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HERMES 45, a new drone by Elbit Systems, which it describes as a ‘Small Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System’ (STUAS), made its first appearance at the Paris Airshow 2019..(Photo by: ELBIT SYSTEMS)
The drone arms race and Israel’s enemies - analysis
Israel doesn't have an answer to the massive disparity between the low-cost drones and the high cost of defense measures.
As the opaque debate continues on whether the two drones that crashed in Beirut on Sunday were Israeli or Iranian, the dilemma that Israel faces remains clear: it does not have a comprehensive solution to drone attacks.

Not only does Israel not have a defense against a mass drone strike that a variety of adversaries could attempt, but it has no answer to the massive disparity between the low-cost drones and the high cost of defense measures.

Israel has made some progress since the State Comptroller published a report in November 2017 describing how utterly unprepared Israel was to defend against drone attacks by Hamas, Hezbollah or Iran.

Drones are smaller and harder to hit than the rockets fired by Hamas and Hezbollah. Highly maneuverable, they are more likely to penetrate deep into Israel in a coordinated attack.

To date, the IDF has downed some invading drones using air-to-air or land-to-air missiles.

It has also missed some. And it has not yet faced a coordinated multi-drone attack that many believe would overwhelm the existing defenses.

Knowing the IDF’s limitations at shooting down drones once they are airborne, much of Israel’s strategy has focused on destroying drone-producing factories and units before they are launched.

If the drones that crashed were Iranian, the fact that more than one was being used against Israel during a relatively short time period – though possibly not simultaneously – would be far more significant than Israel’s success this time at shooting them down.

Whether they were Iranian or Israeli (the pictures distributed to date could be interpreted in either direction), defense experts have been saying for some years now that it is only a matter of time.

While private defense companies have developed solutions for jamming or taking control over some drones, to date their solutions are limited.

In one development in July, the US Marine Corps’ Light Marine Air Defense Integrated System (LMADIS) jammed an Iranian drone that flew within 1,000 meters of a Navy warship.

The LMADIS system uses a radar and cameras to scan the sky to detect drones and distinguish between friendly and hostile systems. It then uses radio frequencies to jam the drone.

But the system and other similar systems can costs millions, and are still not considered reliable in the case of a mass drone attack.

Israel has confronted a similar cost dilemma before.

In its arms race with Hamas and Hezbollah, Jerusalem pays far more per unit for each Iron Dome interceptor or other missile defense interceptor than its adversaries pay for their cheaply manufactured, often homemade rockets.

At a Maariv security conference in May, INSS fellow and former Israel Air Force major Liran Antebi noted that Israel was also at a disadvantage because even as it invested to improve its drone defense, the process was slow and highly bureaucratic.

She said this could be problematic facing adversaries like Hamas and Hezbollah, which can quickly produce new threats without bureaucratic hurdles.

It remains unclear whether Israel successfully unveiled a new technology or otherwise downed Iranian drones, or lost its own drones. Regardless of what happened on Sunday in the skies over Beirut, the day when Israel will simultaneously need to defend against an armada of drones is fast approaching.

If Israel waits to finding solutions to defend against a mass drone attack because of the economic disparity of asymmetric warfare, then just as it dithered in investing in technology to locate Hamas’ attack tunnels, the results could be far more disastrous than in 2014’s Operation Protective Edge.
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