October 27, 2022 | Newsweek

What’s Behind Israel’s Reluctance to Share Iron Dome With Ukraine?

October 27, 2022 | Newsweek

What’s Behind Israel’s Reluctance to Share Iron Dome With Ukraine?

Citing Russia’s increasing use of Iranian-made drones to conduct attacks in Ukraine, Kyiv asked Israel last week to provide its highly-effective Iron Dome missile defense system (among other systems), which could help protect against rockets, drones, and some types of missiles. Jerusalem’s reluctance to do so has invited criticism as Russia escalates its deplorable attacks on civilians in Ukraine.

But when it comes to browbeating Israel to provide Ukraine the Iron Dome system, you can count me out.

At first glance, one might dismiss such a view as the position of someone unsympathetic to Ukraine’s plight, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Fundamental U.S. national security interests are at stake in helping Kyiv defeat Moscow’s aggression. If Russian President Vladimir Putin is successful in Ukraine, we should expect more attempts in the future to redraw borders with force, both in Europe and elsewhere, ultimately imposing greater costs on the United States.

For those reasons, support for Ukraine is not charity and continued support for Kyiv is a prudent and necessary investment. That’s true for America’s allies and partners, too.

But in calling on others to do what they can to help Ukraine, Americans should not hold other countries such as Israel to a standard the United States is unwilling to follow itself. Before pointing a sanctimonious finger at Israel for not providing Iron Dome to Ukraine one may want to first consider why the United States itself has not provided the Patriot Air and Missile Defense System to Ukraine.

To be sure, the United States has laudably committed more than $18.2 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since January 2021, including an extraordinary array of weapons and munitions. But Patriot systems have been noticeably absent.

Why is that?

That’s primarily because the American military has nowhere near enough of them to protect U.S. troops, let alone our allies and partners, thanks to years of insufficient spending on air and missile defenses. This meager investment has also left the U.S. industrial base with an insufficient surge production capacity to address the Pentagon‘s own needs and often leaves allies and partners that have purchased Patriots waiting for years.

As regional U.S. combatant commands compete to get the Pentagon to allot finite air and missile defense resources to their respective areas of responsibility, any decision to send Patriot systems to Ukraine would require the U.S. Army to under-resource vital contingency plans or pull Patriots currently protecting forward-deployed U.S. forces in harm’s way.

Unfortunately, this is not a theoretical concern.

In January 2020, Iran launched a number of ballistic missiles at two bases in Iraq housing American troops. With no ballistic missile defenses in the area, U.S. troops had no choice but to scramble for cover and wait for impact. Thanks to early warning of the attack, no Americans died, but more than 100 U.S. troops suffered brain injuries.

A few months later, the Pentagon belatedly sent Patriot systems back to Iraq to guard against additional missile attacks from Iran, but that was likely little consolation to the troops who had already sustained injuries.

The missile threat to Israel is not theoretical either.

In August, Palestinian Islamic Jihad fired some 600 rockets and mortars toward population centers in Israel. But those attacks paled in comparison to what Israel confronted in May 2021. During that conflict, Hamas fired around 4,360 rockets from Gaza toward Israel. In both instances, casualties in Israel would have been significant if it were not for the role of Iron Dome.

Some might consider this success as validation of the idea that Jerusalem can safely send some of its Iron Dome systems and interceptors to Ukraine. However, the problem for Israel is that Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad can be expected to re-arm in preparation for the inevitable next round of conflict.

Worse still, Hezbollah, Tehran’s terror proxy in Lebanon, has about 150,000 surface-to-surface rockets and missiles and an estimated 2,000 unmanned aerial vehicles. Most of the rockets and missiles are relatively rudimentary systems. A small but growing number of them, however, are precision-guided munitions, which are more effective in hitting their desired targets, requiring a greater expenditure of missile interceptors.

That combination of a growing quantity and increasing capability is a genuine nightmare for Israel. Indeed, if Hezbollah were to launch an estimated 1,500 rockets and missiles per day, existing Israeli missile defenses could be overwhelmed.

Despite efforts to build additional missile defense capability and capacity, Israel has a long way to go before it has enough missile defenses to deal with a war of this magnitude.

To make matters worse, some in Israel worry Russia could capture an Iron Dome system sent to Ukraine and then provide the system and its information to Iran. Tehran and its terror proxies would undoubtedly then use the information to develop capabilities to circumvent Iron Dome’s defenses, reducing its effectiveness and increasing the ability of Hezbollah, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad to kill Israelis in future conflicts.

While the risks of a Russian capture of an Iron Dome system could be significantly mitigated by deploying it only in areas far from the frontlines, the concern in Israel is certainly understandable given the growing relationship between Russia and Iran, Tehran’s constant aggression against Israel, and the importance of Iron Dome in saving Israeli lives.

This is not to say that Israel should sit on its hands when it comes to helping Ukraine’s military. Israel should provide Kyiv as much intelligence as possible regarding the Iranian weapons Russia is using in Ukraine. Israel should also provide early warning sensors and systems to Ukraine to provide valuable forewarning of impending attacks.

Meanwhile, some in Congress are seeking to increase the U.S. Army’s inventory of Patriots and expand the associated production capacity. Section 1704 of the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023 highlights the need for more Patriot systems and authorizes the procurement of up to four additional battalions. The House bill also would authorize an additional $1 billion for the procurement of four additional fire units to equip the U.S. Army’s 16th Patriot battalion.

In terms of U.S. air and missile defense support for Ukraine, Washington should take every possible measure to expedite the delivery of the eight National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems (NASAMS) while sending Avenger air defense systems and counter rocket, artillery, and mortar (C-RAM) systems.

The United States can afford to send these systems to Ukraine without dangerously undermining U.S. military readiness or incurring unacceptable additional risk when it comes to protecting the homeland.

The same cannot be said when it comes to Iron Dome and Israel, which confronts a growing missile threat and an insufficient missile defense capacity for a war against Hezbollah.

That’s why those sitting in safety in the United States and Western Europe should cut Israel some slack when it comes to sending Iron Dome to Ukraine.

Israel is surrounded by terrorist organizations with a propensity for launching rocket and missiles barrages with the goal of killing as many Israeli civilians as possible. One can understand why a country confronting such threats might be reluctant to reduce its means of self-defense.

Bradley Bowman is the senior director of the Center on Military and Political Power at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a former U.S. Army helicopter pilot, assistant professor at West Point, and national security advisor to members of the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees. Twitter: @Brad_L_Bowman. FDD is a Washington, D.C.-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.

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Issues:

Hezbollah Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran Missiles Israel Military and Political Power Russia U.S. Defense Policy and Strategy Ukraine