The following script is from "Iron Dome" which aired on Feb. 17, 2013. Bob Simon is the correspondent. Andy Court, producer.
Iron Dome is a technological marvel, a cutting-edge weapon of war that even some pacifists might come to love. Instead of killing people, Iron Dome saves them -- by intercepting rockets loaded with explosives before they can land on innocent civilians. And it does all this in less time than we've just spent explaining it. The system was developed by Israel, with hundreds of millions of dollars of support from U.S. taxpayers. It's been called "a game-changer," that might relieve military pressure on Israel and make it easier to achieve peace in the Middle East -- and that was something we decided we had to see for ourselves.
Over the past 11 years, more than 15,000 rockets and mortars have been fired at Israel by Hezbollah in Lebanon, and by Hamas in the Gaza strip. Until recently, the only thing Israeli civilians could do was run for cover but in the latest round of fighting between Israel and Hamas late last year, some people stopped running and tried to get some good pictures because this time when Hamas fired rockets from Gaza at Israeli cities, Iron Dome fired missiles to intercept them in the sky before they could do any damage on the ground. You're looking at an Iron Dome missile on its way. You can't see the Hamas rocket it's going after, but watch how the missile will adjust its course to get close to the Hamas rocket and blow it up.
At night, the images of Iron Dome are even more spectacular. This video was taken at a wedding in southern Israel. As squadrons of Iron Dome missiles could be seen hunting salvos of Hamas rockets, the wedding music played on despite the battle above.
Bob Simon: Do you think that people in Tel Aviv and Ashkelon feel safer today than they did six months ago?
Ehud Barak: By far.
Ehud Barak is a legendary Israeli commander and general and Israel's defense minister. We interviewed him just before Israel's recent elections.
Bob Simon: Now, people are not running to shelters so much? They're staying in their cafes--
Ehud Barak: No. I don't think so. Probably some-- probably in Tel Aviv where no rocket actually landed. But there is less anxiety deep in their minds. Because after all, everyone knows the statistics that basically, most probably, the incoming rocket will be intercepted.
It really looked like Israel was in for it in November when Israelis leaders, fed up with rocket attacks from Gaza, assassinated Hamas' military commander. Hamas and Islamic jihad responded by firing more than 1,500 rockets at Israel. The Israeli Air Force says Iron Dome destroyed 85 percent of the rockets headed towards Israeli towns and cities. There's no way to independently confirm that figure, but the fact that Iron Dome could shoot down a short-range rocket travelling between 500 and 1,000 miles per hour is remarkable in itself. It's like a bullet shooting down another bullet which is why, when Iron Dome was just a concept on a drawing board several years ago, many Israeli strategists didn't think it could be done.
Ehud Barak: It sounded extremely dramatic, to make two bodies meet together when both of their relative velocities are immense.
Bob Simon: We understand that it-- again, even the Israeli Air Force was against it?
Ehud Barak: Yeah. There were many, many corners of resistance. Because people didn't see it as natural.
To see how Iron Dome works, we paid a visit to one of Israel's five operational batteries. Each battery has its own radar, command-and-control center, and launchers that fire the intercepting missiles. The equipment's worth about $50 million. It's sitting in a potato field, manned by what appear to be college kids. Shai Kogensky is the battery commander.
Bob Simon: How old are most of your soldiers?
Shai Kogentsky: Between 18 to 21 years old.
Bob Simon: That's pretty young.
Shai Kogensky: Yes, yeah.