If Israel has had a hero in its mini-war with Hamas, it was not, as many commentators have observed, a person, but a surface-to-air anti-missile system known as Iron Dome — or in Hebrew, kipat barzel. With nearly a 90% interception rate of rockets heading for populated Israeli areas from Gaza, Iron Dome, never tested before under intense battle conditions, has been a spectacular success. In terms of lives saved, property protected and national morale maintained, it has already more than justified the billion dollars that went into its development.
From where, though, did it get its name? Although “Iron Dome” may strike one as fully appropriate, it’s not the kind of name that surface-to-air missiles are generally given. Over the years, for example, the United States has developed missiles of this type called the Avenger, the Arrow, the Redeye, the Stinger, the Hawk, the Terrier, the Sprint, the Bumblebee and the Typhon. (Typhon, the father of all monsters in Greek mythology, uprooted and hurled mountains at Zeus before succumbing to the latter’s thunderbolts.)
These are all names connoting aggressive pursuit, and they are typical. Besides Iron Dome, Israel has developed, or is working on, two other anti-missile systems of its own, one called ḥetz (“Arrow”) and the other sharvit k’samim (“Magic Wand”). Although “Magic Wand” may sound more pixyish than go-get-’em-ish, it, too, suggests a search-and-destroy capability.
A dome made of iron, on the other hand, doesn’t search for anything. It arches protectively overhead while the enemy’s projectiles bounce harmlessly off it. And although I don’t know anyone at Rafael, the Israeli weapons manufacturer that researched and developed the system, whom I could ask about the name, I can make a pretty good guess what inspired it.
So can anyone who knows a little Zionist history. In 1923, the renowned Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky wrote an essay that appeared simultaneously in the Russian-language Zionist periodical Razsviet and the German-language Zionist weekly Die Menorah under the respective titles of “O Zheleznoy Stene” (“On an Iron Wall”) and “Die Eiserne Wand” (“The Iron Wall”). Several weeks later, the essay appeared in Hebrew, too. It was written in the early years of the British Mandate, when the overall assumption among Zionists — despite some first, creeping doubts — was that Great Britain would stand by its Balfour Declaration commitment to establish a “Jewish national home” in Palestine and would be able to obtain the Arabs’ consent for this.