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Israel’s Iron Dome has a supply problem

An Israeli missile attempts to intercept rockets fired from the Gaza Strip earlier this month. Credit: Getty

October 24, 2023 - 7:00am

The United States has announced that it will send additional air defences to Israel. The package discussed by the Americans includes Terminal High Altitude Air Defence (THAAD) as well as additional Patriot batteries and missiles. It is also being provided in case a second front is opened in northern Israel by the Lebanon-based group Hezbollah.

The situation looks particularly grim for Israel because recent advances in rocket and drone technology have made defence against these sorts of weapons costly and difficult. Compare, for example, the Qassam missiles being launched by Hamas and the Iron Dome air defence system that shoots them down.

The Qassam missiles are extremely simple and cheap to manufacture. The rocket propellant is made by combining sugar and fertiliser. The explosive tip is no more sophisticated than what is found in a grenade or an RPG round. Each missile costs around $300-$800 to make and, given the simplicity, the supply of these missiles is potentially infinite. It is estimated that Hamas has some 14,000 stockpiled — although given that Israeli intelligence failed to see the attack on the country’s territory earlier this month, the group may have many more.

The Iron Dome is, by contrast, an extremely sophisticated and expensive piece of technology, with each battery costing around $50 million. More importantly, each Tamir interceptor fired by the system costs around $50,000, meaning that it costs Israel around 100 times the cost of each Hamas missile to shoot them down. The Tamir interceptors are limited in supply, too. It is not clear how many Israel has stockpiled or how long they take to produce, but given that the United States is reported to have taken delivery of a few hundred and have ordered just over 1,800 more, it is a safe bet that these missiles are to some degree supply-constrained. 

But the Iron Dome missiles are cheap when compared to their Patriot and THAAD counterparts. A single Patriot missile costs around $4 million, while a single THAAD battery costs an eye-watering $800 million. Since many Patriot batteries have recently been used in Ukraine, these too could be facing supply pressures.

Really, the Hamas rocket attacks would appear to be strategic. Unlike Hamas, Hezbollah has an enormous missile arsenal that makes the former organisation’s look like a pile of fireworks. Hezbollah has an estimated 130,000 missiles, 40,000 of which are sophisticated, large, and accurate. They also appear to have access to drone technology. These include the SCUD tactical ballistic missile and the Iranian-made Fateh-110 ballistic missile. It seems highly likely that Hamas is firing its much smaller, cheaper rockets to wear out Israel’s stock of air defence missiles so that, when it enters the war, Hezbollah can launch the real thing. 

Israel’s desire for its citizens not to be hit by enemy missile attacks is understandable. Yet this aversion to losses — more pronounced than their adversaries’ — seems impossible to maintain in the face of the current threat. At some point Israel will run low on air defence, at which point it will be vulnerable to missile attacks in a well-stocked region.

The American announcement to deliver Patriots and THAADs signals that Western military leaders understand this reality. But it is not clear that those outside of military circles do. If a war kicks off in Israel, it won’t be a limited war. The whole of Israeli society will be pulled in, facing a constant threat of large, sophisticated missiles overhead. Too many Western commentators seem to think that Israel can simply send troops into the Gaza Strip and crush Hamas. But once one understands the military and logistical picture, this simplistic narrative begins to break down.


Philip Pilkington is a macroeconomist and investment professional, and the author of The Reformation in Economics

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Stuart Sutherland
Stuart Sutherland
8 months ago

Scary times!

Albireo Double
Albireo Double
8 months ago

Indeed, but maybe it is time now, whether we want that or not.

William Shaw
William Shaw
8 months ago

Not mentioned is the possibility of the US bombing Hezbollah should they decide to get involved.

Last edited 8 months ago by William Shaw
D Walsh
D Walsh
8 months ago
Reply to  William Shaw

If the US can’t beat the Taliban they won’t beat Hezbollah

Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
8 months ago

Good analysis, but I think the author is presuming Hezbollah will join in with Hamas. It’s not so simple- there must be backroom parleys going on between Russia and Iran on the one hand and the US and Qatar on the other.
The Russo- Iranian bloc is supportive of Hizbollah while Qatar, the main financial backer of Hamas is Sunni Wahabist. It is also a US ally.
China seems to be shifting it’s stance. Could this be a CCP- Saudi – Egypt ” third tier” working?
There is also some realpolitik involved with Putin and Chechen leader Kadyrov. Could there be a linkage with Mahmud Abbas of PNA? To prop up a UN intervention via UNRWA on the lines of the Balkan missions?
Let us see…
The situation is certainly very fluid and dynamic, as Israeli military prowess is not what it was in 1967 or even the 1980s.

Last edited 8 months ago by Sayantani Gupta
Albireo Double
Albireo Double
8 months ago

We seem to go on spending billions fighting futile wars against primitive opponents in deserts, causing huge collateral damage, and losing both hearts and minds, thrashing around like a bear in a cage, while sharper, smarter, penniless opponents throw darts at us..
What I don’t understand is why the West can’t decapitate the terrorist organisations. Between us, we have GCHQ, Five Eyes, the CIA, Mossad, the SAS, Seals, and all the similar special services of Europe Israel, and America, which is a pretty impressive line-up.
Is it really beyond our combined ability to run covert ops to find all the top people, wherever they are, and just neutralise them – and anyone linked with them?
Top level diplomatic preparation might include warning the rulers of friendly countries that we are going to be doing this. It’s hard to see how they could, or would, object. We are, after all, supposedly all on the same side where terrorists are concerned. Well, why can’t we behave as though we are?

Last edited 8 months ago by Albireo Double
M Lux
M Lux
8 months ago
Reply to  Albireo Double

You seem not to understand that western “interventions” (AKA drone-assisted killing sprees with loads of collateral) produce the exact people that want to kill westerners/Israelis. There is, effectively, an infinite supply of people who you’d have to “decapitate” because every “intervention” creates more of them. It’s amazing that after 20+ years of doing this barely anyone has caught on that it’s an exercise in futility.