No, Iran Is Not Building Iron Dome
Tehran’s missile-defense claim could be a bluff
Iran says it’s building a missile-defense system.
“The latest mid- and long-range missile defense systems will be unveiled on Sept. 22,” an Iranian air defense commander told the semi-official Fars News Agency. He described the new weapons as including “combined systems, artillery and radar systems [and] other new systems.”
This sparked the Washington Free Beacon to proclaim that Iran is building missile defenses “reminiscent of Israel’s Iron Dome system, which destroys rockets in mid-air before they strike the ground.”
Iron Dome is pictured in action in the above photo by the AP’s Tsafrir Abayov.
This seems unlikely. To copy Iron Dome, Tehran would need advanced missile and sensor technology like that developed by Israel—and the U.S., which funded Iron Dome.
But the biggest reason why Iran wouldn’t develop Iron Dome is that the country actually doesn’t need it.
Israel developed Iron Dome because it faces a constant threat of rocket and artillery bombardment from Hezbollah and Hamas. Barring Islamic State radicals conquering Iraq and bombarding Tehran, there is no particular short-range rocket threat for Iran.
Even if there were, the Iranian regime probably wouldn’t be zealous as Israel in spending vast sums to protect its population from unguided rockets that inflict limited damage.
In any event, what the Iranians are describing doesn’t sound like Iron Dome, which can shoot down only short-range rockets and artillery. The Fars article refers to mid- and long-range missile defense, which suggests that Tehran is focusing on stopping ballistic missiles.
Indeed, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq did pound Iranian cities with Scud ballistic missiles in the 1980s. Iran replied in kind.
Today, Iran faces Israeli Jericho ballistic missiles tipped with nuclear warheads. Which would point to Iran developing a ballistic missile defense system like Israel’s Arrow, a more sophisticated system than Iron Dome.
Yet the most potent threat to Iran isn’t Israeli missiles … but Israeli warplanes including F-15s, F-16s, drones and eventually F-35s. This means Iran would benefit more from beefing up its anti-aircraft and anti-drone defenses.
One possibility is that Iran is taking a leaf from the U.S., which used Patriot anti-aircraft missiles to try to shoot down Iraqi Scuds during the 1991 Gulf War. Iran claims to be building a homemade version of Russia’s S-300 surface-to-air missile. Perhaps Tehran will try to modify it to shoot down ballistic missiles.
Or missile defense could turn out to be yet another fake weapon, as so many other of Tehran’s armaments have turned out to be. If it is a bluff, it’s hard to believe that wooden mock-ups will fool or deter the U.S. or Israel from striking Iran.