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What is Israel's Iron Dome and why it failed? Concerns rise over intelligence failure after Hamas attack

Concerns over Israel's intelligence failure to combat the Hamas attack come in the wake of over 600 deaths in the country. Furthermore, at least 100 Israelis have been kidnapped by militants and taken to Gaza.

Aveek Banerjee Written By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Jerusalem Updated on: October 09, 2023 17:57 IST
Israel's Iron Dome reportedly has a success rate of over 90%
Image Source : AP Israel's Iron Dome reportedly has a success rate of over 90%

An unprecedented rocket attack and infiltration by air, sea, and land in Israel by the Hamas militant group has raised concerns about a major failure of the Jewish country's intelligence agencies and defence systems as the death toll continues to rise.

Militants from the Hamas group that rules the Gaza Strip, fired over 4,000 rockets toward Israel on Saturday daybreak, killing more than 700 people. Several fighters of the group breached the heavily fortified border using paragliders and kidnapped 100 Israelis, including civilians and soldiers, and took them to Gaza, according to the Times of Israel.

In retaliation, Israel carried out airstrikes on the Gaza Strip as part of its operation 'Iron Swords' that claimed the lives of over 500 Palestinians. Heavy gunfighting continued well after midnight, with the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) claiming to have killed around 400 Hamas militants.

Amid the chaos, all eyes are on Israel's famed defence system, known as the Iron Dome, which is known for its state-of-the-art defence capability and interception of rockets from miles away. Israel's intelligence agencies Shin Bet and Mossad have also attracted concern as to how Hamas were able to display such a surprising show of strength in one of the deadliest attacks on Israel.

What is Iron Dome and why did it fail?

The Iron Dome is a ground-to-air defence system that comprises a radar and interceptor missiles that are capable of tracking and neutralising any rockets or missiles fired towards targets in Israel. It is particularly useful in defending against rockets, artillery and mortars, as well as aircraft, helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

The Dome has a range of close to 70 km and has three crucial components, Detection and Tracking radar, Battle Management and Weapons Control and the Missile Launcher armed with 20 Tamir Missiles. It is reportedly capable of handling multiple rocket attacks and has a 90% success rate.

However, in the latest onslaught of the Hamas militants, the Iron Dome found itself overpowered by the 3,000-something rockets that were fired from the Gaza Strip. The Times of Israel reported that the defence system experienced a "technical error" during one of the barrages, which resulted in the rockets not being intercepted before they landed in populated areas.

As the attack took place on daybreak, Israeli forces found themselves caught completely off-guard despite being a technological powerhouse and its experience in handling terrorist attacks. The malfunction made things worse, exposing gaps in the country's protection measures against such strikes.

"The entire system failed. It’s not just one component. It’s the entire defense architecture that evidently failed to provide the necessary defense for Israeli civilians. This is a Pearl Harbor-type of moment for Israel, where there was reality up until today, and then there will be reality after today,” CNN quoted Jonathan Conricus, a former international spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces.

Although the Israeli Air Force quickly resolved the issue, authorities paid a heavy price as hundreds of civilians were killed in the strikes, raising concerns about Israel's overall capability to defend itself against rocket strikes. The Iron Dome has seen similar malfunctions in the past, such as in the 2021 Israel-Palestine conflict, where a rocket barrage toward Ashkelon was not intercepted and two women were killed.

Israel's intelligence agencies

Israel's domestic intelligence unit Shin Bet and its external agency Mossad have been the country's source of pride due to their efficiency. However, despite their reputation, they were also unaware of the impending attack and were caught by surprise in the attacks by Hamas militants.

According to reports, Israeli ministers said that the military must provide answers about the failure of its intelligence, while some experts felt that Israel was too engrossed in countering Iran and neglected its own backyard.

"Every Israeli citizen wants to know how this failure was possible? Why are the Chief of Staff and Intelligence chief not here now? We need more information," said Israeli Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis. Another report by the Jerusalem Post suggested that the perception of Hamas being isolated, lacking funds and being afraid of an Israeli response had led people into a false sense of security.

Analysts have been left puzzled as to how the combined efforts of the Shin Bet, Mossad and the IDF failed to see the attack coming or act immediately to it. Some experts have also blamed Israel's internal divide in the wake of a judicial overhaul that led to massive protests against the government.

Several experts also zeroed in on the "extraordinary levels" of planning, preparation and operational security by the Hamas group to carry out such a large-scale attack on Israeli soil. "This is an incredible message on the part of the Palestinians and Hamas that they were able to gather all these weapons and (carry out) multiple massive attacks," said a CNN analyst.

The latest offensive launched by Hamas brought back painful memories of the October 1973 war practically 50 years to the day, in which Israel was caught by surprise by an attack on Yom Kippur by a coalition of Arab States including Egypt and Syria. The war went on for 18 days till a ceasefire was declared.

What is happening now in Israel?

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already said that the country was at war. IDF spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari on Sunday called the Hamas attack a "war crime" and asserted that whoever took part "will pay the price", possibly referring to a land attack.

The IDF said that schools across the entire country will remain closed in the coming days. In addition, businesses south of Netanya and north of the central Negev can only be opened if there is ready access to bomb shelters, according to the military.

Around 2,200 people have been wounded in the rocket attacks by Hamas. The flare-up on Israel’s northern border also threatened to draw into the battle Hezbollah, a fierce enemy of Israel that is backed by Iran and estimated to have tens of thousands of rockets at its disposal.

Hezbollah fired dozens of rockets and shells Sunday at three Israeli positions in a disputed area along the border, and Israel’s military fired back using armed drones. Two children were lightly wounded by broken glass on the Lebanese side, according to the nearby Marjayoun Hospital.

(with agency inputs)


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