This 2024 - Let's Win the Battle of Headlines

Why Israel must not provide the Iron Dome to Ukraine

While Israel should avoid sending weapon systems, it could definitely provide Kyiv with good intelligence on Iran’s actions, drones and ballistic missiles.

Israel's Iron Dome air-defense system intercepts rockets from the Gaza Strip, as seen from Sderot in southern Israel, Aug. 7, 2022. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Israel's Iron Dome air-defense system intercepts rockets from the Gaza Strip, as seen from Sderot in southern Israel, Aug. 7, 2022. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Jacob Nagel
Jacob Nagel
Brig.-Gen. (res.) Jacob Nagel is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Iran and Russia have been moving closer against the backdrop of an ongoing war in Ukraine, which has dragged on and expanded. For Israel, these ever-closer ties are a source of constant headaches.

Ukraine has not relented in its efforts to have Israel provide it with the Iron Dome missile defense system and other types of air defense technology, as well as a whole host of cutting-edge weapon systems. Official requests have been relayed from Ukraine’s prime minister, foreign minister and defense minister, as well as from its ambassador in Israel. Israeli officials have rebuffed these efforts, prompting Ukraine to lash out at Israel. Their strong rebuke has received support from various elements both within and outside Israel who have failed to see the big picture.

Iran has been providing Russia with weapon systems—mainly kamikaze drones—and there is talk that it might also send sophisticated ballistic missiles. But that is only part of the problem: Iran has also been guiding Russia on how to circumvent Western sanctions and how to game the international banking system.

The United States is duty-bound to help Ukraine and defeat the brutal invasion of Russian President Vladimir Putin; Israel must do its utmost to lend a hand. But Jerusalem must not send Iron Dome or other weapon systems to Ukraine, and should not be expected to do so.

The Iron Dome’s combat record is stellar—which makes it easy to understand why Kyiv has its eyes on it. The Iron Dome is capable of getting the job done in Ukraine (I won’t go into the technical or operational aspects, some of which are classified). Those who have tried to explain Israel’s refusal by claiming the system would not be up to the task in Ukraine are both wrong and misleading. Having said that, there are four reasons why Israel cannot afford to send the Iron Dome and other systems to Ukraine
The main and most important reason is obvious: It is almost certain that any system provided to Ukraine will ultimately fall into the hands of the Russians and subsequently, of the Iranians, even if the Ukrainian forces limit their deployment to the Kyiv area (as they have claimed they would in some cases). This would result in a potentially greater destructive potential for Hezbollah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad when they target Israel in future wars. One cannot expect Israel to compromise its core (and secret) self-defense capabilities.
The second reason we should not provide such systems is that Israel still doesn’t have enough interceptors for its own operational needs (especially when it comes to countering the threat on the northern border). It is going to take a long time to truly bolster our production capacity, perhaps years. It is also important to keep in mind that in order to have the systems do their job effectively, Ukraine would need many more interceptors than Israel can provide, because of its massive geographical spread.
Third, even if Israel agreed to send weapon systems, it would still take time—presumably months, if not years—before they could be phased into service in Ukraine, as Ukrainian troops would need proper training.

These three reasons are as valid for the United States as they are for Israel. The U.S.-made systems Washington has been sending, despite not being top- or even second-tier, will likely fall (some have already) into the hands of Iran, which is likely to also get from the Russians any operational lessons drawn from their use in combat, including their limitations and modus operandi. As such, one can understand why the United States has been adamant in its refusal to provide Kyiv with advanced air defense systems such as the THAAD or Patriot. It’s also worth noting that the United States doesn’t even have enough air defense systems to cover its own deployed forces.

There is a fourth reason why Israel should not heed Ukraine’s request: the impact on Israel-Russia relations and the dwindling presence of Russia in Syria, as well as the threat of Iran replacing it. While it is less important, this reason should not be overlooked. The war may have led Russia to take troops out of Syria and deploy them in Ukraine, but this seemingly positive development has become a source of concern because Iran seeks to fill this vacuum, with the backing of Russia and Syria. Having Israel send systems to Ukraine could create a potential threat, from Russia, Syria or Iran, to Israel’s freedom of maneuver. Some have even speculated that Russian President Vladimir Putin would retaliate by changing his policy toward Russia’s Jews, but this does not appear to be a real concern.

However, while Israel should avoid sending Iron Dome and other weapon systems to Ukraine, it could definitely provide Kyiv with good intelligence on Iran’s actions, its drones and its ballistic missiles (should they be provided to Russia). As Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said, Israel can also send sensors and an integrative early warning system that would dramatically help Ukraine deal with drones, rockets and missiles. Israel must also continue and even increase its humanitarian aid to Ukraine and its citizens.

Those who have been critical of Israel for not sending the Iron Dome or other sophisticated systems to Ukraine should take a look in the mirror and ask why they have not held the United States to the same standard. They can demand that the United States send Ukraine advanced air defense systems such as the Patriot or the Predator drones. I hold the view that the United States, like Israel, has done the right thing by withholding such systems, for the above-mentioned reasons.

Washington has opted instead to send less sophisticated systems, which might also fall into the Iranian hands. These systems are of greater availability and there is a shorter period necessary to phase them into service.

A final note regarding global hypocrisy over Iran’s nuclear program.

Even as Russia and Iran move ever closer, the Iranian regime has continued supporting terrorist activities all over the world. It has not been forthcoming in answering the questions posed by the International Atomic Energy Agency, and has been brazenly breaching the nuclear deal and various other pacts it has signed. It is simply beyond the pale that the United States and the European Union have persisted in the absurd effort to find a “creative” way to revive the JCPOA. It is time we understand the nature of the murderous regime in Tehran and confront it head-on.

IDF Brig. Gen. (res.) Jacob Nagel, formerly the national security adviser to the Israeli prime minister, is a Senior Fellow at Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a visiting professor at the Faculty of Aeronautics and Space at the Technion.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
You have read 3 articles this month.
Register to receive full access to JNS.

Israel is at war - Support JNS

JNS is combating the barrage of misinformation with factual reporting. We depend on your support.

Support JNS
Thank you. You are a loyal JNS Reader.
You have read more than 10 articles this month.
Please register for full access to continue reading and post comments.
Never miss a thing
Get the best stories faster with JNS breaking news updates