Operation “Breaking Dawn” achieved its military and political goals. But it also demonstrated the neck to neck race between the growth rate of the Palestinian’s rocket capabilities and Israel’s defensive capabilities. Israel should prepare for a situation where the current configuration of missile defense will not be sufficient to contain the rocket offensive.
Operation “Breaking Dawn” was a brief yet intense escalation round between Israel and some of the armed Palestinian organizations in Gaza. The fighting broke out on the evening of August 5 2022 and raged until a cease fire agreement was reached on the late evening hours of August 7th. The chain of events that led to this escalation commenced with the conspicuous arrest of the commander of the Islamic Jihad (IJ) organization in Jenin, a West Bank town. The IJ and Hamas, are the two largest Palestinian extremist groups that oppose the Palestinian Authority and reject peace with Israel at any terms, Both are headquartered in the Gaza Strip where they maintain well armed militias, weapon factories and large caches of rockets and launchers. They also operate covert armed organization in the West Bank, and both regard and injury to their leaders there as an injury to their own leaders in Gaza. They often react violently to the arrest or killing of their West Bank operatives, employing a spectrum of retaliatory measures from fire bombing of Israeli agricultural farms to anti tank missile attacks on Israeli transportation and launching rockets against Israel’s population centers. Israel rejects this linkage between its anti terrorist activities in the West Bank and its policy towards Gaza. IJ and Hamas attempts to tie Israel’s hands in its anti terrorist campaign in the West Bank are usually met with Israeli offensive measures to punish and deter the Palestinians from any linkage.
Such a linkage situation was generated by the arrest of Basam a Saadi, the IJs’ commander in Jenin, on August 2. IJ’s leadership in Gaza threatened to use force, and Israel’s Intelligence Corps obtained information about a plan to fire anti tank missiles against Israeli targets near the Gaza border. To forestall this, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) blocked all the roads near the border, practically shutting down the daily routine of several Israeli villages that abut this border. Israel’s media – perhaps with some background encouragement from the defense establishment – amplified the distress of the residents of the affected villages. These residents practically came under siege just by the threat of IJ violence – without the IJ firing a single shot. This was a new form of harassment by the Gaza Palestinians. Past harassments from Gaza featured various forms of physical violence. Now, the mere threat of violence forced Israel to practically impose a curfew on several thousand of its own citizens with no time limit. In this situation, Israel had only two choices – to stand down and release the IJ commander, or to escalate. As in previous cases, Israel chose escalation. On Friday August 5, the Israel Air Force killed Tayaser El Jaabri, the head of the northern IJ command in Gaza. This was the opening move in an intense air campaign against the IJ, dubbed Operation Breaking Dawn. The IJ, on its side, proclaimed a military operation of its own called by the self explanatory name of “Operation Unity of Theaters”.
The IJ Rockets and Mortar Bomb Attacks During the Operation
About 4 hours after the targeted killing of Tayaser El Jaabri, The IJ launched rocket and mortar bombs salvoes against Israel’s Gaza Envelope towns and villages, later extending its range to central Israel and its main cities, including Tel Aviv (twice), Jerusalem (Once) and Beer Sheva (Once). Next day, August 6th, the IAF located and killed the IJ’s southern command chief, Khaled Mansour. With his elimination, as well as that of a scores of lower ranking IJ operatives, Israel considered its war aims achieved and initiated cease fire negotiations. An agreed cease fire commenced at 2230PM of August 7, about 50 hours after the beginning of the operation.
Desptie the IJ’s entreaties, Hamas – the largest and best equipped armed Palestinian militia in Gaza – did not join the fighting. Only two smaller armed Palestinian organizations did so. The IJ fire was largely ineffective. Most of the rockets and some of the mortar bombs that were headed towards Israeli population centers were intercepted by “Iron Dome”. Israel suffered no fatalities and only 3 lightly wounded persons (two IDF troops hit by a mortar bomb and a Palestinian worker in an industrial plant hit by a rocket). Only four houses were directly hit by rockets (with no casualties among their residents). Damages from rocket and mortar fires were modest relative to previous Gaza escalations. The short duration of the fighting, the light casualties and damages and the success in killing senior IJ commanders were received with satisfaction by Israel’s public, The usual sour taste following previous inconclusive escalation campaigns in Gaza was lacking this time. Israel’s media overwhelmingly lauded operation “Breaking Dawn” as a success.
Nevertheless, a quantitative analysis of the rocket campaign reveals the close race between the Palestinian’s rocket offense and Israel’s missile defense, an ongoing race whose winner is not yet determined. The light casualties and damages from the IJ’s rockets and mortars did not indicate any reduction in its capabilities – if anything,, the opposite was true. In the short time span of Breaking Dawn, the IJ managed to launch no less than 1175 rockets and mortar bombs against Israeli targets.  Comparisons with the 2019 Operation Black Belt are indicative here. The similarity between the two operations is remarkable. Black Belt too was initiated by Israel and opened with a targeted killing of a senior IJ commander. It too lasted about two days, with the Hamas refused to join. Yet during those two days of fighting in 2019, the IJ managed to fire only 450 rockets and mortar bombs. Comparison between the IJ’s rocket offensive in 2019 and today indicate a major enhancement of its indirect fire capabilities. During the 33 months since Black Belt the IJ increased its fire power by two and a half fold (from 450 to 1175 rounds) – an impressive achievement by all counts. Moreover, the IJ’s rate of fire was picking up as time progressed. While only about 350 rockets and mortar bombs were fired in the first 24 hours of the fighting, the remaining 26 hours saw no less than 825 rockets and mortar bombs being fired against Israel – a number regarded hitherto as imaginary and which exceeds the rate of fire at any singly day in all previous rocket onslaughts on Israel since the 2006 Lebanon War. This volume of fire, launched solely by the IJ, exceeded the combined Hama – IJ volume of fire in last year’s operation Guardian of the Walls, as shown in Table 1 below.
|Daily Maximum||Daily Average||Total Rockets and Mortars Fired||Escalation round|
|210||81||4300||Protective Edge 2014|
|300||220||450||Black Belt 2019|
|490||400||4360||Guardian of the Walls 2021|
Beyond the high average rate of fire, the IJ demonstrated proficiency in concentrating their fire launching massive salvoes in brief time periods. This proficiency was seen on the second day of the fighting, when the IJ launched at least five large salvoes against Ashkelon within two and a half hours. The heaviest salvo was fired at 1520 PM of August 7th, when 130 rockets were fired within a few minutes at Ashdod, Beer Sheva and Central Israel.
From this it is evident that the rate by which the IJ increases its rocket assault capabilities is exponential. It seems that the IJ’s rocket manufacturing and launching facilities has not been seriously damaged by Israel’s offensive against them in the previous rounds of escalation – if anything, the IJ’s rocket industry has been picking up. This in turns indicates that there is no lack of raw materials and components for the expanded rocket and rocket launcher production lines. Arguably, what is true for the IJ is also true for Hamas. It can therefore be expected that in future escalation rounds in Gaza, which are sure to come sooner or later, the combined rate of rocket fire by the Palestinian armed militias will reach or even exceed 1000 rockets per day.
Some mitigation of this somber forecast can be found in the problematic quality of Gazan military industry products. The degradation in the reliability of the Gaza produced rockets already became evident during operation Guardians of the Walls in 2021. While the rate of failed launches during the 2014 operation Protective Edge stood at about 7%, the failure rate grew to 23% during the fighting of 2021.  According to an IDF statement, about 200 of the ordnances launched by the IJ during Breaking Dawn failed to hit Israel and impacted within the Gaza Strip. It stands to reason that all these failures concerned rockets rather than the more reliable mortar rounds. As usual, the IDF did not specify what proportion of the total of 1175 ordnances fired by the IJ were mortar bombs. Mortar bombs were estimated to account for 20% to 30% of all ordnances launched during prior rounds of conflict. If we assume that the proportion of mortars this time stood at 25%, than a simple calculation indicated that the failure rate of the rockets stood at 22% – a very close figure to the failure rate during the 2021 operation Guardians of the Walls.
Some Israeli media attributed this extraordinary rate of failure to the IJ’s lack of proficiency to produce reliable rockets. One military reporter wrote that the reasons for the low quality (of the IJ rockets) were “Indigenous production, faulty storage – as well as covert (Israeli) operations to curb the IJ military growth” and that “Some of the IJ rockets motors are made from road sign metal pipes, stuffed with improvised propellants and explosives and assembled by instructions via Youtube”. This seems to seriously underestimate the proficiency of the Gaza rocket engineers. As argued above, the failure rate in 2022 was practically the same as in the previous round of escalation in 2021, when Hamas rockets were copiously fired against Israel. Hamas’ chief rocket engineer was a graduated of a first class US engineering school and who had been employed by several US defense contractors and with several well received technical publications to his name.  The high rate of failures is therefore not due to “Youtube education” and must be sought elsewhere. Perhaps this is a result of a deliberate choice of quantity over quality. Since even a failed launch cause alarms to be sounded in Israel that send the population to the bomb shelters and disrupt routine life, it is perhaps more cost effective for the armed Palestinian militias in Gaza to invest more effort in increasing the quantity of their rockets rather than spend the costly and time-consuming effort to make them more reliable.
Israel’s Missile Defense Performance During the Opearion
The impressive growth in the IJ’s rocket and mortar volume of fire was not reflected in the number of casualties and the level of damage incurred in Israel. In spite of the unprecedented rate of fire from Gaza, no one was killed in Israel from rocket or mortar fire. Israeli casualties totaled 3 lightly wounded persons (two IDF troops hit by a mortar bomb and one Palestinian employee hit by rocket fragments in an Ashkelon industrial park). 28 other Israelis were hurt while rushing to take shelters. Of the 14 or so rockets that evaded Israel’s missile shield, only five hit significant targets (four private homes and one parking lot) with some material damage but no casualties. The low level of damage was reflected in the number of damage claims submitted to the Israel Treasury, which was significantly small.  The following table lists the total number of damage claims filed following six major rocket offensives against Israel, side by side with the published success rate of the Iron Dome missile defense system. The significant figure is the “damage ratio”, i.e. the ratio between the total number of rockets fired and the total number of damage claims. This ratio is indicative of both the rockets relative lethality and degree of success of Israel’s missile defense in blocking them.
|Interception rate||Damage ratio||No. of claims||No. of ordnances||Escalation round|
|(no defense)||6.35||26653||4200||Lebanon 2006|
|84%||2.45||3921||1600||Pillar of fire 2012|
|90%||1.01||4525||4500||Protective Edge 2014|
|93%||0.45||200||450||Black Belt 2019|
|90%||1.20||5245||4360||Guardian of the Walls 2021|
|96%||0.19||222||1175||Breaking Dawn 2022|
Comparison of the two campaigns when only the IJ was involved – Black Belt in 2019 and Breaking Dawn in 2022- indicate that in spite of the more than twofold increase in the number of ordnances fired against Israel (from 450 to 1175), the damage ratio dropped to less than one half (from 0.45 to 0.19). It is reasonable to assume that the lethality and quality of the IJ ordnances did not change significantly between these two campaigns. Hence, the significant reduction in damages must have come mainly from the improvements in Israel’s missile shield which was exclusively based on “Iron Dome” this time. It must be assumed that this improvement came not only from upgrades in the hardware and software of the Iron Dome system itself, but also from its better handling and operation by the Israel Air Defense Command. To achieve such a high success rate of 96% against the firestorm of rockets from Gaza, it was not enough to improve the interceptor, battle management and radars of Iron Dome. Rather, it was necessary to improve the logistics, handling and maintenance procedures to ensure that Iron Dome assets are optimally deployed and that they are properly replenished with fresh interceptors and other provisions. The above-cited figures indicate that in the short escalation round of “Breaking Dawn”, Israel’s air defense excelled and performed better than ever before.
The Ongoing Race between Palestinian Rocket Offense and Israel’s Missile Defense
Operation Breaking Dawn highlighted one more the continuing race between the rocket capabilities of the Gaza Palestinian’s and Israel’s missile defense capabilities. While the IJ demonstrated an impressively growth rate of its offensive rocket capabilities (and, by implication, that of the Hamas too), Israel demonstrated a no less impressive growth rate of its defensive capabilities. This continues to be a neck to neck race and the question is whether it will go on indefinitely, or whether the scales are bound to be ultimately tipped to one side or the other?
With everything else being equal, producing and firing rockets is cheaper than shooting them down. Contrary to Clausewitz’s dictum that Defense is easier than Offense, in the case of missile warfare, and at the current state of military technology, the opposite is true: Rocket and missile offense is easier than rocket and missile defense. Iran and its regional proxies exploit this to defeat the growing missile defense shields of Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. At the dawn of the missile defense age in the early 1990s, critics predicted that the aggressors would deploy “Cheap and simple” countermeasures on their missile to confound and spoof the defenders missile defense systems. In contrast, the Iranian chose the much simpler concept of saturation as their primary response. Instead of investing in fancy decoys, they invest in larger stockpiles of missile and rocket and in ever growing fleets of survivable launchers. The idea is to drown the defense under a veritable deluge of rocket and missiles, synchronized with onslaught of cruise missiles and UAVs.
The Gaza Palestinian doctrine is derived from Iran’s. Thus, they ceaselessly work to increase the quantities of their rockets and mortar bombs, scrounging on quality control whenever it hinders the accumulation of larger stockpiles. The intention is to hurl increasingly heavier salvoes against Iron Dome with an aim to finally inundate it and punch through it. As argued above, the evidence is that all of Israel’s efforts to block the smuggling of machinery, raw materials and components to the Gaza production lines are not too effective and are unable to stem the Gaza rocket buildup. It stands to reason that this buildup will eventually peak since there must be some inherent limitations of manpower, production capacity and launching sites in Gaza. By the same token, the growth of Israel’s defensive capabilities is also sure to hit some ceiling eventually, due to several limiting factors, most importantly that of finances. The question is which side’s growth rate will flatten out first? At present, there is no indication either way, but it is not unconceivable that Israel will be the first to reach the limits of defensive growth, and it would do well to plan for such an eventuality.
Potential Courses of Action
How can one overcome the growth limitations of missile defense? One potential course of action is to fundamentally lower its costs, to even the ground between offense and defense. As we have pointed out above, currently it is cheaper to make rockets than intercept them. If and when intercepting rockets becomes as cheap as making them, the advantage of the aggressor will be cancelled out, allowing the defense to grow at the same rate as the offence.
One key to this leveling of the field is technology. Many in the public and among analysts believe that high power laser weapons, of the type being now developed by Israel’s Ministry of Defense, will overturn the adverse cost ratio between offense and defense. Israel’s former Prime Minister Naphtali Bennett expressed this in detail during a February 1 speech, where is said that “The current economic equation is untenable: To defend against a rocket that costs several hundred dollars requires the expenditure of an iron dome interceptor which costs tens of thousands of dollars”. Within the next few years, said Bennett, laser weapons will overturn this equation, since killing a rocket by a laser beam requires just one pulse of electricity that costs a few dollars. This will make offense dearer than defense. Bennett predicted that ultimately Israel will surround itself with a “Laser Wall” that will overturn the aggressor’s financial advantage and frustrate the missile “ring of fire” that Iran has been erecting around Israel.
Not everyone agrees with this optimistic forecast. An article published shortly before Bennett’s speech in a prestigious US publication, authored among others by Yaakov Nagel, former chief if Israel’s R&D Directorate in the Israel Ministry of Defense, warned that “Laser technology, at least at the present state of maturity, is unfit to deal with large salvoes of air threats” and that “Due to the challenges of cost, weights and mobility (of high power laser weapons), the optimal way to exploit laser weapons – at least in the foreseen future – is in conjunction with “Iron Dome” “.
As an anti rocket and anti missile weapon , lasers suffer from several limitations: Their sensitivity to adverse weather, their limiter range and their slow kill rate. This last and perhaps most serious limitation comes from the need to pump laser energy into the target until it melts or explodes, a process that takes some time during which no other target can be engaged. Brig. General Yaniv Rotem who until recently has been in charge of Israel’s high power laser program clearly stated that “We are not replacing Iron Dome, David Sling or Arrow. We are developing a complementary system. This has been our original intention and this is what we are aiming for…. when I say “a complementary system” I mean that all systems will work in parallel. We will try to do whatever we can with the Laser weapon. Whatever we can’t will be taken over by the other systems, including Iron Dome”.
It stand to reason that Israel’s high power laser, once reaching operational status, will be assigned easier targets such as individual rockets or UAVs. It will also make sense to assign lower lethality threats such as mortar bombs to lasers, in order to save on Iron Dome interceptors. As things look at this stgae, laser weapons could reduce the cost imbalance between offense and defense but not overturn it. Unfortunately, Naftali Bennett’s “Laser Wall” seems at this time to be a very distant prospect, if feasible at all.
Another potential path that does not rely on cutting edge technology is steep reduction in the cost of interceptor missiles. Iron Dome by itself is a model of exceptional cost cutting by judicious value engineering- traditional production methods might have driven it costs upwards to hundreds of thousands, if not six figure numbers in dollars. This cost cutting breakthrough made it possible for Israel to deploy an affordable anti rocket defense system. In the previous decade, one US defense contractor was tasked to develop the Miniature Interceptor with performance reputedly equal to that of Iron Dome, but at a cost in series production of only 16000$ – about one third of the Iron Dome interceptor. That program was terminated after one successful fly out test, for no stated reason. Although discontinued, this program hinted that there is still much to do in the direction of ultra cheap interceptor. At a cost of about ten thousand dollars per interceptor – actually less than that of guided artillery shell like “Excalibur” – the cost imbalance between offence and defense might have been tilted towards the defense even more that by Laser weapons, while remaining free from the latter’s inherent limitations of weather and slow kill rate.
An alternative or complementary potential path that need revisiting is rocket launch prevention by destroying their launcher. Neither the IDF nor any other armed forces has managed to date to suppress rocket fire, especially when fired from within population centers, by destroying the launchers. Israel’s Air and Ground forces made a tremendous effort to suppress Hizbullah’s launchers in the 2006 Lebanon war. Video clips released by the IDF at the time showed dozens of launchers being blown up – but without any noticeable effect or Hizbullah’s rate of rocket fire, either because it possessed enough reserve launchers for immediate replacement, or because it deployed sacrificial dummy launchers, as Sadam had done during the 1991 Gulf War. Apparently, ever since that unsuccessful experience, the IDF relegated launcher destruction to the back burner. According to one Israeli defense correspondent, in Braking Dawn list of targets, launchers was assigned only third priority after rocket storage depots and rocket manufacturing workshops.  The logic of this prioritization is obvious: The offence’s primary role is to deplete the enemy’s stockpiles hence its future volume of fire, counting on the active defense array to deal effectively with rockets already fired or those that will be fired soon. In other words, the logic of the current prioritization is that missile defense mitigate immediate rocket fire, while the offense seeks to mitigate future rocket fire.
As long as missile defense is one step head of the missile offense, this logic is sound. However, in the worst (but not unlikely) case that defensive capabilities will fail to expand as fast as the enemy’s offensive capability, there will be a need to prioritize launcher destruction over other offensive countermeasures. This is a far from a simple requirement, since the enemy is doing its best to ensure the survival of his launchers by camouflage, deception and deployment within densely populated areas to achieve an effect of human shielding. The keys to success in launcher destruction are very accurate and timely intelligence, cutting edge remote surveillance technologies and sophisticated, low lethality weapons to minimize collateral casualties. The weapons used by the US to kill Aiman Zawahiri in Kabul with no one else hurt in the attack is an example for such a sophisticated weapon.
Operation Breaking Dawn resulted in severe casualties among the leadership of the Islamic Jihad in Gaza while incurring very limited damage and casualties in Israel. For the time being, it seems that the operation has achieved its main goal of de – linking Israel’s terrorist suppression activities in the West Bank from its operations in Gaza. Yet, the satisfaction over the results of this operation should not obscure the concerning aspects revealed by it: First, Israel’s limited success in preventing the military buildup of the armed Palestinian organizations in Gaza and second, the neck to neck race between Israel’s defensive shield and the intensifying rocket and mortar bomb threats from Gaza. There is no assurance that Israel will ultimately prevail in this race. Hence, Israel’s defense establishment would do well to plan ahead for the extreme situation when its current architecture of its missile shield will reach its limits, and when new technologies and new doctrines will be needed to defend against the missile, rocket, mortar and UAV threats from Iran and its regional proxies.
 IDF spokeperson release: Summary of Opertion “Breaking Dawn”,
 Bochbut, A: “Operation Breaking Dawn in Numbers: 350 rockets fired at Israel, 17 dead and 130 Palestinian casualties” Walla internet news outlet, August 6 2022 evening (In Hebrew)
 According to an Intelligence Heritage Center report, the total number of rounds fired by the PJ on Sunday August 7th stood at 600 from the morning of that day until the cease fire at 2230 pm. If we add to that the number of rounds fired between the evening of August 6th and the morning of August 7th, it stands to reason that the total number of round fired during the second 24 hours period of the fighting was stood at approximately 800 rounds. See “Escalation in the Gaza Strip, summary of operation “Breaking Dawn” 5-7 August 2022, Intelligence Heritage Center August 8 2022
 Rubin, U. “Israel’s air defense performance during operation Guardian of the Walls”, the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, 8.7.2021 (In Hebrew) https://jiss.org.il/he/rubin-israels-air-defense-tested-during-operation-wall-guard/
 Zeitun, Y. “Road signs, dangerous improvisations and Youtube education: The rockets that killed more Gaza residents” YNET internet news outlet, 8.8.2022 (in Hebrew) https://www.ynet.co.il/news/article/hkowfrcp9
 Jamal A Zebada, PhD in Mechnical Engineering from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute, see Rubin, “Israel’s air defense during operation Guardian of the Walls”.
 Israeli law insures all citizens against war damages to personal and commercial property. This insurance is funded from property taxes and is fenced by law. The Treasury encourages Israelis to promptly claim damages even while the fighting is going on. The number of claims is published.
 The number of claims for the 2006, 2012 and 2014 were disclosed to the author by the Israeli Treasury. For the source of the number for the 2021 campaign, see Rubin, “Israel Air Defense Performance during operation Guardian of the Walls”. For the 2019 campaign, see Rochkes, D. “Hundreds of damage claims filed due to operation Black Belt”, Israel Defense, 3.12.2019. https://www.israeldefense.co.il/node/41141
For the 2022 campaign, see “Operation Breaking Dawn: The numbers behind the damages from the rocket fire” Digital 14 15.8.2022 https://www.now14.co.il/%D7%9E%D7%91%D7%A6%D7%A2-%D7%A2%D7%9C%D7%95%D7%AA-%D7%94%D7%A9%D7%97%D7%A8-%D7%94%D7%9E%D7%A1%D7%A4%D7%A8%D7%99%D7%9D-%D7%9E%D7%90%D7%97%D7%95%D7%A8%D7%99-%D7%94%D7%A0%D7%96%D7%A7%D7%99%D7%9D
 Nagel, Y. , Bowman, B and Maj. Zivitski, L: “Assessing Israel’s Tactical Laser Breakthrough”, Defense News, Janurary 17.2020
Photo: IMAGO / ZUMA Wire