The Rockets From Hamas, And The Iron Dome That Could Use Patching
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
As we've heard from Ari Shapiro, the fighting between Hamas and Israel is, for now at least, an air war. And it's a familiar one. Hamas has long fired rockets at southern Israel, and as we've heard, it is now firing longer-range rockets. Israel has usually responded with airstrikes against Hamas targets in Gaza, and it says its Iron Dome missile defense system has intercepted some of the Hamas rockets in flight. This is an asymmetric conflict. The Israeli Air Force and air defenses are state-of-the-art while Hamas rockets, even as they make life very difficult in towns near Gaza, seem to inflict relatively little damage. For more on the hardware of this conflict, we turn now to Theodore Postol, who is a professor of science, technology and national security policy at MIT and a well-known analyst of missile defense. Welcome to the program, Professor Postol.
THEODORE POSTOL: Nice to be here - thank you.
SIEGEL: And first, how would you describe the rockets that Hamas is firing into Israel?
POSTOL: Well, the rockets are what are called artillery rockets that are ubiquitous to armies over the world. So for example, a typical diameter is called 122 millimeter rocket, which looks like a four-and-a-half-inch diameter pipe. And the length might be 10 feet, although some of them can be 20 feet.
SIEGEL: How big is the explosive that's usually carried by that rocket?
POSTOL: A typical explosive is 20 to 30 pounds which is quite enough to kill you if it lands near you. But, you know, if you take shelter it's unlikely to cause your house to collapse, and Israelis are set up to take shelter.
SIEGEL: The Israelis claimed that a missile out of Gaza - a rocket out of Gaza that was headed toward Tel Aviv, which would be relatively long-range given their history...
POSTOL: Probably 60 or 50 or 70 kilometers.
SIEGEL: They say it was intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system. How would - how successful is that system, in your view?
POSTOL: We can tell, for sure, from video images and even photographs that the Iron Dome system is not working very well at all. It - my guess is maybe 5 percent of the time - could be even lower.
SIEGEL: As I understand it, for it to work it actually has to hit an oncoming rocket head on.
POSTOL: That's correct. And when you look - what you can do in the daytime - you can see the smoky contrail of each Iron Dome interceptor, and you can see the Iron Domes trying to intercept the artillery rockets side on and from behind. In those geometries, the Iron Dome has no chance, for all practical purposes, of destroying the artillery rocket.
SIEGEL: By way of contrast, when the Israeli Air Force strikes at targets in Gaza, is the weaponry substantially more accurate than these rockets?
POSTOL: When you're talking about an airstrike from an aircraft, especially with the very, very highly trained pilots Israelis have and, of course, the very advanced equipment that they're using, you're talking about precisions of tens of meters - very, very high precision.
SIEGEL: On the other hand, tens of meters in, let's say a dense place like Gaza City - that could be three houses away.
POSTOL: You're going to kill a lot of innocent people.
SIEGEL: Yeah, yeah.
POSTOL: In part, this is an intended game on the part of the adversary. You know, if you can create - if you can intentionally force the Israelis to kill a lot of noncombatants, that's good for your campaign. It makes them look worse. It makes the Israelis look worse.
SIEGEL: Theodore Postol, thank you very much for talking with us about this today.
POSTOL: Thank you.
SIEGEL: Theodore Postol, professor of science, technology and national security at MIT.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.