One question I repeatedly hear from non-Israelis is, Why is there so much innovation coming out of Israel? It’s a question that a number of people have tried to answer, and even gave rise to a book, “Start-Up Nation”. I think the current missile attacks from Gaza, and how those have been parried, provide a good illustration of at least part of the answer.
In 1991, during the Gulf War, Saddam Hussein launched 42 Scud missiles at Israel, i.e. about one a day for the duration of the war. Despite being fired from several hundred miles away, thus providing several minutes’ lead time to determine when and where a missile would hit, each time a Scud was fired, warning sirens went off all over the country. US-built Patriot missile batteries were deployed in Israel, but their success rate in intercepting incoming Scuds was abysmal.
Flash forward to today. In the past month, Hamas has fired over 1000 missiles into Israel, from right on the border, not far-off Iraq, leaving far more less time to respond to a much larger barrage than was faced in 1991. Within seconds after launch, the fact that it’s a missile (and not something else) and its trajectory are known, and the population in the neighborhood where the missile will land is warned (via air raid sirens, television and radio notices, and a smartphone app); there are no sirens in nearby towns. According this July 13 Times of Israel article, the country is presently divided into 235 sectors for this purpose, and in the future that number is likely to double.
The warning system itself constitutes a major accomplishment, but then comes the truly amazing part: in cases where missiles are calculated to hit populated areas, an interceptor missile is launched. (If you’re my age, think back to Atari Missile Command, except this system is real.) And unlike the Gulf War-era Patriot missiles, today’s Iron Dome missile system, developed here in Israel, has been remarkably effective in blowing Hamas’ weaponry out of the sky, even as it travels at supersonic speeds. No one else has developed anything close.
Of course, technology developed for military purposes eventually finds its way into civilian applications. More importantly, when the kind of brainpower that went into developing the Iron Dome is turned to other areas, you get innovative solutions to many problems.