(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Last year the Defense Ministry outlined a list of successful trials of air defense systems, a number of which were scheduled to enter into operational use later this year. Yet,there's a fly in the ointment: Following several crises, layoffs, and departures of people central to the projects, progress has slowed down. At this stage it is still unclear whether the lag in development will have ramifications on military activity and when it will pick up momentum again.
Everything seemed optimistic in November of last year after several meetings between Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon and US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter were held on the matter. At that point, the two officials had already agreed on the defense allowance Israel was to receive from the US to continue to develop defense systems.
Ya'alon went so far as to say: "The defense secretary and I are already discussing the next round of defense funding, because the current allocation, which we budgeted at $10 billion, is about to run out. One thing is clear," he added, "The financial assistance cannot stay at the same numbers, because clearly the need is greater today. The (Israeli) prime minister and the US president will discuss this need for additional support today."
Following the agreement negotiated between Ya'alon and Carter, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry to further discuss matters. The Jerusalem Post's sister publication, Maariv Hashavua, has learned that one of the conditions of the significant increase in defense support put in place by the government in Washington DC was a marked increase in efforts to compromise with the Palestinians, in an effort to renew political negotiations. However the prime minister back pedaled from his initial agreement due to the expected opposition to the conditions from the more hawkish elements of his narrow coalition.
The head of the Israel Missile Defense Organization (HOMA) in the Defense Ministry and the figure central to the development of air defense systems, Yair Ramati, was deposed from office after he violated information security regulations. His removal from his position as the head of the development of systems for the Arrow missile, Iron Dome, and David's Sling was a setback for the air defense institution.
Furthermore, his ouster has led to skepticism on the part of the Americans, who see no logical reason for his dismissal. Sources privy to the nature of his dismissal told Maariv Hashavua, that although a temporary replacement has filled Ramati's position, Colonel Aviram Hasson, the Americans "aren't buying" Israel's explanation regarding Ramati's removal.
As if that weren't enough, the head of the Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure, Ofir Shoham, gave notice two weeks ago of his intentions to step down from his position in the current year.
The amalgamation of all of these factors caused air defense companies that have traditionally worked closely with the Defense Ministry to take a step back. One such company is Raytheon, a central partner that won a sizable portion of the American defense allocation after waiting a considerable amount of time for future contracting.
In a week in which the Secretary General of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, threatened to launch missiles at the ammonia plant in Haifa Bay, it appears that the air defense systems are ever more critical.
In spite of this, the Iron Dome, for example, that saw significant upgrades in the last year (particularly since Operation Protective Edge), has seen a downturn in development. David's Sling, a system that acts as additional defense against short to medium range missiles and rockets, has seen a similar lag in development.
The Defense Ministry stated that claims of a deceleration in the missile defense programs were baseless and "utter nonsense."