In an interview on the French channel LCI yesterday, February 5, Netanyahu indicated that his government was exploring the possibility of supplying Ukraine with an Iron Dome air defense system.
However, he also noted that Israel has to review its options considering its interests in the region, based on which “Israel’s contribution can be in other areas,” Netanyahu said.
In particular, Netanyahu noted that Israel does not want to jeopardize its relations with Russia, highlighting the “close operational proximity” between Israeli and Russian military operations in Syria.
“We are studying this issue in accordance with our national interest. We have other considerations. In particular, the close operational proximity between the Israeli Air Force and the Russian Air Force. Their planes operate in Syrian airspace, and so far, we have avoided confrontation. We don’t want a military confrontation with Russia,” Netanyahu explained.
Before that, Netanyahu had indicated that he would be open to playing the position of mediator between Ukraine and Russia if asked to do so by two countries, the United States.
“If both sides ask me, and frankly if the United States asks me because I think you can’t have too many cooks in the kitchen… but I’m not going to get into it,” Netanyahu said when asked by CNN if he would mediate between Ukraine and Russia.
Before Netanyahu, in March of 2022, Ukraine had asked Naftali Bennett to negotiate between Ukraine and Russia. However, diplomatic attempts were fruitless.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began in February 2016, Israel has been sending humanitarian help to the country. Tel Aviv does not want to destroy relations with Russia, but the country has come under pressure for not delivering weaponry to Ukraine.
Before the election, Netanyahu said he would consider supplying Ukraine with weapons if he won.
Iron Dome System
Israeli firms Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries created the Iron Dome mobile air defense system. It can stop rockets, artillery, and UAVs with fewer than ten kilometers (UAVs) range.
The battle management and control (BMC) system, an ELM 2084 multi-mission radar, and a Tamir interceptor with its launcher make up the system (MMR). It can track down and intercept their targets from a distance of up to 70 kilometers.
The Tamir interceptor is three meters long, 0.16 meters wide, and weighs 90 kilograms. It is controlled by a command data link and active onboard seeker radar and is armed with a high fragmentation payload to destroy incoming threats.
The Iron Dome battery consists of three or four fixed launchers with a total of 20 Tamir missiles and a battlefield radar system. Each battery can defend an area of about 155 square kilometers with 90 percent effectiveness.
The Iron Dome forms the lowest level of Israel’s multi-tiered air defense system, along with David’s Sling medium-range and long-range Arrow-2 and Arrow-3 missile systems.
Iron Dome has successfully shielded Israeli civilians for almost a decade from constant rocket fire. Initially, the system was used to counter short-range rocket threats from the Gaza Strip but was later upgraded to counter various emerging threats.
In May of 2021, the IDF publicized the first-ever drone interception, when a Tamir missile from Israel’s Iron Dome system shot down a Hamas UAV.
That being said, experts believe that due to the logistical and technological limitations of the Iron Dome system, its shipment to Ukraine will not significantly impact the way the ongoing conflict in the country is playing out.
Technological and logistical difficulties
According to Tal Inbar, a senior researcher at the US-based Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, Iron Dome could likely intercept some Russian munitions such as Grad rockets; however, given Ukraine’s large landmass and variety of Russian missiles – numerous ballistic and cruise missiles – supplying Iron Dome batteries to Ukraine is not very practical.
“The larger the country, the more radars and interceptors are needed. Israel is a small country, which is an advantage for missile defense. It is not the case in Ukraine,” Inbar said.
In addition, Inbar also pointed to some logistical difficulties that stand in the way of such readiness, including the complexity of implementing a system like Iron Dome, which would be a lengthy process, “so even if Israel were willing… eventually to make it operational is not so short”.
The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) has a small number of Tamir interceptors, but few of them. The US government provides funding to Israel for the research and development of the Iron Dome system and the production of its interceptor missiles.
Iron Dome launches interceptor.
From 2011 to 2021, the US contributed $1.6 billion to the Iron Dome defense system. The US Congress did not allocate the last $1 billion in financial aid until March 2022 to replace missiles spent during 11 days of fighting with Hamas, in which the Palestinian group fired more than 4,300 rockets at Israel, and the Dome of Hierro would have intercepted 90% of those heading to populated areas.
The Russians could “abuse” the Iron Dome.
Furthermore, as Israeli Brigadier General Jacob Nagel argues in an opinion piece for The National Interest, there are valid security reasons why the Israeli government is unlikely to give Ukraine with an Iron Dome system.
Nagel claims that Israel is worried that if any Iron Dome systems are captured by Russia in the Ukrainian battlefield, they will be transported to Iran for analysis, which could help the Iranian regime devise countermeasures. Systems, helping Iran’s proxies in the event of future conflicts with Israel, including as Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
“The outgoing Israeli government made it clear that this was not a risk it was willing to take. The new government will likely say the same,” wrote Nagel, who was previously a national security adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Nagel also stated that Israel does not want to provoke Russia, which has a large military presence in Syria, into taking any drastic measures. Israel routinely launches military operations to prevent Iran from supplying modern weaponry to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
However, recent reports citing Israeli and Western officials indicate that Russia is reducing its forces in Syria, particularly its sophisticated air defense systems such as the S-300, which have posed a significant threat to Israeli Air Force operations.
S-300 air defense system at the Moscow Victory Day Parade rehearsal. The Russian military is having difficulty maintaining Syrian systems due to a lack of spare parts due to the ongoing war in Ukraine. Some of these systems are intended to be deployed in Ukraine.
Based on this, the reports have also suggested a possible improvement in Israel’s level of support for Ukraine. However, Nagel does not believe that this changes the position of Jerusalem.
“The Russians are not going to leave Syria. Whether Israel likes it or not, the Russian military presence is likely a long-term issue that Israel must deal with,” Nagel wrote.
Shortly after Netanyahu’s interview with CNN, Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, issued a warning saying: “Anyone who speculates about arms shipments to Ukraine is escalating the conflict; Don’t try to provoke us.”