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The Irony of the Iron Dome: Intelligent Defense Systems, Law, and Security

Written by Daphné Richemond-Barak and Ayal Feinberg

Published in the Harvard National Security Journal 

International law does not directly address intelligent defense systems (IDSs), of which Israel’s Iron Dome embodies the most successful implementation to date. This Article argues that international humanitarian law (“IHL”) should encourage the development and use of systems like Iron Dome by conceptualizing such systems as civil defense.

That IHL should incentivize IDSs is not as obvious as it may seem. While incentivizing IDSs would uphold humanitarian law’s ultimate purpose (i.e., the protection of civilians), the data suggests that IDS deployment can lead to an increase in rockets and the (re)emergence of violent tactics. IDSs also challenge the prevailing logic of IHL, which is typically focused on protecting the other side and not one’s own. But not incentivizing systems like Iron Dome flies in the face of IHL’s essence and leads to more casualties.

IHL should choose to incentivize intelligent defense systems for reasons grounded in humanitarian law itself, data analysis on Iron Dome, and offense-defense theory. Ultimately, conceptualizing IDSs as civil defense best addresses the complex legal and security dilemmas arising out of the use of intelligent defense systems.

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