Israel’s historic missile test: A message to Iran, Hezbollah, allies

Today’s warfare is not about hunting down terrorists in buildings or using tanks, it is also about confronting hi-tech missiles and drones

The Israel Missile Defense Organization conducts live-fire intercept tests of the David's Sling weapon system (photo credit: DEFENSE MINISTRY)
The Israel Missile Defense Organization conducts live-fire intercept tests of the David's Sling weapon system
(photo credit: DEFENSE MINISTRY)
Israel’s Missile Defense Organization and the US Missile Defense Agency have successfully completed an unprecedented, historic test designed to confront multiple threats using a multitiered system. Nothing like this has ever been reported to have been done before, and it represents a response to the latest threats emerging in the region.
The test comes in the wake of Iran using cruise missiles and drones to attack Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq oil facilities a year ago. That drone-swarm attack was a chance for Iran to show off its capabilities.
Reports also indicated Iran sent ballistic missiles to militias in Iraq in 2018 and 2019 and that it sends precision-guided munitions to Syria and to Hezbollah in Lebanon. It also has drones that it has used from the T-4 base in Syria against Israel in 2018.
The threat matrix is changing, and among today’s enemies, Iran is Israel’s main regional adversary with multiple complex missiles and drones.
To confront these myriad threats, Israel needs its own complex multitiered system. Iron Dome has worked for 10 years to confront close-range threats and is the workhorse of Israel’s air defenders. David’s Sling, which is supposed to face higher-level threats and is similar to the US’s Patriot batteries, uses an impressive interceptor to stop enemy missiles.
Both David’s Sling and Iron Dome are built by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, Israel’s traditional research and development defense behemoth. Together with ELTA radar from IAI and other systems from Elbit, this exercise over recent weeks showcased Israel’s world-class defense companies and cooperation with allies such as the United States.
It is important to understand that the defense systems were used in this manner in the context of the emerging threats and Israel’s new ties in the Gulf and as the current US administration is leaving office.
Israel rolled out the Momentum plan between late 2019 and early 2020. It calls for a dedicated IDF general to focus on “third circle” threats. Third circle is the term Israel uses to describe Iran or countries that lie beyond the direct area of engagement from Gaza to the Golan Heights.
Israel’s historic mode of warfare has mainly been on land against enemies along the borders, from the tank battles of the 1950s and ’60s to the Palestinian insurgency of 2000, the Second Intifada. However, today’s warfare is not about hunting down terrorists in buildings or using tanks; it is also about confronting hi-tech missiles and drones.
These modern threats have been on display as Hezbollah stockpiled 150,000 missiles and rockets. The recent war in the Caucasus also showcased how drones can transform war. That is why everyone in the region now wants missiles and missile-defense systems.
The United Arab Emirates is seeking to upgrade its systems through its purchase of F-35s from the US and many more drones and missiles. This illustrates that Israel’s missile-defense test has major ramifications for its new relations with Gulf states.
But not only Israel needs missile defense. Saudi Arabia has used Patriots supplied by the US in recent years, and the US in Iraq also needed to deploy a system called C-RAM to confront rocket threats from Iranian-backed militias.
Add all this together and you can see a rapidly changing region in need of the kind of defense technology that Israel has developed with US backing.
The US is a partner in the Arrow and David’s Sling programs and has supported Iron Dome. But the latter is a unique Israeli solution, and together with David’s Sling, Israel is able to cover almost 100% of potential incoming threats.
This means that when an enemy launches missiles or drones, the multitiered system will kick in with sensors, such as radar tracking the threats and displaying them on a map, forming an integrated picture of the threat and of the systems capable of stopping them.
Arrow and David’s Sling combine to cover long-range threats, whereas Iron Dome batteries are a point defense that can defend a certain area. By deploying Iron Dome batteries at the right locations with radar on land and at sea, such as aboard the Sa’ar 5 and new Sa’ar 6 ships, Israel bolsters its massive multilayered defense umbrella.
This drill in the lead-up to Hanukkah showcased what Israel has accomplished in the last decade. Israeli missile defense has its origins in the 1990s, and close cooperation with the US led us here.
However, it is important to note that the real revolution took place in the last decade through a unique partnership with companies such as Rafael and Israel’s decision to correctly anticipate emerging threats and invest in staying at least one step ahead of the enemy.
Iran can’t blackmail the region as long as Israel can increasingly build and deploy these systems.
That is important because as the end of the Trump administration nears, the Iranian octopus of threats in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen appears to be growing, and it is chomping at the bit to begin a new reign of terror if it feels it is being appeased by the West.
Israel has the most hi-tech array of defense systems ever fielded in world history. But the question, as always, will be how these systems perform in real scenarios. That means also using Arrow as part of these drills, rather than conducting tests at sea or with the Arrow system’s sensors being used but without the actual missile.
This is a struggle because real-world threats come in over mountainous areas, like the Golan, with drones or missiles trying to hide by being close to the ground. The recent test was a game changer, but the threats will continue until these systems are put to the test on the battlefield.