U.S. to Bolster Israel’s Missile Defenses

An Israeli missile launched from the Iron Dome missile defense system attempts to intercept a rocket, fired from the Gaza Strip, over the city of Netivot in southern Israel on Oct. 8. MAHMUD HAMS/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

By Anusha Rathi,
Published by Foreign Policy, 25 October 2023

The Iron Dome may not be so ironclad if Hezbollah joins the war.

The United States is preparing to send more missile defense systems to Israel, including two Iron Dome batteries and a lot more munitions for the batteries it already has, as Israel braces for even more rocket attacks from Hamas in the south and from Hezbollah in the north.

Israel’s Iron Dome has been a shield against rocket fire for years. It’s kept Israel safe from the smaller-scale airborne incursions that have pestered the country. The question now is twofold: Can the United States really stand up more arms for Israel while propping up another embattled country in a war with another merciless enemy, and can the Iron Dome do the job when faced with a genuine onslaught?

U.S. President Joe Biden assured critics that the United States is more than capable of maintaining its national defense while supporting Ukraine and Israel, and asked a leaderless House of Representatives for more than $100 billion in humanitarian and military aid last week. But experts remain skeptical of just how much an already stretched U.S. defense industrial base can support Israel’s air defense while also providing for other priorities.

“I think it [the Oct. 7 Hamas attack in Israel] probably highlights an underlying problem that we were already facing, which is [that] the defense industrial base is not sufficiently large enough to provide for U.S. national security priorities and those of our partners and allies across the globe,” said Jonathan Lord, the director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security.

The Iron Dome, manufactured by Israeli defense firm Rafael and co-produced by U.S. defense giant RTX (formerly known as Raytheon), is an air defense system. It uses a radar to detect incoming short-range missiles (launched from within 2.5 to 43 miles away) and assesses whether they are heading toward urban areas. If the threat is credible, the system launches a missile—known as the Tamir interceptor missile—to destroy the rocket.

Since its deployment in 2011, the multibillion-dollar technology has worked in tandem with Israel’s layered air defense system—which includes the Arrow and David’s Sling, which intercept long-range and medium-range missiles respectively—and enjoyed a success rate of more than 90 percent. But the recent barrage by Hamas and Hezbollah has put the near-precise system to the test.

According to the Israel Defense Forces, Hamas has launched more than 7,000 rockets toward Israel in the past two weeks, with more than 2,000 rockets fired on Oct. 7 alone. While most have been shot down, some have made it to residential areas, including a neighborhood in Tel Aviv.

What is more worrisome is the possible entry of Hezbollah, entrenched in southern Lebanon, into the war. Hezbollah is one of the world’s most heavily armed nonstate actors, with an arsenal of about 150,000 rockets, including advanced precision-guided missiles. That might be too much for even an Iron Dome. Each Tamir interceptor costs about $40,000.

In addition to its rockets and missiles, Hamas has typically relied on guerrilla warfare tactics such as underground tunnels and roadside bombings. In contrast, Hezbollah has, over time, developed a wider range of sophisticated weaponry. In addition to its missiles, the Lebanese militant group is estimated to have remotely controlled aircraft, shore-to-ship missiles, and third-generation anti-tank missiles. All of these could overwhelm Israel, which some critics have accused of relying far too heavily on high-tech defense systems—such as the Iron Dome. 

“There is a scenario in which Iron Dome could be either overwhelmed or overworked, and so it’s critical that Israel receives the capability where possible,” said a U.S. congressional aide familiar with the matter. According to RTX, as of 2021, Israel had 10 Iron Dome batteries scattered strategically around its cities. The U.S. Defense Department’s plan to send two additional batteries would expand that capability. 

Israel’s war with Hamas may also fast-track U.S. plans to open up domestic production lines for Iron Dome missile interceptors, the congressional aide added. While RTX currently produces some components for the Iron Dome in the United States, they are shipped to Israel for assembly and integration. However, with a new domestic production facility, the United States will be able to take on that assembly load as well.

See: Original Article