On Tuesday evening, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced that Israel will be fast-tracking the development of a laser defense system that will be used to defend against attacks from Gaza and Hezbollah. The lasers, using an autonomous detection and tracking system, will superheat drones and rockets which the developers claim will catch on fire within a few seconds. The system will supplement the Iron Dome that operates against short-range projectiles with the lasers concentrating on smaller projectiles.
The Defense Ministry said the laser uses a “highly advanced optical targeting system, with tracking capabilities and artificial intelligence” to locate a target “at highly precise levels of accuracy.”
Israel also uses David’s Sling and Arrow systems against long-range ballistic missiles.
“Within a year already the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) will bring into action a laser-based interception system, first experimentally, and later operationally, first in the south, then in other places,” he said in a speech at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies. “And this will enable us, as the years advance, to surround Israel with a wall of lasers which will protect us from missiles, rockets, UAVs and other threats.”
The new laser-based system will drastically reduce the cost of defending against the frequent rocket attacks that target Israeli cities. The Iron Dome systems deployed around Israel to protect its cities cost $50 million per battery and $100,000–150,000 per interception. Hamas fires low-tech missiles that are inexpensive and inaccurate.
Last May, over 4,600 projectiles were fired at Israeli cities from Gaza. The Lebanese Hezbollah terror group is believed to maintain an arsenal of some 130,000 rockets, missiles intended to wipe out Israeli cities.
“The equation will be overturned – they will invest much, and we little,” Bennett said. “If we can intercept a missile or rocket with an electrical pulse that costs a few dollars, we will essentially neutralize the ring of fire that Iran has set up … This new generation of air defense can also serve our friends in the region, who are also exposed to grave threats from Iran and its proxies.”
Another benefit of the laser system is that the Iron Dome has a limited number of responses based on the number of missiles in the battery. As long as there is a constant source of energy for the laser, there is also no risk of ever running out of ammunition.
When he heard of the innovation, Rabbi Aryeh Weingarten was unsurprised.
Biblical pillar of fire
“Innovations and inventions are simply the mind of Man reflecting the aspect of God that is in nature,” he said. “Bennett’s vision of a ‘wall of lasers’ is a reflection of the Biblical pillar of fire that accompanied the Children of Israel in their Exodus, protecting the Jews from Egyptian arrows.”
The Israel Bible described the pillar in a manner that modern missile defense systems would do well to emulate:
According to Rashi, the pillar of cloud that led the Jewish people in the desert during the day moved behind the camp, and obscured the Egyptians’ vision as they progressed in their bloodthirsty pursuit of the Jewish people. The cloud protected Israel as they fled and absorbed the arrows shot by the Egyptians at the fleeing nation. Today, the soldiers of the Israeli Defense Forces are a pillar of defense, shielding Israel from her enemies. May the God of Israel continue to protect His people through His modern-day pillar of defense, just as He did long ago.
Rabbi Weingarten very much appreciates the use of technology in protecting Israel having served in a tank division in the 1982 war in Lebanon.
“In the time of the geula (redemption), God will be apparent in nature,” Rabbi Weingarten said. “This was certainly true in the Exodus with the plagues and the splitting of the sea. As the final redemption approaches, God will again be apparent in nature, which we call technology. That is why in these final days, technology is advancing at such a rapid pace so that God’s total glory can be revealed in ways we never imagined before.”
“Until not so long ago, people could never imagine what it meant that God sees their every move and hears their every thought. Now, people are doing this themselves so of course, God can as well. When the Midrash spoke about the pillar of fire burning up arrows in mid-flight, people could not believe it could actually happen. And here we are, actually doing it.”
“But these miraculous revelations bring their own pitfalls. They are wondrous but it is a sin to see that they are miracles or divine. They are merely reflections of God and we should concentrate on Him, knowing that it is God and not lasers, that protect Israel.”
“Only then will we have the eyes to see the Messiah.”
The system being developed by Israel’s Defence Ministry and Elbit Systems was previously predicted to be ready for service in 2025. A 100-kilowatt prototype with a range of 12.5 miles was predicted at that time. Elbit currently makes C-Music, a defense system fitted to aircraft which uses a laser to “blind” incoming missiles. An airborne version would have an advantage because it could be operated over clouds, eliminating bad-weather disruptions that can afflict ground-based laser systems.
The Defense Ministry has been testing the laser-based defense system for several years, shooting down several drones with a ground-based version last year that could reportedly down missiles and mortars at a range of 5-6 miles with a 100% success rate.
Another consideration is that the Iron Dome makes Israel dependent on foreign assistance due to the high cost. This dependence was highlighted in September when House Democrats removed $1 billion in funding for Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system from a funding bill. Many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were shocked at the initiative to fund a purely defensive system.
One defense official told Channel 12 the announcement amounted to “throwing up sand in the public’s face.”
“We’ll continue to move forward with the process responsibly. It will take several years until it’s operational,” he said.