It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Israel faces unique and unprecedented security challenges. But it turns out that a rocket scientist can solve some of them.
Dr. Ari Sacher, the primary engineer responsible for the development of Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, gave the keynote speech at the Jewish National Fund Breakfast for Israel in Baltimore, held on Oct. 11 at Temple Oheb Shalom in Pikesville, Maryland. During an energetic and active presentation for the more than 400 attendees, Sacher made the compelling case that Israelis now have a sense of security like never before.
Just a few years ago, Israel faced three existential threats, according to Sacher. The first, a lack of water. The second, “Moses picked the only country in the Middle East without energy,” Sacher explained to laughter. Thanks to technological innovation, while energy and water challenges still exist, neither pose a threat to Israel’s existence.
The third, which was on full display to the world just more than a decade ago, was rocket fire.
Israel’s 2006 war with Hezbollah in Lebanon brought weeks of endless rocket fire, destroying lives and infrastructure. But the campaign also took a large economic toll on the Jewish State, with images of Israeli cities under siege broadcast around the world. Tourism came to a halt — costing the economy about $3 billion.
Sacher repeatedly emphasized that weddings stopped, a noticeable symptom of the rocket fire’s impact on everyday life.
After decades of concern that Israel might face an invasion from its myriad enemies, it became clear that neighboring entities could simply fire rockets into populated areas to wreak havoc. The low cost of creating and launching rockets into civilian areas not only caused destruction, but also reinforced a narrative that Israel was an unsafe, unsustainable place to live.
Facing an untenable situation, Israeli leadership convened high-level talks to address the problem. According to Sacher, there was a big push to adopt a new system with lasers because they are perceived as effective — but they don’t work in the rain. Eventually, experts settled on the concept now known to the world as Iron Dome, which can effectively intercept an incoming rocket with a guided missile. The challenge, Sacher said, was convincing decision makers to fund technology that had never been used before.
Today, Iron Dome is operational and the technology works, effectively intercepting more than 90 percent of incoming fire. The system is possible thanks to Israeli innovation and significant bipartisan investments and support from the United States under Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump.
Sacher illustrated the effectiveness of the technology by dimming the lights to project a photo of his young nephew with his bride on their wedding day. The photo, taken from Jaffa with the Tel Aviv skyline in the background, shows a happy couple with a small streak of light off in the distance. That streak — which could be mistaken for glare in the photo if you looked quickly — is Iron Dome intercepting a rocket poised to cause destruction in Israel’s financial and cultural center.
The photo, Sacher explained, was not to make light of Israel’s very real challenges. But with Iron Dome now capable of intercepting most rockets, Israelis now have a “sense of security.” Weddings were happening again — a sign of Iron Dome’s success in restoring a sense of normalcy.
Iron Dome may cost $1.5 billion, but Sacher made clear that investment in security can have priceless results.
By Ben Goodman
Ben Goodman is an experienced public policy and advocacy professional based in Washington, D.C.