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Israel’s Iron Dome causing cancer among soldiers, report claims

Soldiers say working the Iron Dome had exposed them to radiation, with some filing lawsuits against defence ministry
Israeli soldiers stand in front of an Iron Dome defence system battery in the Hula Valley in northern Israel near the border with Lebanon 27 July 2020 (AFP)

A group of Israeli soldiers have claimed that their military service at the anti-missile Iron Dome defence system has given them cancer, according to an investigative report by Yedioth Ahronoth.

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At least 10 Israeli soldiers, in their 20s and 30s, said at the end of their military service or after they were discharged that they had developed cancer after their stint with the Iron Dome unit.

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They called the Iron Dome, which intercepts short-range missiles, the "Toaster."  

"When you're near a radar you're literally feeling your body boiling from the inside out… if you try to imagine what happens to food when it is in the microwave, it is like that. You feel the heat coming in waves," said Jonathan Haimovich, a former Israeli soldier.

Haimovich, 31, had worked on the Iron Dome after almost two years of service in the air force. At the age of 22, doctors discovered that he had a tumour.

“A ball in the neck the size of a ping pong ball sat on the main artery and actually caused my blood flow to stop. I underwent chemotherapy and radiation,” Haimovich told Yedioth Ahronoth.

Some soldiers have already filed lawsuits against Israel’s Ministry of Defence. The Israeli army has denied any connection between their service at the Iron Dome and contracting cancer.

In 2011, 240 Israeli  soldiers started their service at the Iron Dome, six of them got cancer after their release or at the end of their service, according Yedioth Ahronoth's report, the full version of which will be published on Friday. 

Common morbidity

The Iron Dome was developed by the defence company Rafael. It is mainly deployed in Israel to fire and intercept missiles and rockets launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israeli settlements. But it is also deployed at the borders with Lebanon and Syria, at the occupied Golan Heights in the north.

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Ran Mazur, an Israeli soldier who developed bone cancer, said that the army ignored him when he complained about pains in his body.

“In the unit, they called me the ‘Whiner’,” Mazur said. A year on from his release from Iron Dome service, Mazur was diagnosed with cancer.

Meanwhile, Shir Tahar said that during her time at the Iron Dome, she did not have adequate protective gear. 

“We were never protected with radiation equipment,” Yedioth Ahronot quoted her as saying. Ten months after her service ended, she started suffering from pain in her lower back and legs and was diagnosed with leukemia.

Livna Levy told the paper that her daughter Omar Healy Levy was diagnosed with cancer within eight months of her release from the army and died two years later.

“We did not believe it, we have no history of cancer in the family. I remember going to visit her at the base and asking her, 'Isn't it dangerous that you're so close to the radars?’ It seemed too exposed to me,” Levy said.

The Israeli army said in a statement that its medical staff had conducted an in-depth investigation and had concluded that “the types of morbidity found were common among the characteristics of the population examined."

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