack that we could intercept and destroy strategic ballistic missiles before they reached our own soil or that of our allies? I know this is a formidable, technical task, one that may not be accomplished before the end of the century… It will take years, probably decades of effort on many fronts. There will be failures and setbacks, just as there will be successes and breakthroughs… But isn’t it worth every investment necessary to free the world from the threat of nuclear war? We know it is.”

This speech could be retraced as the origin of the Iron Dome’s development. 

The SDI program was ironically labeled ‘Star Wars’ by many of its critics who though this idea was just a science fiction fantasy. Today, many claim that Reagan’s ‘Star Wars’ came to life with the Israeli Iron Dome batteries and their Tamir missiles intercepting and destroying 90% of Hamas rockets during the Operation Protective Edge. Others, however, consider that the success of the Iron Dome is not related to the vision of Reagan, as the initial purpose was to be able to intercept nuclear weapons and not long-range rockets. These opinions however, are baseless since the Security Directive NSDD 172 (which fully presenting the SDI in 1985) stated that the research program was not, at this stage, speculating on the kinds of defensive systems it was specifically developing. 

The US funding received by Israel had a major impact on Israel’s defense industry since it led to the development of Arrow I, the world’s first operational MD system, followed by Arrow II and III systems. Eventually, the Iron Dome short-range anti-rocket system was developed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and became operational in 2011. 

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