Analysis: Will the latest US-Israel defense drill impact aid deal timing?

Will the missile defense drill conducted in recent days convince Netanyahu to expedite talks on a new US defense aid package?

July 7, 2016 08:15
3 minute read.
David's Sling

The David's Sling air defense system intercepts target during flight test. (photo credit: THE MISSILE DEFENSE AGENCY (MDA))


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The recently successful test to examine the “connectivity” of the missile defense systems used by Israel and the United States is another example of cooperation in the strategic military alliance between the two countries.

During the drill, computers operated by the IDF (particularly the Air Force) and the Defense Ministry’s ‘Homa’ administration - responsible for operating Israel’s various missile defense systems - linked to those used by the US military, the Pentagon and the US European Command.

The trial was designed to simulate a large-scale, simultaneous attack on Israel and the US military, and clarify that both sides can identify and successfully intercept the threats directed at them.

On the Israeli side, the exercise primarily examined Israel’s ‘Arrow’ system, which is designed to intercept long-range missiles at a distance over 300 kilometers (186 miles) away. On the US side, the drill focused mainly on America’s Patriot Air and Missile Defense System. However, the test also included the joint Israeli-American development the ‘David’s Sling’ system, which is designed to intercept missiles up to a range of 200-250 kilometers (124-155 miles).

During the course of the drill, the two sides not only assessed the inter-connectivity of their systems in confronting long-range missiles fired from Iran, but also those launched by Hezbollah in Lebanon, which are capable of reaching Tel Aviv and further south of Israel’s second largest city.

It should be underlined however, that Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system is capable of intercepting projectiles at a short distance up to 60 kilometers (37 miles), it was not included in the joint systems assessment due to its lesser interception range.

Turning to US defense aid to Israel, the Obama administration in recent years has provided nearly $4 billion toward development of the Iron Dome, David’s Sling and the Arrow 4. That sum is in addition to US annual aid that amounts to a little more than $3 billion.

The latest drill, conducted in recent days at sites in the US, Israel and Europe, serves as a continuation of test completed in recent years to examine the capabilities of the joint Israeli-US Arrow 3 and Arrow 4 anti-ballistic missile systems.

These systems are operated using radar systems manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries subsidiary ELTA Systems, however the US military has a permanent presence at the Air Force base in central Israel responsible for the Israeli link in the joint radar system with America, in the event of a missile attack from Iran.

The latest defense drill demonstrates that despite a murky political atmosphere, notably in term of the personal relationship between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama, the close cooperation in the military echelons has not been damaged, or even apparently affected.

The missile defense trial may perhaps even convince the prime minister to speed up negotiations on a much-deliberated new 10-year US aid package starting in 2018. US offers propose an approximately 30 percent increasing in funding to Israel consisting of $3.7 to $4 billion per year of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). However, the White House conditions that the deal will be “all-inclusive” and will see that Israel vows not to turn to Congress seeking more aid from time to time for designated purposes, as it has done in the past – for example for the development of missile defense systems.

Netanyahu has delayed the signing of such a new agreement for more than year in the hopes that the next US administration will offer terms that he views more favorable. However, various cabinet ministers, defense establishment leaders and former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon along with current Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman are not as optimistic.

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