An Iron Dome battery has only been in place in the central Dan region for two days and it has already succeeded in intercepting three rockets.
More than 290 rockets have been intercepted by the Iron Dome system since last Wednesday. The system boasts an 85 percent success rate. On Sunday, the system intercepted 38 rockets, two of which were over Tel Aviv. Only about 30 of the more than 540 rockets launched from the Gaza Strip have managed to land in populated areas in Israel.
An Israel Air Force official summarized the feeling on Sunday saying, "It is somewhat of a miracle."
A number of military officials were involved in the decision to deploy the fifth battery to the Tel Aviv area, though the main force pushing the move was Israel Air Defense commander Brig. Gen. Shahar Shohat.
For the installation and command of the fifth battery, Maj. Itamar Abo was called away from his university studies, having finished commanding one of the other batteries just a month and a half ago. The new unit involves more advanced technology, so Abo and his team were given updated training last week.
Soon after the installation of the fifth Iron Dome on Saturday morning, it intercepted its first rocket. Abo said, "The feeling during the interception is incredible, especially in the Dan region [around Tel Aviv] with so many citizens."
"It demands a high level of professional concentration," Abo continued. "There is a sense [of concentration] among all the people involved, from the low-ranking technicians to the warriors that actually shoot, and it is rare to actually see the missile hit the target. There is nothing that makes us happier, however. The battery has been very successful up to now and we hope it will continue to be successful in the future."
Due to its more advanced technology than the other four units, the fifth Iron Dome is better able to deal with Fajr and eight-inch rockets launched from Gaza. The sixth Iron Dome is slated to be ready by the middle of 2013.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak visited the battery on Sunday in the central Dan region. He called it "an exceptional achievement by both the Air Defense Command and manufacturers. No other army in any country in the world has a system like it; no other civilian population has this protection. It is true that the threat against us is unique, but such abilities and defensive achievements are out of the ordinary. They work alongside the IDF's ability to attack Hamas and the Islamic Jihad in Gaza."
"With the Iron Dome and the developments that are planned for it, we have a basic ability to protect the state of Israel against most threats of both short and long-range missiles," Barak continued. "It will take a few years and a few million shekels, but we will get there."
Barak also thanked the United States and President Barack Obama for the financial assistance that facilitated the Iron Dome's development. "Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, with the president's and Congress' approval, are transferring additional funds to us to be able to place a seventh and eighth battery. Eventually we want 13 batteries. It is not a simple effort. The U.S. is also experiencing military budget cuts yet, despite that, they moved forward and provided us with financial assistance."
Meanwhile, on Sunday morning, the ministerial procurement committee is slated to meet to discuss Barak's request to increase the defense budget by 750 million shekels for the sixth Iron Dome battery and replenishment of supplies. No opposition is expected and later in the week the request will pass through the Knesset Finance Committee and the Joint Committee for the Defense Budget.
The price of each Iron Dome battery is about $100 million. One missile costs about $62,000, but the price is higher for missiles from the more sophisticated units.
The defense establishment and the IDF are interested in having a network of 13 batteries across Israel, therefore they are asking for 3.2 billion shekels (about $810 million). The funding is a joint effort between Israel and the U.S.