Dr. Daniel Gold, who led the team that invented the Iron Dome missile defense system, has a history trying to tackle what he identifies as existential threats on Israel.
With the nation facing surging coronavirus cases amid a pandemic that has triggered unprecedented economic hardship, Gold is trying to replicate his Iron Dome breakthrough in protecting Israel against the virus.
Gold, heads Israel’s Defense Research and Development Directorate and holds Ph.D.s in electronic engineering and business management.
Initially, the Iron Dome faced widespread skepticism over its effectiveness before it was deployed in 2011, but it has since been credited with intercepting countless rockets fired from the Gaza Strip.
Gold told the AFP that he first became convinced of Israel’s need for missile defense technology during the 1990-91 Gulf War, when Saddam Hussein’s forces launched Iraqi scud missiles towards Tel Aviv.
In 2004, when Gold was a general heading R&D for the Defense Ministry, he resolved to move forward, even without the full backing of Israel’s defense establishment.
“I anticipated [rocket-fire] would be a main threat to Israel … a major threat with no solution,” he said. “I told my superiors, give me the money. I will do it. … All the hierarchy said no. The government said no.”
Gold’s team started work anyway, collaborating with private defense contractors.
They developed two dozen missile defense concepts, scrapped them all, then started from scratch.
In 2007 Iron Dome was formally selected as Israel’s missile defense system. The same year, the Hamas terror group took control of Gaza. Its terrorists, and those from other terror groups, have since lobbed thousands of rockets and other projectiles toward Israel.
The nature of the pandemic threat may be different, but Gold’s motivations in combating the virus are strikingly similar.
Since developing Iron Dome, he has retired from the army and worked in the private sector before returning to the Defense Ministry as a civilian to lead its R&D directorate.
In early March, during a meeting at Prime Minister’s Binyamin Netanyahu’s office, he realized the gravity of the coronavirus threat, he told AFP.
His department’s coronavirus work has focused on three areas: “life-saving,” including domestic production of ventilators, helping the health system prepare for an overwhelming caseload and what he termed a “game-changer.”
The final category has largely centered on designing coronavirus tests that give accurate results in less than 60 seconds, using breath, smell or artificial intelligence.
Various concepts are undergoing major trials, involving private sector and government partners.
“We hope that if we succeed, it is a game-changer around the world,” said Gold.
And while he noted that his primary motivation is to keep Israel safe from the virus, an Israeli coronavirus breakthrough could help forge ties among countries that do not recognize Israel.
His team has heard “from countries we never worked with before,” he said.
Coronavirus research “is already creating new relationships,” Gold noted.