“How do you make a missile fired from the ground that can intercept an airborne rocket within 15 seconds?”
This was the question that drove the development of Iron Dome (Kippat Barzel), Israel’s largely effective missile alert and interception system launched in 2011. It also provides the drama in the three-part docuseries “Iron Dome,” airing on a new Israeli subscription streaming platform that aims to bring more Israeli content to the rest of the world. The series, in Hebrew with English subtitles, was created by Nati Dinnar and Uri Bar-On and premieres Sept. 3 on the Izzy platform.
Interviews with the politicians, military officials, engineers and tech specialists who researched, supported, funded and created Iron Dome provide the context: the ongoing assault of thousands of rockets launched by Hamas from Gaza into southern Israel, particularly the border town of Sderot, since 2001.
For those not inclined toward documentaries about how regional and internal politics affect the development and funding of military technology, there’s a painful human storyline that intertwines with the technical one about the race to create a defense system: the devastating toll on those who lost loved ones in the rocket attacks.
When an interviewee is identified as “Itsik’s brother” or “Afik’s mother,” or you see photos of people smiling and enjoying their lives, you know you’re in for moments of heartbreak. News footage closeups of blood-stained earth, maimed and bleeding Israelis and Palestinians, rocket remnants, and faces contorted in trauma and physical pain underscore the human cost. Aerial shots, diving into serene backyards, provide a missile’s-eye perspective of the site that’s about to be destroyed.
Among prominent Israelis interviewed are Defense Minister Amir Peretz, a former mayor of Sderot; Danny Gold, lead project manager for Iron Dome and head of research and development at the Ministry of Defense; and Benny Gantz, IDF chief of general staff from 2011 to 2015.
There is also an interview with Ashraf al-Ajrami — identified first as “Gaza resident” and then as minister of prisoners’ affairs for the Palestinian Authority from 2007 to 2009 — speaking about the impact of conflict on Gaza, as well as Hamas’ rise to leadership. He is the sole voice of “on the ground” Gaza and provides valuable but disturbing insight into how Hamas seized control and amplified the violence.
But overall, this is an Israeli narrative on how Iron Dome has helped mitigate the impact of rockets from Gaza by intercepting more than 1,200 missiles.
In the episode “Death From Above,” the death of a 4-year-old prompts Israel’s Ministry of Defense to examine how to further protect southern communities from indiscriminate rocket attacks. “The Heavens Can Wait” chronicles the rise of Hamas in Gaza and the increase of rocket attacks in Southern Israel and the choice between the Nautilus, an American laser system, and Iron Dome, which at the time seems impossible. “The Sheltering Sky” charts the implementation of Iron Dome and assesses its impact.
The series contains facts and anecdotes, some of them more quirky than you might expect in a sobering documentary about a quest to develop defense technology that chronicles violent loss and citizen unrest. For instance, the system was almost named Kippat Zahav, or “Gold Dome,” but Danny Gold thought it sounded too fancy and didn’t want people to think he’d named it after himself. At another point, Iron Dome inventor Chanoch Levin shares how he was inspired by his son’s remote-controlled car when he realized that several of the toy car’s parts were similar to the parts needed for the missile. “It’s the first missile in the world with parts from Toys R Us,” Levin said.
The series also shows the impact on Israel’s children. A cartoon features an animated missile that explains how Iron Dome works. One scene shows children singing about the red-alert system that tells them to “hurry, hurry, hurry, to a secure place; hurry, hurry, hurry, because now it’s a little dangerous,” and after they hear the “boom, efshar lakum,” they can get up from their crouched, under-desk protective positions.
The Iron Dome system has its naysayers, most prominently aerospace engineer Moti Sheffer, a 50-year veteran of Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, who calls the project a sham, the results exaggerated and the interceptions a “sound and light show.”
The Izzy media kit maintains that Iron Dome has an overall accuracy rate of at least 85 percent. Each Iron Dome battery costs about $100 million, and each missile within the battery costs $50,000, according to press materials. The system is designed to intercept and destroy short-range rockets and artillery shells fired from distances as close as 2½ miles and as far as 43 miles. But Sderot is still under attack, and former mayor Eli Moyal calls Iron Dome a tool, not a policy.
“In order to solve the problem with Gaza, we need a policy…either use all our might in a military operation and uproot the problem or strive for peace with all our might. Not in between,” Moyal said.