One of Stern’s sons deployed last month to the edge of Gaza in preparation for an invasion of the strip, which lies an agonizingly close 10 miles from the open-air stadium, synagogues and schools at the heart of this city.
But he did not have to enter Gaza, in part because of Stern’s older son, an engineer who helped develop Iron Dome, the missile defense system that knocked down hundreds of Gaza-fired rockets.
In the calm of the cease-fire, Iron Dome has emerged in Israel’s reckoning as a symbol of all that is right with the Jewish state. But it has also become an emblem of the unmet challenges that sit at the center of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
For a nation that longs for normalcy and acceptance, one question being debated here is whether Iron Dome will motivate Israel’s leaders to pursue peace with the Palestinians and the wider Arab world or insulate them from having to do so.
“It is an amazing new toy,” said Tom Segev, an Israeli historian whose work often challenges Israel’s official account of the state’s founding. “I say toy because it has turned the horrors of war into a video game. Watching it in action, you forget what this is all about — a deep, historical conflict, and life and death.”
Israelis of various political leanings see worrying evidence in the system’s defensive nature that their country, rather than working to resolve its security problems through decisive military action or lasting peace treaties, is acquiescing to a siege mentality.
“What does the image of a system which does not confront the enemy head-on say about Israel’s narrative?” Ariel Harkham, co-founder of the Jewish National Initiative, recently wrote in the Jerusalem Post. “The Iron Dome does not paint a pretty picture for a country that needs to thrive, not just survive.”
But Iron Dome has also revived, after years of inconclusive wars and grinding military occupations, a distinctive Israeli pride in its technological supremacy.
Israel deployed the first drone aircraft in combat during its 1982 invasion of southern Lebanon, and it has since been at the leading edge of military innovation, emerging as a potent competitor to the United States in the international arms market.
If only Israel’s diplomacy could be as inventive, many Israelis say, perhaps a solution to the Palestinian conflict could have been found by now. Peace negotiations are moribund, buried even deeper by the Gaza conflict and by the United Nations’ effective recognition of a Palestinian state late last month over angry Israeli objections.
In lieu of peace, Israeli leaders say, measures such as Iron Dome, which was funded in part by the U.S. government, are vital. Some of the system’s advocates say that by preventing the kind of mass civilian killings that often force military reprisals here, the dome will afford Israeli leaders more political latitude to make decisions about war and negotiations.