Iron Dome changes game, opinions in Israel, though Hamas rockets still land

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The success of Israel's vaunted Iron Dome has not shielded civilians like Hadar Zilberstein from the constant fear of increasingly frequent and sophisticated rockets launched from Gaza, but the thought of life without it is changing opinions on the ground.

As Israel Defense Forces continue to press inside Gaza in a bid to close off tunnels and stop the constant bombardment from the Hamas-controlled territory, the barrage of rockets has continued. Early Tuesday, a rocket launched from Gaza hit the Tel Aviv suburb of Yehud, burrowing into the roof of a home with a 60-pound warhead that failed to detonate. It was a reminder of how, even as Israel's defenses have improved, Hamas rockets have increased dramatically in payload and range.

“When you see it with your own eyes and it gets close to you, it gets too real," said Zilberstein, who avoided a separate incident on Saturday night in Nes Ziona. "You’re just frightened for your life. You just want to be home.”

Zilberstein, 29, recounted pulling into the parking lot at her job in the coastal town just south of Tel Aviv and hearing the rocket siren even as a missile passed over her. It crashed into a nearby field, sending shrapnel flying, but injuring no one despite the deadly intent behind it.

“It's so in your face," she said. "The boom, the sound of breaking glass, seeing the metal pieces all around where I had walked only a few seconds before.”

The bombardment from Gaza has made Israelis grateful for the Iron Dome, the mobile missile defense system that intercepts rockets aimed at populated areas. The system was initially deployed in 2011, but has been upgraded substantially since then and has been credited with greatly reducing the number of deadly rockets falling in civilian territory. It has also changed the perception of the raging conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

“If it hadn’t been for the Iron Dome, this war would have been a very different story," said Zilberstein. "Usually I’m pretty left-wing in my opinions, but while there is so much violence in this conflict, most people I know are saying pretty good things about the conduct of our government and the efforts made by the army.”

Ben Eliad, 26, a colleague of Zilberstein at a broadcast studio, was on-air when the missile struck.

“I felt the building shudder and shake,” he recalled. “After the 5-minute all-clear I came back to the studio, saw the fire in the field a few hundred meters away. This was definitely the closest such experience I’ve ever known.”

“I can’t begin to understand how the citizens in the south of Israel feel after this day-to-day reality for nearly 14 years," Eliad said. "On the other hand, this is a really tough conflict affecting innocent children who don’t want any part in this war. Hamas are responsible for the casualties for using their own citizens as human shields.”

Monday saw seven more Israeli soldiers killed in combat, four killed tackling Islamist terrorists emerging from a tunnel under the Israeli border. The deaths brought Israel’s military losses to 25, a big blow for the Jewish state, but less than 20 times the unverified figure that has been declared by the Hamas authorities in Gaza. Even those sympathetic to the Palestinian cause appear to accept that Hamas has been using innocent civilians as human shields, deliberately placing targets within highly populated areas to apparently maximize human losses in order to garner public sympathy.

On Monday, the IDF reported that a cache of anti-tank missiles had been stored “in the immediate vicinity of the Al Aqsa Hospital.” An IDF statement added that “Hamas and its deliberate tactic of embedding terrorist activities within the urban environment are ultimately responsible [for the civilian casualties].”

For the parents of reserve Israeli soldiers called up to their units and sent to the Gaza region these are anxious times, especially as each new day brings further news of losses in the field of combat.

“I took part in the Yom Kippur War and the First Lebanon War," Avi Barda, from Ramle, whose 30-year-old son Moshe is a lieutenant in a support unit, told "These are very difficult times for us all, but I have to say that we just want to be like any other country and not spend our lives in bomb shelters, living every day in fear. We have to put an end to these kinds of things.”

Linda and Rami Lador’s 32-year-old son, Yona, was drafted on Thursday, the day Israel’s land incursion into Gaza began. Both anxious about their son’s safety, they nonetheless believe Israel had no other option but to go ahead with the latest phase of the military engagement with Hamas. Texas-born Linda has formed a Facebook group to support parents of other drafted soldiers to keep their morale up.

“We feel the camaraderie of stress and concern. I haven’t slept much at night since Yona joined his unit,” she admitted.

"We know we’re on the right side,” Rami Lador added. “It’s just that so many people just haven’t realized it yet.”

Paul Alster is an Israel-based journalist who can be followed on Twitter @ paul _ alster and at