When the Ukraine war broke out, after Russia’s vicious and unprovoked invasion of the country, some commentators in the West wanted to find a scapegoat for Ukraine’s suffering. Rather than focus on Russia, they set their analysis on the country some of them always have a knee-jerk obsession with: Israel.
The commentary on Ukraine became about why Israel wasn’t doing more for Ukraine. This was odd, considering Israel had condemned the invasion and was helping Ukrainians. The condemnation of Israel shifted to complaints that Israel wasn’t sending its famous air defense system Iron Dome to Ukraine.
This critique hasn’t ended despite a month of war and numerous articles that have pointed out why the Iron Dome system isn’t the right air defense system for Ukraine.
The story about the potential for Ukraine to acquire the Iron Dome broke in mid-February. But most of those who made comments about it since then have never actually read the reports about Ukraine’s request, and most of them know nothing about the Iron Dome. Their comments are driven both by ignorance, and also a dyed-in-the-wool hatred of Israel.
It is true that, according to reports, Ukraine did seek air defense systems from the US last year. According to these reports Ukraine wanted Patriot and Iron Dome and other systems. The US never transferred the systems.
The US only has two Iron Dome batteries, while the US Congress has long backed Israel with funding for the system. Iron Dome was developed in Israel and Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems partners with the American defense company Raytheon in the US.
Raytheon says on its website that “in 2019, the US Army announced its intent to buy two Iron Dome batteries to fill a need for an interim capability. Given interest by the US and several other nations in Iron Dome’s unique capabilities, Raytheon Missiles and Defense has debuted the SkyHunter air defense system in cooperation with Rafael. Based on Iron Dome, SkyHunter can be produced in the United States to expand availability and capacity for the US and its allies.”
The reports about the Ukraine request for Iron Dome makes it seem like Israel prevented sales of the system to Ukraine. However, the US doesn’t sell expensive air defense to Ukraine, and neither do European countries. If it was true that Israel was some standout here, then Ukraine would have had access to Western air defense systems for years.
HOWEVER, THE West kept Ukraine out of NATO and kept it from acquiring all of the air defense it needed. Iron Dome only came up later. Unsurprisingly Israel couldn’t supply Iron Dome to Ukraine, because Israel has never supplied the system abroad, except to the US.
This is no minor point. Israel doesn’t sell Iron Dome all over the world, at least not yet. It was complicated enough just to supply the US with a complex and sensitive system. While it is true that some countries have acquired the radar used by Iron Dome, it doesn’t appear that the system is operational anywhere except in Israel.
Thus, the critique of Israel makes little sense and those complaining about Israel not giving Iron Dome away don’t seem to hold the US or western countries to the same standard. The obsession with Israel that often borders on antisemitism, posits that Israel should supply the Iron Dome in the midst of a conflict but that the corollary is not expected; the US needn’t supply Patriot batteries.
Israel is not only a smaller and more vulnerable country than the US, but the ramifications for Israel of getting involved in the Ukraine war are greater for Israel. Russia has based air defense systems in Syria and Israel has sought to prevent Iranian entrenchment in Syria. Any attempt by Russia to move more advanced air defense systems to Syria could be a problem for Israel.
Nevertheless, the real ignorance behind the Iron Dome complaints is that the authors of these complaints often know little or nothing about air defense. Iron Dome is a short-range air defense system that wouldn’t help Ukraine and requires long training. How could it be sent in the midst of a war?
Meanwhile, there are other air defense systems that the West and Israel make about which it might be more reasonable to inquire. The Arrow system, for instance, which reports say the Germans may want to acquire. There is also David’s Sling, which is similar to Patriot. There are also Barak missiles, which foreign reports say have been acquired by Azerbaijan and Morocco. In addition, Israeli defense companies such as IAI have worked with India on the MRSAM system. Then there is the Spyder system and many others.
The obsession with Iron Dome often comes from ignorance. It’s a buzz word and it is often used by people who know nothing about the system or the complexities involved in outfitting a country with air defense.