Israeli-Palestinian conflict: What is the Iron Dome and how does it work?

Fighting between Israel and Palestine continued Tuesday with Israel hitting Gaza with airstrikes and Palestinians sending rockets across the shared border between the countries.

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Ten people have been killed in Israel including a 5-year-old boy, and at least 106 people have suffered shrapnel and blast wounds.

At least 212 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli airstrikes, including 61 children and 36 women, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. More than 1,400 people have been wounded.

The fighting began on May 10 when Hamas, a Palestinian Sunni-Islamic militant group, fired seven rockets at Jerusalem after Palestinian protesters clashed with Israeli police at a shrine considered sacred to both Jews and Muslims.

For the past week, Hamas and its supporters have launched some 2,800 missiles at Israel, hitting targets deep within the country, while the Israelis have countered by bombing targets not only along the Gaza Strip, but also intercepting and destroying incoming missiles.

The defense system that finds, tracks and destroys those incoming rockets is known as the Iron Dome.

Here is what we know about that system.

What is the Iron Dome?

The Iron Dome is an anti-missile defense system. It uses radar technology and interceptors (missiles) to track and destroy incoming rockets.

It was first deployed in 2011, and was built and maintained with $1.6 billion in U.S. funding. (Click here to read the story behind that funding push.)

How does it work?

The system works in three parts. First, radar detects a rocket attack launched at targets within Israel. Once the rocket is detected, the information is processed and sent to the missile battery system. From there, information about the incoming rocket’s speed and trajectory is used to direct an interceptor towards it. The interceptor locks on to the incoming rocket and explodes as it gets very near to it, destroying the rocket in mid-air.

The Iron Dome can detect rockets from 2.4 miles to 43.4 miles away. The system’s interceptor, called a Tamir, is 6 inches wide by 10 feet long and weighs nearly 200 pounds. The interceptor relies on miniature sensors to get close enough to an incoming rocket so it can explode and destroy it.

According to Raytheon, a single Tamir interceptor costs around $100,000 to produce. The system is housed in a mobile, all-weather battery. The battery holds three or four stationary launchers and 20 missiles and costs about $100 million each. The system was developed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries.

According to Middle East Eye, while the system was developed within Israel, the United States has backed the program with former U.S. President Barack Obama providing Israel with more than $225 million in funding for the Iron Dome in 2014.

Each battery is able to protect about 60 square miles.

Israeli military officials say the Iron Dome now also has the ability to take down drones. The system has hit three Hamas drones in the past week.

Is the Iron Dome the only system Israel has to use against missile attacks?

No, the country also has larger interceptors such as the Patriot missile system and Arrow missile system. Those systems are designed to defend against bigger threats and their missiles can fly longer distances.

How good is Iron Dome?

Israeli defense authorities and the system’s maker, Rafael Advanced Systems, say the Iron Dome has a 90% success rate and has recently been upgraded with new and better technology.

“Thirty years after the first Gulf War, which led to the establishment of the Israel Missile Defense Organization, and ten years after the Iron Dome’s first operational interception, we have achieved a significant leap forward in the technological capabilities of the Iron Dome system,” Moshe Patel, head of the Israel Missile Defense Organization, said.

“In the three test campaigns conducted in the last few months, the Iron Dome system demonstrated outstanding capabilities against evolving threats, including successfully intercepting salvos of rockets and missiles as well as intercepting multiple UAVs simultaneously,” Patel said.

The upgrades are producing results seen by those outside of Israel during the past week.

“Everyone has been quietly impressed by the ability of Iron Dome to handle the sheer volume,” said Michael Stephens, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia. “It’s been a good demonstration of how the system has rapidly improved to become the best short-range system on the planet.”

However, in the past, there was some pushback on the claim with some outside of the country saying the system may be only around 80% effective.

Does the U.S. have this system?

Iron Dome systems have been developed for the U.S. military and produced in collaboration with Raytheon Technologies Corp.

The U.S. has not yet used the system, according to The Wall Street Journal.