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The dark side of Iron Dome

As Israelis sit back and watch their defense system triumph over Hamas rockets, they may neglect making peace

Operation Protective Edge is turning out to be aptly named — but for the wrong reason. It’s not the edge of Israel that is being protected; it’s the overhead sky. IDF commandos stand ready to be deployed, but for now the weaponry of choice has been almost entirely airborne with rockets launched by Hamas, retaliatory airstrikes in Gaza and Iron Dome interceptor missiles over Israel.

All this action above ground has been both harrowing and electrifying. Israelis were forced to stiffen their nerves once again, enduring the sirens and squeezing into fallout shelters. But amid all this cardio chaos has been the strange calm of knowing that few of Hamas’ rockets have actually done much damage or caused many injuries — far fewer, in fact, than in past Israeli campaigns in Gaza.

The reasons are clear: the notably and predictably poor aim of Hamas rocket launchers, and the spectacular effectiveness of Iron Dome batteries in intercepting 90% of the rockets when the missile defense system is activated.

Beginning with 2012’s Operation Pillar of Defense when Iron Dome made its debut, Israelis have applauded this new hero of the sky, this ultimate defensive weapon that alters the trajectory of rockets by obliterating them. Even in 2012 Israelis found themselves eerily sitting at outdoor cafes watching Iron Dome missiles light up the night like a July 4th fireworks show. Wouldn’t it be nice if all warfare could be fought this way — more spectator sport than battleground, more like a video game than something to actually fear?

But does this game-changing weapon also come with a dark side? The more impervious Israelis become to incoming rockets the more complacency is bound to set in, leaving the nation with a false sense of security. Operation Protective Edge might be remembered as the campaign where Israel actually lost its edge. In future wars once macho and resourceful Israelis might no longer dash for the nearest bomb shelter. Instead, they could be found sitting beachside, blithely sipping mojito cocktails, adrift in a daze of magical thinking while rockets vaporize overhead.

It sounds appealing and too good to be true, but such detachment only forestalls other looming threats. Worse still, the urgency to resolve this ancient underlying problem with the Palestinians might be seen as a pie in the sky.

Israel cannot fail to look beyond the Iron Dome. Already hemmed in by a security fence and an ocean, there is now an invisible barrier overhead that does not eclipse the Mediterranean sunshine but does quell some of Israel’s existential anxieties. There was a time when Israel’s greatest national aspiration was to reclaim the Western Wall. Now it is finding ways to close itself off with building materials far more sophisticated than biblical stone.

Moreover, the success of Iron Dome might lull Israeli leaders into not taking the necessary steps to secure the future viability of the state, isolating it even further on the world stage, which is not healthy for its people or the evolving Zionist enterprise.

The Palestinian conflict with its many legal, moral, practical and democratic dimensions is not going to disappear. Hamas are like Terminator terrorists: they always come back. The Palestinian people, at least those that place their faith in Hamas and Islamic Jihad, are still willing to martyr themselves for the eternal possibility that all of Israel might one day become a Palestinian homeland. Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Abbas is threatening further overtures to the United Nations.

Tough decisions are still very much in Israel’s horizon. The Palestinian crisis cannot remain in a forever state of postponement. The risks of moving forward and Israel’s sense of insecurity are admittedly real. Palestinian obduracy is Olympian in nature. (Israel’s leaders present their own impediments to peace, too.) Comforting though it might be, the Iron Dome can’t blanket Israel from the much darker reality of an encroaching caliphate that is taking shape outside of this new wondrous bubble.

The Iron Dome, despite its impregnable name, is just a terrifically effective, technically marvelous Band-Aid. Something even more special than a miracle defense system has to happen either militarily or diplomatically to resolve this otherwise unsolvable Palestinian dilemma.

After eight days of fighting in 2012, with the world’s reprimand over the disproportionate Palestinian body count, Israel and Hamas agreed to a ceasefire. At the time Gilad Sharon, the former prime minister’s son, bemoaned that Israel wasn’t finishing the job by “flattening Gaza.” Tactically he may have been right; two years later there are yet again even more powerful rockets being launched against Israel.

But given the human shields and the embedded missiles sleeping beside Palestinian children, it would have been monstrous and morally unbearable for Israel to fight further.

A flattened Gaza would surely result in a safer Israel. But would we still be Jews?

About the Author
Thane Rosenbaum is a novelist, essayist and Distinguished Fellow at NYU School of Law where he directs the Forum on Law, Culture & Society (FOLCS). He is the author, most recently, of the novel, "How Sweet It Is!" His forthcoming nonfiction book is titled, "The High Cost of Free Speech: Rethinking the First Amendment."