How Israel’s ‘Most Capable’ Iron Dome Made A Big Blunder & Shot-Down Its Own Drone

A full-scale military conflict between Israel and Hamas erupted after Israeli police forces stormed the compound of Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem on May 7, 2021. Hamas fired thousands of rockets towards Israel and most of them were intercepted by the Iron Dome system.

Tensions had already been brewing in the region over a controversial court case in Israel regarding the eviction of Palestinian families in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

The third most sacred site in Islam, the Al Aqsa Mosque is located on the Temple Mount, a holy site for the Jews. The entire complex has been a major point of tension between the two communities.

The military conflict finally ended after a ceasefire was brokered by Egypt between Israel and Hamas on May 21. Approximately 243 Palestinians lost their lives in the violence spanning more than a week. In Israel, 13 people were killed, including 12 civilians.

‘Iron Dome’ Emerged As Star Performer

On May 13, Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) announced that its Iron Dome defense system had intercepted a UAV of Hamas. The UAV had been monitored by the Israeli Air Force till its interception.

On May 17, IDF again announced that this was the first instance of the Iron Dome intercepting a drone.

The Iron Dome played a pivotal role in the recent tensions in Gaza. Designed for Counter-Rockets, Artillery, and Mortar (C-RAM) missions, it intercepted thousands of incoming rockets during the recent clashes with Hamas.

Israel had been hit by what is called the largest barrage of rockets (more than 1,000) by Al Qassam Brigades of Hamas. The Israeli ‘Iron Dome’ air defense system reportedly intercepted more than 90% of the rockets fired by Hamas. 

The air defense system comprises several launch units, each of which is loaded with about 20 interceptors. Highly automated, it also includes associated radars and a battle management and control unit.

The Iron Dome and its Tamir interceptors can be successfully employed against small drones, low-flying manned aircraft and cruise missiles.

In the midst of the heavy fighting, an estimated 4,300 rockets were launched towards Israel. The IDF responded with around 1500 airstrikes. Israel employed the strategy of targeting the tunnel networks in Gaza or the Metro.

Israel claimed that a tunnel network had been dug under the border with Egypt, which allowed Hamas and its members to smuggle in arms.

In the years of the Israeli blockade, Hamas allegedly built a complex network of tunnels. It uses this tunnel to hide its fighters and weapons from IDF.

Palestinians, however, say that these tunnels have only one use, that is, for the common people to get their daily supplies in the heavily armed area.

There are reports that in this conflict, Israel lured the Hamas militants into these tunnels and engaged them there, after falsely reporting news of ground incursions in Gaza.

Israel Shoots-Down Its Own Drone

According to a report by the Israeli media outlet Haaretz, an Israeli drone, most probably a Skylark, was accidentally shot down by the Iron Dome.

During the latest conflict in Gaza Strip, Israeli authorities had left its airspace open to civil aviation on the premise that the Iron Dome is capable of distinguishing between hostile and friendly aircraft.

The extensive combat plans of the IDF have been based on multi-dimensional fighting and coordination between land, air, and sea forces. However, the Skylark incident has now put a question mark on Iron Dome’s ability to identify its targets without any error.

The Isreal Defense Forces (IDF) confirmed that they had mistakenly shot down their own drone suspecting it to be a hostile aircraft.

The incident raises serious questions about the ability of the Iron Dome air defense system to make error-free identification of friendly or hostile aerial objects/aircraft.

The Skylark Drone

The Skylark is a small, efficient drone that has the ability to go unnoticed in the air. Weighing around 15 pounds, it is equipped with a camera that enables it to send live video feeds to the command and control unit.

It can fly for about three hours, both day and night, and in all weather conditions without detection.

IDF is known to use the Skylark I, which is launched by hand with a system similar to a slingshot and can be easily operated by a small team. Skylark is manufactured by Elbit, which also makes the larger Skylark 2 and 3 drones.

Known for its low acoustic signature, the Skylark is operated by teams known as the Sky Riders. They are capable of providing immediate intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) support. The UAV can also be used in raids, hostage rescue missions, or capture specific terrorists and scout tunnels.

However, Skylark and other drones of similar size do not carry commercial transponders or the highly-specialized ‘Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) systems.

In the absence of such systems, the drone can mistake commercial airliners or other friendly aircraft as a threat leading to untoward incidents.