Explained: Why Israel's Iron Dome Won't Help Ukraine Against Russia

Ukraine's large land mass and the sophistication of Russia's projectiles mean an export of Israel's coveted Iron Dome defense system would be unlikely to protect the country from bombardment

Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
Sam Sokol
Iron Dome interecepting a barrage of Gaza rockets, during last round of fighting in May
Iron Dome interecepting a barrage of Gaza rockets, during last round of fighting in MayCredit: ANAS BABA / AFP
Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
Sam Sokol

Despite increasingly vocal calls for Jerusalem to provide Kyiv with missile defense technology, experts believe logistical and technological limitations mean Israel’s Iron Dome would likely provide little practical benefit to Ukraine as Russia ramps up its attacks across the country.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy appeared to demand that Israel provide his country with anti-missile capabilities on Sunday, calling on Israeli lawmakers during a video address to help limit the death toll in his country.

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"Everyone in Israel knows that your missile defense is the best. It is powerful,” he said.

“Everyone knows that your weapon is strong. Everyone knows you're doing great. You know how to defend your state interests, the interests of your people. And you can definitely help us protect our lives, the lives of Ukrainians, the lives of Ukrainian Jews.”

The president's comments aside, Tal Inbar, a senior research fellow at the U.S.-based Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, believes that while the system could likely intercept some Russian munitions, such as Grad rockets, the large land mass of Ukraine and the variety of Russia's projectiles means that exporting Iron Dome batteries “is more of a theoretical question and wishful thinking by Ukraine” than a practical solution.

“The larger the country is, you need a much larger number of radars and interceptors. Israeli is a small country, in that regard it’s an advantage to missile defense. That’s not the case in Ukraine,” he said, noting that Saudi forces, with their more advanced missile defense capabilities, are still struggling to prevent Houthi strikes because of the large territory they have to defend.

According to the United States, Russia had launched 1,100 missiles at Ukraine as of Monday, striking targets from the eastern city of Kharkiv to the western Polish border.

Russian troops have failed to capture any major Ukrainian city almost four weeks into their invasion, and increasingly are resorting to large-scale destruction of residential areas using airstrikes, long-range missiles and artillery. Ukraine's military warned on Tuesday that residents should brace for more indiscriminate Russian shelling of critical infrastructure.

Inbar explained that Russia is “using all the weapons in its arsenal,” including ballistic and hypersonic missiles that cannot be stopped by a short-range system like Iron Dome.

The Kyiv Independent's defense reporter asks Israel for the Iron Dome.

Among the armaments used by Russia has been the Iskander-M, which is designed to confound missile defenses by flying on a low trajectory and maneuvering in flight to strike targets as far out as 500 kilometers, or 310 miles, with an accuracy of 2 to 5 meters, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

On Saturday, Russia said it had used hypersonic Kinzhal (Dagger) missiles to destroy a large weapons depot in Ukraine's western Ivano-Frankivsk region, although a U.S. official told Reuters that Washington could not independently verify Moscow’s claim.

“When speaking of ballistic missiles like Iskander that the Russians are using, Iron Dome is not the solution for this,” Inbar said. It’s designed to be used “against rockets and UAVs, but not ballistic missiles.”

Streaks of light from Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system as it intercepts rockets launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, as seen from Ashkelon, Israel this summerCredit: Amir Cohen/ REUTERS

Beyond the technological limitations, there would also be logistical difficulties to providing Ukraine with Iron Dome, Inbar told Haaretz, explaining that the “implementation of such a system is complex and a long process, so even if Israel was willing … the time to make it operational is not so short.”

Beyond that, the Israel Defense Forces has a limited supply of interceptors, with the U.S. Congress only recently approving a $1 billion allocation for Israel to replenish the missiles it expended in shooting down Hamas rockets during last summer’s fighting.

“So it is a little bit naive [to think] that Israel could supply other countries with a sufficient amount of interceptors,” Inbar said. “It’s not practical.”

Aside from Zelenskyy, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has also publicly expressed interest in Israeli air defense assistance, although it is unclear if there has been an official request for the Iron Dome system.

Asked if there had been, Israeli Ambassador to Ukraine Michael Brodsky told Army Radio on Monday that “to the best of my knowledge, the issue also came up before the war. It was made clear to the Ukrainian side that this was impossible, and they still insist on raising it. Israel needs to help in areas it can, such as the medical field.”

Responding to a February report on the Ynet news site that Israel had previously turned down a Ukrainian request to buy Iron Dome batteries, Ukrainian Ambassador Yevgen Korniychuk told Israeli reporters earlier this month that the system had “not been discussed.” He explained that “Russia uses completely different weapons from the Palestinians, so Iron Dome would probably not help us.”

Reuters contributed to this report.

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