A new documentary series produced in Israel tells the story of the Iron Dome missile system, but as Kathryn Shihadah reports, it leaves out crucial details about how the weapon is used and who funded it.
A new docuseries produced in Israel chronicles the development and use of Israel’s multi-billion dollar, U.S.-subsidized Iron Dome missile defense system. The mechanism, an extension of America’s own military-industrial complex, is designed to intercept primitive rockets from Gaza and epitomizes Israel’s approach to Palestinian resistance: denial and disproportionality.
These factors also play a part in Israel’s defense industry as a whole – an enterprise that profits from the suffering of Palestinians who are forced to live under the thumb of modern-day colonialism and occupation by Israel’s structure of institutionalized apartheid. Palestinians oppose their systemic oppression in a David vs. Goliath scenario, resisting their occupier with homemade rockets; while Israel, one of the largest militaries in the world, uses the most modern and sophisticated weaponry on the planet to terrorize its victims.
Israel is both joining and competing with the U.S. domination of the global weapons industry. The three-hour series entitled “Iron Dome” premiered around the world last month in Hebrew on Izzy, a platform that calls itself “the new way to experience Israel.”
Denial of facts
The series features Israelis from the town of Sderot, near the Gaza border, as they look back on the past twenty years or so and discuss their two primary enemies: rockets, and an Israeli government that for a long time didn’t seem to care about them.
The first rocket came from Gaza in 2001 and the first rocket fatality in 2004. By 2007, 10 Israelis had been killed – all but one in Sderot – and the Israeli government, at last, got behind the development of a missile defense system: the Iron Dome.
Israel came down hard on Gaza in the winter of 2008-2009 in hopes of bringing an end to the rockets that had by then taken 12 Israeli lives. The incursion, which featured Israel’s latest weaponry at the time, killed 1,400 Palestinians, over 450 of them women and children, and nine Israelis.
The “Iron Dome” series does not mention these statistics, nor does it divulge the source of Palestinian anger and resentment: being kept illegally in exile in Gaza, and under occupation since 1967. Gaza is the world’s largest open-air prison, with a dense population of nearly two million people with no ability to leave. Israel retains complete control of its border and not even humanitarian supplies, human rights monitors, or journalists are allowed to enter.
This brutal Israeli blockade has been in place since 2007, severely limiting Gazans’ access to food, medicine, and other staples, and earning the enclave the nickname “world’s largest open-air prison” and the designation “unlivable.” Its two million residents grapple with malnutrition, a severe shortage of drinking water, electricity – and hope. Suicide rates have been increasing at an alarming rate.
Israelis interviewed in the series appear unaware of these realities – and indeed, Jewish Israeli citizens, on the whole, are in the dark about the realities of occupation as the Israeli government keeps Palestinians behind walls and out of sight.
The “Iron Dome” docuseries is a continuation of this invisibility, and by extension, the invisibility of oppressed people under the fist of the U.S. military-industrial complex as well.
The Dahiya Doctrine
The Israeli Dahiya Doctrine of “wielding disproportionate force,” as evidenced in the 2008 incursion, and again in 2012 and 2014, has been part and parcel of the country’s wartime strategy since its birth.
Dahiya has resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians, as well as the destruction of schools, hospitals, United Nations buildings, critical infrastructure, and entire neighborhoods.
Human rights organizations have documented and criticized the unlawful practice for years, including UN Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur Richard Falk, who called this ongoing strategy no less than “state terrorism.”
Both Israel and the U.S. have been vehemently resisting – with support from Congress – global attempts to hold them accountable for war crimes in the International Criminal Court (ICC) and Donald Trump has threatened to cut aid to countries that resist American and Israeli impunity.
Israeli disproportionality is conspicuous not just in wartime, but also in times of relative calm. The “Hamas is a terrorist organization” trope is just one example.
Israel uses the label “terrorist” to blame Hamas for Israeli airstrikes (which have become so frequent that most media rarely reports on them anymore), and then for Israel’s refusal to allow parts and materials to enter Gaza for repairs to infrastructure and buildings.
Near the end of the “Iron Dome.” the mayor of Sderot points out:
The Iron Dome is a device. In order to solve the problem with Gaza, we need a policy. Either use all our might in a military operation and uproot the problem, or strive for peace with all our might.”
Israel chose the former.
But Israel has bigger fish to fry than “just” the Palestinian territories. Its defense industry – of which Iron Dome is the tip of the iceberg – has global ramifications.
Economy-minded Americans should know that Israel is not only front-end unloading their tax dollars as military aid (circa $10 million a day – weekends and holidays included), but also poaching us from the back end, costing the U.S. in both revenue and jobs.
Standard operating procedure requires military aid from the U.S. to be spent in the U.S., but Congress devised special rules allowing Israel to spend about a quarter of our military aid inside its own country. Of the $3.8 billion per year that should cycle back into our economy in the form of weapon purchases, only about $2.6 billion makes it – an amount that still contributes generously to both the U.S. military-industrial complex and its Israeli counterpart.
Since 1948, the U.S. has given Israel $6.9 billion for various missile defense systems – in addition to over $100 billion in other military aid and $34 billion in economic aid (in current, non-inflation adjusted dollars).
Israel has been encroaching on U.S. defense customers – especially since Trump bought Israel some new Arab allies who may now prefer to shop locally.
Not only is Israel undercutting U.S. arms sales, but it doesn’t always play by the rules. In 2018, Israel refurbished and tried to resell American made equipment to Croatia, without U.S. permission.
That sale was quashed, but Israel’s Defense Ministry and defense industry operate secretively, rarely revealing who their customers are. They reportedly have customers in Canada and several European countries, as well as in Africa and Latin America.
Israel is playing fast and loose with its most generous ally in yet another way.
Since 2010, the United States has sunk $5.5 billion of taxpayer money into the Iron Dome project. As reported by Breaking Defense, in 2019 Congress “effectively compelled a reluctant [US] Army” to buy two Iron Domes at a cost of $373 million. After filling the order, however, Israel refused to share critical proprietary information, severely limiting the usefulness of the equipment for Americans. (Ironically, in 2016, the U.S. was willing to disclose F-35 source codes to Israel – and no other countries.)
For those more interested in peace and justice than economics, there is much more to object to. Israel is profiting not only at American expense, but also (and more so) at Palestinian expense – as well as exporting oppression around the world.
While Palestinians have been essentially unarmed since 1993, the Israeli military (IDF) has built a massive arsenal of weapons for use against them – thanks in great part to U.S. aid. Palestinian resistance against the Israeli occupation consists almost entirely of homemade rockets and incendiary balloons from Gaza, and the occasional individual knife attack by a frustrated resident of the West Bank.
The narrator of the “Iron Dome” docuseries describes Gaza’s rockets as “made from stolen metal street poles…a pipe as wide as a Coca-Cola bottle…just a piece of flying metal” stuffed with fertilizer that Gazan Palestinians dried on their roofs.
While the rockets may cost $100 each to manufacture (and incendiary balloons much less), an anti-rocket missile has a price tag of $50,000, and the launcher itself around $50 million. (A new product, the Light Blade, was developed specifically to shoot down the balloons.)
The documentary depicts Israelis running for bomb shelters when an incoming rocket is detected but omits footage of Palestinians who have nowhere to hide during an airstrike.
Military-Industrial Complex, Israeli-style
The billions in research and development, and the expense of manufacturing and operating military equipment like Iron Dome, only makes sense in the context of global arms sales.
The Israeli defense sector develops technologically advanced weaponry, spyware, and missile defense equipment – and manufactures about five times more than it needs. Israeli export deals in 2019 alone totaled over $7 billion, making it one of the top defense exporters in the world.
As a floor model, the Iron Dome’s capabilities are showcased for potential customers every time a rocket launched from Gaza is intercepted by a $50,000 anti-rocket missile.
An Israeli defense contractor confirmed that following IDF attacks on Gaza, his industry “[sees] a big leap in the number of foreign customers. We market aggressively abroad as it is, but the IDF’s actions definitely affect our work.” The link between the military and the weapons industry couldn’t be clearer.
Profile of a customer
Because rockets from Gaza are rarely lethal, some experts use words like “asymmetrical warfare” and “repression of protests” to describe the Israeli product line.
Economic researcher Shir Hever points out that demand for Israeli arms is “highest among governments facing high inequality and social unrest…”
“In fact,” Hever says, “the Gaza Strip becomes more than a laboratory for Israeli explosives. It is a laboratory for a social experiment in which an entire population is incarcerated and isolated, controlled from the land, the sea and the air, and sustained with the assistance of international aid (for which Israel doesn’t have to pay).”
Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, who has studied Israeli military weapon use in Palestinian neighborhoods, adds, “Palestinian spaces are laboratories [where] products and services of state-sponsored security corporations” are tested and then showcased for the consumption of the global arms market.
The Great March of Return – Gaza’s 20-month0long weekly protest in 2018 and 2019 that drew tens of thousands of participants – was, for Israel, yet another “opportunity to develop new means to put down demonstrations,” to create yet more high-tech solutions to low-tech issues.
Television shows like “Iron Dome” serve to perpetuate myths and obfuscate truths. Meanwhile, Israel creates new forms of oppression, tests them out on Palestinians, and exports them to those with the money and the will to oppress others.
Feature photo | Graphic by Antonio Cabrera
Kathryn Shihadah writes for MintPress News and If Americans Knew. She speaks regularly about the injustice and demonization Palestinians face at the hands of Israel with complicity from the United States, especially to Christian audiences. Kathryn has lived in the Middle East for ten years and has traveled extensively. She blogs at PalestineHome.org.