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Copyright © 2019 The American Israel Public Affairs Committee

Joint U.S.-Israel Missile Defense Programs Make Crucial Advancements

Israel’s multi-layered defense shield took two major steps forward in the past month. On Jan. 18, Israel declared the long-range Arrow-3 missile defense system operational, and on Jan. 25, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and Israel’s Missile Defense Organization successfully conducted a fifth series of tests of the medium-range David’s Sling Weapon System.

Arrow-3 and David’s Sling—both jointly produced by the United States and Israel—are two critical components of Israel’s multi-layered defense shield, which also includes Arrow-2 and Iron Dome. Together, these four systems will help Israel defend itself against complex strategic threats.

Threats to Israel

Israel’s multi-layered defense shield is an absolute necessity, given the threat of missile attacks by hostile neighbors. Most pressingly, Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas are each dramatically enhancing their attack capabilities against the Jewish state. 

Iran is the world’s leading state-sponsor of terrorism and possesses the largest, most diverse stockpile of ballistic missiles in the Middle East. Should Tehran acquire nuclear weapons, many of these missiles could carry nuclear warheads to strike Israel, other U.S. allies and regional U.S. military bases. The authoritarian regime has carried out at least six ballistic missile tests in defiance of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231, which calls upon Iran not to test such missiles. In a March 2016 test, one of the missiles had the phrase “Israel must be wiped off the earth” written on it in Hebrew.

Located just north of Israel, Iran’s terrorist proxy Hezbollah possesses approximately 150,000 rockets and missiles—every Israeli city, town and military installation is now within reach. Several thousand of these munitions now have sophisticated guidance systems—provided by Iran—that support pinpoint targeting. In February 2016, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah threatened to attack ammonium tanks in Haifa, which could release a chemical cloud capable of killing tens of thousands. In a future conflict, Hezbollah could hit Israel with over 1,500 rockets per day (compared with 120 per day in 2006).

Since implementation of the Iran deal in January 2016, Iran has boosted its support for Hezbollah, leading Nasrallah to declare in July 2016, "Hezbollah gets its money and arms from Iran, and as long as Iran has money, so does Hezbollah."

In addition, Hamas poses an immediate, ongoing threat to Israel and its citizens. After taking control of the Gaza Strip to Israel’s southwest in 2007, the terrorist group launched thousands of short-range rocket and mortar attacks into Israel. During Operation Protective Edge in 2014, Hamas launched more than 4,500 rockets, which severely impacted daily life in Israel as millions sought protection in bomb shelters. Beyond short-range weapons, Hamas has also successfully launched longer-range rockets, like the Syrian-made M-302 that is capable of striking as far north as Haifa.

Today, Hamas is rebuilding its military infrastructure: Six million Israelis are now within range of an estimated 10,000 rockets. And in October 2016, Hamas reportedly test-fired a long-range rocket off the coast of the Gaza Strip.

Accordingly, Israel requires a missile defense array that can defend the Jewish state against long-, medium-, and short-range missiles and rockets.

Iron Dome Rocket Defense System

Iron Dome is an Israeli-developed rocket defense system that has been tremendously successful at intercepting terrorist rockets aimed at civilian populations. In 2011, the United States began to contribute funds to the procurement of Iron Dome, and began co-producing the system with Israel in 2014. The idea for Iron Dome arose after Israel’s 2006 war with Hezbollah, during which more than 4,000 rockets were launched into northern Israel, leading to civilian casualties and substantial infrastructure damage. In 2014, the rocket defense system proved invaluable, defending Israel’s population from Hamas rocket attacks.

Iron Dome uses Tamir missiles to destroy short-range rockets and artillery shells in midair. Each battery covers an area roughly the size of a small city, and uses a sophisticated radar and tracking system that ensures interceptors are only deployed if the incoming rocket is headed for a populated area.

The defense system, which has been called the most effective and combat-proven short-range missile shield in existence, is constantly ready to protect Israelis. Just last week, on Feb. 8, terrorists in the Sinai Peninsula launched several rockets at Eilat, and Iron Dome successfully intercepted three of the projectiles.

Medium-Range David’s Sling

Jointly developed by the U.S. defense company Raytheon and Israel's Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd., David’s Sling employs Raytheon Stunner missiles to protect against short- to medium-range ballistic missiles, long-range artillery rockets, aircraft and low-flying cruise missiles. Once fully deployed, David’s Sling will close the current operational gap between the lower-tier Iron Dome and the higher-tier Arrow systems. 

According to U.S. Missile Defense Agency Director Vice Adm. James Syring, the successful January 2017 interception test was a “critical step in ensuring Israel has the capability to defend itself from a very real and growing threat.”

Long-Range Arrow

The Arrow program—the foundation of the U.S.-Israel cooperative defense relationship—is one of the most advanced missile defense technologies currently in active military service. It is the only operational system that has consistently proven that one missile can shoot down another at high altitudes and speeds. The program also enables Israel to defend itself against the mounting strategic threat of regional missile proliferation, fueled by Iran’s ballistic missile program.

Arrow-2 became operational in 2000 and is designed to intercept long-range ballistic missiles within the upper levels of the earth’s atmosphere. Arrow-3, declared operational in January 2017, builds upon this capability and is designed to intercept long-range ballistic missiles—including those that carry nuclear, biological and chemical warheads—at even higher altitudes above the earth’s atmosphere.

Benefits to America

America directly benefits from its partnership with Israel in the development of sophisticated missile defense programs. In 2012, Raytheon and Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems signed a co-production agreement for Iron Dome and U.S. contractors performed 55 percent of the co-production work in Fiscal Year (FY) ‘15. Iron Dome is also being adapted as a possible option to better protect forward-deployed American forces.

Although not yet operational, the joint U.S.-Israel David’s Sling program has provided the United States with valuable information and know-how that it can incorporate into its own missile defense technology: “[We] have learned a lot from the performance and the design of [Israeli] interceptors,” said Adm. Syring in April 2016. “…[W]e need the technical data package…for David's Sling so we can take that information and use it to our advantage for our systems and our interceptors...their testing has been extremely successful…Not just the weapons system itself but we’ve learned a lot from what they’re doing with targets as well.”

Arrow—compatible with U.S. missile defense systems—enhances U.S.-Israel military interoperability, an area in which the Pentagon would like to see further integration. To this end, the two allies have also stepped up operational collaboration, agreeing to conduct biannual exercises known as “Juniper Cobra” to practice defending against shared threats. The 2016 exercise brought 1,700 personnel from U.S. European Command to work with 2,000 of their Israeli counterparts. Furthermore, on Jan. 31, the MDA’s U.S.-Israeli Cooperative Program office published a request soliciting industry ideas to find ways to improve both Israel’s missile defense architecture and interoperability with the U.S. Ballistic Missile Defense System.

Like Iron Dome, David’s Sling and Arrow are co-produced with the United States, contributing significantly to employment by U.S. industries. David Sling and Iron Dome interceptors are being built in Tucson, Arizona by Raytheon and Arrow-3 components are produced in Huntsville, Alabama by Boeing.

Vital U.S. Assistance

The United States is committed to supporting its ally Israel against mounting regional threats, as proven by its significant investment in the development of missile defense technologies.

To date, Washington has provided $1.3 billion in funding for Israel’s Iron Dome; $1.1 billion for David’s Sling; and $2.6 billion for Arrow. The 2017 National Defense Authorization Act—signed into law on Dec. 23, 2016—further authorizes $600.7 million in U.S.-Israel cooperative missile funding for FY17. Congress is expected to complete the FY17 appropriations process in the next few months.

As Israel and America face increased security challenges, AIPAC urges the administration and Congress to provide full funding for these programs and to continue supporting joint missile defense efforts in the years to come.

Tags: Near East Report Near-East-Report