WSJ Reports On Iron Dome’s Development; Notes Bush Admin’s “Frosty” Response

In its story on the development of the Iron Dome missile defense system, The Wall Street Journal reported that President George W. Bush’s Administration gave a “frosty” response to the system when it was first brought to their attention. WSJ reported [subscription required]:

Israel’s Iron Dome rocket-defense system spent the past two weeks successfully blasting Hamas rockets out of the sky-many in dramatic nighttime explosions-helping to end the recent hostilities between Israel and Hamas in just seven days.

The battle to build Iron Dome, however, lasted years and provided fireworks of its own….

Despite initial Pentagon misgivings, President Barack Obama has given $275 million to the project since 2010 with the aim of reducing the rocket threat and eventually bolstering chances of a peace deal by making Israel feel more secure to agree to territorial concessions.

For years, Pentagon experts dismissed Iron Dome as doomed to fail and urged Israel to instead try a cheaper U.S. approach. Iron Dome faced similar skepticism at home. But an Israeli mathematician-general, along with a labor-organizer-turned-defense-minister, pushed the project through, overcoming the opposition of some of Israel’s most powerful military voices….

Israel’s Defense Ministry approached the U.S. administration of President George W. Bush with a request for hundreds of millions of dollars for the system. The reception at the Pentagon was frosty, according to current and former U.S. defense officials.

Mary Beth Long, the assistant secretary of defense who oversaw the Iron Dome review process, sent a team of U.S. military engineers to Israel to meet with the developers. After the trip, in a meeting in her office, the team voiced skepticism about the technology, citing poor performance in initial testing, Ms. Long said in an interview.

Rafael’s Mr. Drucker recalls an even harsher U.S. response. He said the U.S. team told them: ‘This is something that cannot be done.’

Some U.S. military officials argued that Israel should instead consider using a version of the U.S.‘s Vulcan Phalanx system, which the Army was deploying in Iraq to try to shoot down incoming rockets, current and former defense officials say. Gen. Gold’s team had already considered and dismissed the Phalanx system.

By the end of 2007, Mr. Olmert and Mr. Peretz’s successor as defense minister, Ehud Barak, had both come around to backing Iron Dome….

Iron Dome got a significant boost soon after President Obama came to office in 2009. Mr. Obama visited Sderot as a presidential candidate and told his aides to find a way to help boost Israel’s defenses from the makeshift rockets, his aides said, although defense officials at the time still doubted Iron Dome was the way.

As president, Mr. Obama tapped Colin Kahl to run the Pentagon office overseeing U.S. military policy in the Middle East. Mr. Kahl found the Iron Dome request on his desk, decided to take another look and had what he later described as a light-bulb moment. ‘Ding, ding, ding. It just made sense,‘Mr. Kahl said….

At the direction of a White House working group headed by then-National Security Council senior director Dan Shapiro (who today is the U.S. ambassador to Israel), the Pentagon sent a team of missile-defense experts to Israel in September 2009 to re-evaluate Iron Dome. The decision raised eyebrows in some Pentagon circles. Iron Dome was still seen as a rival to the Phalanx system, and previous assessment teams had deemed Iron Dome inferior.

In its final report, presented to the White House in October, the team declared Iron Dome a success, and in many respects, superior to Phalanx. Tests showed it was hitting 80% of the targets, up from the low teens in the earlier U.S. assessment. ‘They came in and basically said, “This looks much more promising…than our system,”’ said Dennis Ross, who at the time was one of Mr. Obama’s top Middle East advisers.

That summer, Mr. Kahl’s office drafted a policy paper recommending that the administration support the Israeli request for roughly $200 million in Iron Dome funding.

Click here to read the full article.