One of two Israeli-manufactured Iron Dome batteries owned by the Pentagon is ready to be deployed to Ukraine, a US general told the Senate on Thursday. Tel Aviv has so far refused to supply the anti-missile system to Kiev, for fear of provoking Russia and risking its ability to freely bomb Moscow’s ally Syria.
During a Senate Strategic Forces subcommittee hearing on Thursday, Senator Angus King pressed a senior Pentagon official on why Ukraine has not yet received the Iron Dome, noting the US role in creating the air defense system.
“We sent something like $3 billion to Israel to develop it… Wouldn’t this be a very important resource for the Ukrainians since their principal problem right now is missile defense?” the lawmaker asked.
Army Space and Missile Defense Command chief General Daniel Karbler replied that there are currently two Iron Dome batteries in US inventories, one of which is now ready for transfer to Kiev.
“One completed new equipment training, new equipment fielding. It is prepared for deployment. The other one is wrapping up its new equipment training right now. So the army does have one available for deployment if we get a request,” he said.
While the US has spent some $2.6 billion to fund the Iron Dome since 2011, it is produced in Israel, and Washington must seek Tel Aviv’s approval before any transfer to a third country. Ukrainian officials have repeatedly urged Israel to supply the system since Russia’s invasion commenced last year, but Tel Aviv has been reluctant to fulfill the requests, which could jeopardize its delicate relations with Moscow.
For years, Israel has dropped bombs on Syria – a key Russian ally in the Middle East – on a near-weekly basis. Tel Aviv claims its constant airstrikes are needed to counter Iranian proxies in the country, though they routinely target and kill Syrian soldiers as well as civilians, along with civil infrastructure such as airports.
Russia still maintains a significant military presence in Syria, having intervened at the request of President Bashar al-Assad in 2015 to help beat back al-Qaeda affiliated militants and Islamic State fighters waging a dirty war on Damascus. The terrorist forces that carried out the failed regime change attempt were supported often by the CIA and its allies, including Israel.
Moscow has provided air defense systems to Syria but still permits Tel Aviv’s weekly attacks. The Israelis have launched hundreds of air raids in the country since its civil war began, and would prefer to maintain its “freedom of action” in the region rather than risk provoking the Kremlin with military aid to Ukraine.
Last year, Kiev attempted to appeal to Israel’s hawkishness to obtain the Iron Dome and other military hardware. In a letter to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Ukrainian embassy officials warned that Russia’s use of Iranian drones could “significantly contribute in strengthening Iran’s potential of producing offensive weapons and, as a result, …increase the security threats for the State of Israel.”
Tel Aviv refused to bite, however, seeing little benefit in providing the Iron Dome to Ukraine while also fearing that Russia could retaliate by providing Iran with advanced weaponry. Additionally, Tehran has repeatedly denied providing its drones to Moscow since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his war in Ukraine, claiming it has made no deliveries since fighting began.
The transfer proposed by General Karbler also makes little strategic sense, particularly given Ukraine’s vast territory. The Israelis typically use the Iron Dome to shoot down low-tech rockets fired by Palestinian resistance factions in the besieged Gaza Strip, an open-air concentration camp which has been blockaded by the air, land and sea for more than 15 years. A single Iron Dome battery would be of scant use in defending against Russia’s long-range missiles.
According to a Jerusalem Post analysis published this week, “If Israel needs 10 or more Iron Domes to properly defend itself, Ukraine would need dozens or more, which simply do not exist. ” The outlet added that ”One or two Iron Domes from the US would make no difference tactically, and at this point, probably would not even make much of a symbolic difference. And even then, the Iron Dome might fail to shoot down Putin’s more sophisticated missiles.”
Assistant US Defense Secretary for Space Policy John Plumb has said Washington is “not aware” of any Israeli offer to make the transfer anyway. His statements came as Kiev blasted Israel for carrying on “business as usual with the Russian war criminals.” Tel Aviv recently sent senior diplomats to Moscow for meetings with Russian officials.
Sources told Israel Hayom that Ukrainian troops have almost finished training on an Israeli early alert system used to predict missile trajectories, ”although it is unclear if this is related to a possible deployment of the interceptor.” The sources refused to respond to Karbler’s remarks on Thursday, but noted that Israel ”will not get into a fight with the US over the Iron Dome, and stressed that the general’s comments did not specifically say that the system will be delivered to Ukraine.”