Israel's Ballistic Missile Defense
President Trump has recently alluded to the fact that he wants to increase spending on ballistic missile defense systems (BMDs) by billions of dollars. While there are many strategic regions that the United States could increase its missile defense spending on, I contend that Israel should be a significant benefactor of such spending. Yet, the Trump administration has been very critical of the section of the National Defense Authorization Act For Fiscal Year 2018 (NDAA) that authorizes $705 million for the American-Israeli missile defense partnership, $558 million more than the administration had originally proposed. President Trump should reconsider his position on this portion of the bill for several reasons.
Before I delve into the reasons for which President Trump should increase funding for the American-Israeli BMD partnership, let me first provide a technical and detailed overview of the current Israeli BMD program.
The Israeli BMD system consists of a multi-tiered missile defense arsenal. The uppermost tier of this system is comprised of the Arrow missile defense family, which includes Arrow-2 and Arrow-3. The United States and Israel jointly developed Arrow-2, a BMD system designed to defend Israel against short and medium-range missiles that became operational in 2000. This component of the Arrow platform can detect, track, and intercept fourteen targets simultaneously. The most recent testing of Arrow-2 occurred on April 7, 2009, when it successfully intercepted a missile similar to Iran’s Shahab-3 missile.
In 2008, the United States and Israel began developing an upgraded version of Arrow-2, Arrow-3, which was deemed operable on January 18, 2017. Arrow-3 was developed to serve as a complement to Arrow-2, as it is compatible with Arrow-2’s launchers. More specifically, it is meant to detect and intercept medium and long-range, exo-atmospheric ballistic missiles by utilizing more effective communication, sensor, and guidance systems than Arrow-2, allowing it to operate at a greater altitude and range. Another distinguishing feature of Arrow-3 is that it is able to alter its position after it is fired, making it more accurate in intercepting its target. The specifications of Arrow-3 allow it to tactically destroy biological, chemical, and nuclear missiles aimed at Israel. The latest testing of the Arrow-3 system occurred in 2015, when it successfully intercepted a missile in the exo-atmosphere. More recently, on March 17, 2017, the Arrow-3 system intercepted a Syrian surface to air missile (SAM) that was fired at an Israeli jet, demonstrating its ability to respond to and eliminate threats posed by hostile actors to Israel.
The second tier of Israel’s BMD arsenal is David’s Sling system. On April 2, 2017, David’s Sling, the last component of Israel’s BMD system, became operational. This component of the system is designed to intercept ballistic missiles, rockets, and cruise missiles while they are in the atmosphere. This improvement to Israel’s BMD arsenal is significant to Israel’s defense capabilities, as this system protects Israel more effectively from mid-range, low-altitude missiles.
The third, and last component of the Israeli BMD system, is the Iron Dome. The Iron Dome, which became operational in 2011, is designed to protect Israel against relatively less sophisticated, short-range missiles. This BMD system has approximately a 90% success rate for intercepting ballistic missiles and rockets, according to the Israeli Defense Force and political and military experts.
Now that I have provided an overview of the Israeli BMD arsenal, let me explain why increasing the system's funding is in the interest of the United States. One reason is that by increasing the funding of Israeli BMDs, the United States could help to repair and strengthen relations with Israel, which were damaged after the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), more commonly referred to as the Iran Deal. Israel opposed the signing of the Iran Nuclear Deal for several reasons. First, many Israelis, including Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, assessed that by signing JCPOA, the Obama administration turned their back on Israel, a strategic and loyal ally, and rewarded Iranian aggression. Second, it intensified Israeli fears that the United States would abandon its longstanding partnership with Israel, leaving Israel vulnerable to threats posed by Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah. Israel was particularly concerned with this possibility, as it had established a catalytic nuclear posture immediately after it became a nuclear power, meaning that Israel’s strategy would be to rely on the United States to intervene in regional conflicts to ensure the defense of Israel. This posture would be problematic if the United States abandoned Israel, as Israel would be left partially defenseless from Iranian threats. Third, Israel assessed that the deal would catastrophically shift the balance of power in the Middle East, resulting in Iran asserting its dominance over the Middle East and generating the capabilities to produce a nuclear weapon. Fourth, as a result of Iran gaining such capabilities, Israel contended that the Middle East would be further destabilized, resulting in a regional arms race. Lastly, to Israel the United States cut a deal with Israel’s enemy that threatens the security of Israel, as Iran, in the opinion of Israel, is a state-sponsor of terrorism that actively aids and funds Hezbollah, a terrorist group that calls for the destruction of Israel.
A second reason that increasing funding for Israel’s BMD systems is crucial to US interests is that the threats that are posed against Israel, a key and historical partner in the Middle East, are significant and credible, and thus warrant the implementation of BMD systems. The top tier of Israel’s BMD arsenal, Arrow-2 and Arrow-3 are particularly instrumental in protecting Israel from biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons attached to Iranian ballistic missiles. The second tier, David’s Sling Weapons System (DSWS), is necessary to intercept short and mid-range missiles fired by the Iranian-backed Hezbollah and terrorists in the Gaza Strip. Specifically, the DSWS can protect against the BM-25, Fateh-110, Iranian Fajr-5, Khaibar-1, Scud missiles, and the Syrian M-600. The third tier of Israel’s ballistic missile arsenal, the Iron Dome, has been utilized to defend against 3,500 missiles and rockets fired by Hamas that originated from the Gaza strip, 90% percent of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome. Therefore, it is crucial that the United States continue to ensure that the threats posed by Hamas, Iran, and Hezbollah to Israel can be effectively countered by Israeli BMD systems.
A major component of President Trump’s campaign was criticizing President Obama’s decision to enter into the Iran Nuclear Deal. Thus, by supporting the NDAA for the 2018 Fiscal Year, which authorizes $705 million for the Israeli BMD arsenal, President Trump could significantly counter the threat a nuclear Iran poses to the West, the Middle East, and Israel. Further, he could mitigate the effects of a deal that he has referred to as “one of the worst deals ever.” Additionally, as the United States has a partnership with Israel to build Israel’s BMD systems, President Trump would additionally be producing American jobs and boosting the American economy by supporting the increase in ballistic missile spending on Israel. Thus, it is my assessment that President Trump should support the passage of the NDAA for the 2018 Fiscal Year, and authorize a significant portion of the funding increase in ballistic missile defense to be awarded to Israel.
Photo credit C. Cope