Europe turns to Israel for defense modernization

Israel's founders likely never imagined their nascent country would become an indispensable defense partner for Europe.

Seventeen Israeli defense firms participate in the inauguration of the national pavilion at the 2023 Paris Air Show, June 19, 2023. Credit: Ariel Hermoni, Israeli Ministry of Defense.
Seventeen Israeli defense firms participate in the inauguration of the national pavilion at the 2023 Paris Air Show, June 19, 2023. Credit: Ariel Hermoni, Israeli Ministry of Defense.
Siamak Kordestani

When Russian forces invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, an era of peace in Europe came to an abrupt halt. The conflict unleashed a humanitarian catastrophe, including the largest wave of refugees since World War II.  

Since the end of the Cold War diplomacy and economic soft power have been the pillars of European statecraft. The Ukraine War creates a new reality: military budgets across the continent are rising more steeply than they have in decades; NATO is expanding military assets on its eastern flank and accelerating readiness; and almost all European nations have provided some form of military assistance to Kyiv.

European policymakers, looking to modernize their militaries in response to the Russian threat, are increasingly turning to their Eastern Mediterranean neighbor with cutting-edge defense technology: Israel. 

Earlier this month, Reuters reported that the German government will purchase Israel’s Arrow-3 missile defense system for nearly $4.3 billion. If the sale goes through, it would be the largest defense export in the history of the Jewish state. 

The strategic defense relationship between Israel and Germany is multifaceted and continues to grow. Germany builds Dolphin-class submarines that are central to Israel’s strategic deterrence against hostile states. Last year, Berlin purchased $160 million in munitions for its Israeli Heron-TP drones developed by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).  

Other nations recently purchasing Israeli defense articles include Finland, Romania, Netherlands, Greece, Denmark, Estonia, United Kingdom, Poland, Sweden, Slovakia, Croatia and Italy.  

Finland, a new NATO member, is acquiring the David’s Sling air defense system from Israel in a $345 million deal. 

The German-led European Sky Shield Initiative (ESSI), launched last year, involves 17 countries working toward integrated air and missile defense across the continent. Given the high demand for technologies such as Arrow-3, David’s Sling and Iron Dome, ESSI will further strengthen Israeli defense exports to Europe. 

The defense sales are not just business transactions but a sign of Israel’s growing relations with the region. Europe is Israel’s largest trade partner and the European Union is one of Israel’s top innovation funders. The European Union accepted Israel into its premier research and development program, Horizon Europe. Brussels signed a major natural gas deal with Israel and Egypt last year to help reduce European reliance on Russian energy. In July, the 27 E.U. member states voted to resume the E.U.-Israel Association Council, the highest forum for bilateral consultations between the parties.  

Political support for Israel is expanding in Europe. In December, the U.N. General Assembly adopted a deeply biased resolution to refer Israel to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).  While the measure was supported by 87 nations in favor, a strong majority of European countries either voted against the resolution or chose to abstain. 

The United Kingdom recently signed a landmark agreement boosting security, technology and trade ties with Israel and is advancing legislation to prohibit local government councils from participating in the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. 

Iran’s supply of lethal drones to assist Russia in its war on Ukraine further aligns European and Israeli foreign policy. 

The foreign minister of Estonia, which recently signed a deal for advanced Israeli long-range loitering munitions, announced in November 2022 that the Baltic nation has revised its foreign policy and will no longer vote for anti-Israel U.N. resolutions.

The benefits of strong relations between Europe and Israel continue to yield dividends for both. 

When the founders of the modern State of Israel declared independence, they likely never imagined their nascent country would become an indispensable partner for European defense modernization. Remarkably, that is now happening.

Originally published in The Jewish Journal.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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