October 16, 2023 | New York Post

How America can help Israeli missile defenses ASAP

October 16, 2023 | New York Post

How America can help Israeli missile defenses ASAP

In the space of just 20 minutes, Hamas launched more than 2,200 rockets into Israel the morning of Oct. 7 as its fighters began to massacre civilians.

This unprecedented barrage pushed Israeli missile defenses to their limit, and worse may be coming.

To be ready to deal with threats just around the corner, Israel will need US support to bolster the key components of its missile-defense architecture.

As it puts into motion its plan to crush Hamas, Jerusalem’s top strategic concern is that Iran and its proxies will escalate on other fronts.

Hezbollah could launch a major assault from Lebanon, and Iranian-backed militias in Syria — or even Iran itself — could attack.

As the Biden administration concedes, Hamas is trained and supplied by Iran, which could also send its other proxies into battle.

The most effective weapons the Iranian-backed forces have are rockets and missiles.

Hezbollah alone is reported to have 70,000-plus rockets and missiles of varying capabilities and an equal number of shorter-range mortars.

If multiple adversaries unleashed their rocket and mortar arsenals all at once, it would stretch Israel thin and reduce its defense’s effectiveness.

Israel and its primary strategic partner, the United States, need to get ahead of this threat. Fast.

Israel has very sophisticated missile defenses, second only to America’s.

To deal with incoming fire, Israel has a layered system whose anchors are Iron Dome (to counter mortar and rocket fire), David’s Sling (to counter cruise and short-range ballistic missiles) and Arrow (to counter intermediate-range ballistic missiles).

Equally important is the network of sensors to locate incoming projectiles, which includes radar, electro-optical sensors and even some tethered to dirigibles.

US companies and US funding play an important role in all these systems; Washington and Jerusalem have agreed $500 million of the $3.9 billion in annual US assistance to Israel goes to missile defense.

Missile defense also has an offensive component, which focuses on destroying enemy weapons before they launch.

Israel’s aggressive efforts on this front include intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems paired to precision-guided munitions delivered by strike aircraft (F-16s, F-15s and F-35s).

Israel’s defense budget is not transparent but is estimated at $25 billion, a staggering amount for a country with an annual gross domestic product of roughly $500 billion but only about 4% of what America spends on defense.

Israel, however, gets an incredible bang for the buck.

To improve Israeli missile-defense capacity, Washington should work with Jerusalem to accelerate production and availability of every key system.

For Iron Dome, this means procuring many more of the Tamir rockets ($40,000 each) the system uses to intercept incoming fire.

America should also transfer to Israel the two Iron Dome batteries the Army purchased in 2020 along with all remaining Tamirs in the US inventory.

For cruise-missile defense, the top need is for more David’s Sling Stunner missiles, which cost $1 million per round.

Although not as combat-proven as Iron Dome, it performs better than Israel’s aging Patriot missile-defense systems.

There are two ways to get this effort moving. In some cases, Joe Biden can use his presidential drawdown authority to ship systems directly from US inventory to Israel.

In all cases, a supplemental-funding package would help. Congress should approve both efforts immediately.

America can support Israel in two other ways. First, it can station Aegis warships with ballistic-missile defense capability in positions to enhance Israel’s own Arrow BMD system.

This would address the threat of missile launches from Iran or possibly Yemen.

Second, it could deploy an American-manned modernized Patriot system to deal with cruise or short-range-ballistic-missile launches from Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Israel is historically loath to ask other countries to place their troops in harm’s way on its behalf, but this is a strictly defensive mission.

The newest US Patriot missiles are very effective but also very expensive, at $3 million-plus per round.

On the offensive side, Israel and the United States are undoubtedly working together to identify possible launch sites in Lebanon and Syria.

Washington is already providing small-diameter bombs and other precision-guided munitions to assist Jerusalem in conducting effective urban-strike operations in Gaza.

The movement of US forces, including carrier-strike-group deployments to the eastern Mediterranean and fighter-squadron movements, sends a signal of US willingness to conduct such strikes and deter Hezbollah.

US and Israeli aircraft have trained extensively together and can execute these strike operations in an integrated fashion.

As with the Patriots, political leaders in both countries would need to approve US combat operations on Israel’s behalf.

A multifront attack by Iran and its partners could push Israeli missile defenses past their limit.

American support for Israel will depend on bipartisanship. Additional aid depends on resolving the paralysis in Congress.

The Biden administration needs to stop pretending Iran is not conducting this orchestrated campaign against Israel.

Aggressive action is necessary in both Jerusalem and Washington to make sure Israel is secure in the weeks and months to come.

Rear Adm. (Ret.) Mark Montgomery is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.


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