While good for U.S.-Israeli relations and the defensive needs of a close U.S. ally, the Obama Administration’s decision to provide a rapid infusion of funding for the Iron Dome missile defense system is also an ominous sign that the security situation in the region continues to deteriorate. Hezbollah and Hamas are importing massive amounts of munitions from rogue states such as Syria, North Korea and Iran. It is not surprising that the White House would seek to bolster Israel’s security in the aftermath of reports that Syria had transferred long-range Scud missiles to Hezbollah. Coming on top of the replenishment of Hezbollah’s stock of shorter-range missiles, the presence of Scuds in southern Lebanon would be a serious step up in the arms race in the Levant. The U.S. government’s decision is a possible warning sign that it believes war may be on the horizon.
Israel and its U.S. ally cannot develop and deploy advanced missile defenses too rapidly. During the 2006 conflict, Hezbollah launched nearly 4,000 rockets at Israel. Over the last decade, Hamas has reportedly fired more than that number of rockets, mortars and artillery rounds into Israel. Iron Dome is one of a series of defensive systems designed to counter short-range rockets, artillery shells and mortars that Hamas and Hezbollah have rained down on Israel in years past. The Israeli Defense Forces already have acquired two Iron Dome batteries but need more in order to provide a high-confidence defense of their northern and western borders.
The U.S. and Israel are collaborating on a wide range of missile defense programs. It is well-known that the U.S. sold advanced Patriot missile defenses to Israel and provided substantial funding and technology assistance for the development of that country’s Arrow long-range missile defense system. The U.S. and Israel are in discussions regarding whether to deploy an advanced version of the Arrow (called Arrow 3) or to go with a land-based version of the Aegis/Standard Missile 3.
What is less well known is the extent of U.S.-Israeli cooperation in the development of defenses against short-range missiles and other threats. There is the David’s Sling or Stunner program (called NCADE in the United States), a collaboration between the Israeli company Rafael with Raytheon and ATK. It uses a derivative of an advanced air-to-air missile as an interceptor and can be deployed in both ground-mobile and airborne modes. The Israeli Ministry of Defense is also investigating possible acquisition of a land-based version of Raytheon’s Phalanx weapon systems called Centurion. Another program that may benefit from collaboration with the Israelis is the U.S. Army’s Extended Area Protection and Survivability (EAPS) program. Both Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman have initial development contracts to develop a defensive system similar in character to Iron Dome. Finally, Northrop and Raytheon have invested in laser-based systems to deal with the short-range threat. Northrop Grumman had worked with Israel for several years on the mobile tactical high energy laser (MTHEL) system. Breakthroughs in solid state laser technology now offer the potential for a truly low cost and highly effective defense against all kinds of short-range threats.
The U.S.-Israeli cooperation is becoming more and more important as their mutual enemy in the region, the forces of intolerance, jihad and terrorism continue to arm themselves. One can only hope that this close relationship will endure as the Free World deals with the need to use force to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
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