Ukraine is interested in obtaining a wide range of Israeli and U.S. made air defense systems in order to foil the increasing Russian attacks on Ukrainian cities and power infrastructure. According to Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Putin’s army managed to incapacitate one third of Ukraine’s power stations in the last week alone.
Two days ago, Ukraine’s foreign minister sent an official request to Israel’s foreign ministry, requesting to immediately purchase the “Iron Beam (Light Shield)” system, Barak-8 and Patriot missiles, Iron Dome and David’s Sling systems and Arrow missiles. The Ukrainians hope to contend with Russia’s increased use of Iranian suicide drones and the ballistic missiles Iran is about to send to Russia.
The request highlights that the employment of Iranian suicide drones and missiles against Ukraine will “improve Iranian systems and Iran’s ability to produce offensive weapons while intensifying its threats against Israel and the Middle East.”
Since the beginning of the war Ukraine made pleas, echoed by politicians in the West, that Israel provide Kyiv with Iron Dome systems in order to help the country in stemming Russia’s aerial onslaught.
Given its unprecedented success in intercepting thousands of rockets in recent rounds of hostilities in Gaza, the Iron Dome can indeed afford protection against rockets and drones, but each battery covers only a relatively small area. In order to protect cities and strategic sites in a large country like Ukraine, many batteries are required. Furthermore, the system is effective for short ranges and cannot afford protection against the Russian air force or against surface-to-surface missiles fired from a much larger distance.
Other than Israel, only the U.S. currently possesses the Iron Dome system, which is produced by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems in collaboration with Raytheon Technologies. Two batteries were delivered two years ago and have been successfully tested in different scenarios, including the interception of cruise missiles and drones. Despite the positive record, the U.S. army is not deploying the system and has its sites on competing technologies. The U.S. Marines also conducted a successful Iron Dome launch, combined with the use of American systems for tracking, missile control and fire control.
When asked about Ukraine's request from Israel, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby acknowledged that the Department of Defense is "looking hard at what's in the realm of possibility," though stressed Israel's "sovereign" decision on how it responds to such requests and that it can do what it wants to preserve its national security "without judgement."
Ukraine’s ambassador in Israel, Yevgen Korniychuk, publicly disclosed last week that Kyiv is most keen on Barak missiles, made by Israel’s Aerospace Industries. “For a good defensive umbrella you need Iron Dome for short ranges and the Barak for medium and long ranges,” he said. Barak missiles were developed in a collaboration between Rafael and the Aerospace Industries in order to protect naval vessels from anti-ship missiles (during the Second Lebanon War, Hezbollah hit an Israeli naval vessel with a Chinese 802-C missile fired from the shore, while the ship’s defense systems were shut off).
Ever since then, improved models have been developed. The Barak-8 was produced in collaboration with India. It has a ground and a naval version, with Ukraine interested in the former. This missile affords protection to vessels and gas rigs, as well as to strategic ground assets, and can be used against fast cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, planes and drones, for a range of tens of kilometers. The Barak-ER (extended range) can intercept targets at arrange of 150 kilometers (93 miles). Last June, Barak missiles, in their first operational use, downed two out of three drones launched by Hezbollah at Israel’s gas platforms. The third drone was downed by an air force jet.
The deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council and the country’s former president Dmitry Medvedev warned Israel this week not to supply any military equipment to Ukraine. “It appears that Israel intends to provide weapons to the Kyiv District. This would be a very rash move which will destroy the diplomatic relations between Russia and Israel,” he said.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz clarified on Wednesday that Israel would not provide any weapons to Ukraine. The defense establishment strongly opposes the transfer of air defense systems to Ukraine, lest this results in a reciprocal Russian move in Syria.
Besides the Israeli navy, the only other countries currently operating Barak-8 systems are India, which uses them for its army, navy and air force, and Azerbaijan, which has already intercepted a Russian ballistic missile launched by Armenia in the latest round of hostilities between those countries.
Morocco signed a deal to buy the system and the United Arab Emirates also want it badly. Reuters has reported that in addition to the acquisition of the Spyder air defense system, the UAE has already purchased an anti-drone system from Israel.
The chances of India supplying these systems to Ukraine are miniscule, given its warm relations with Russia. India has not joined the sanctions against Russia and has doubled its oil imports from that country.
Ukraine is an ally of Azerbaijan and a major arms supplier to Baku, but even after the substantial weakening of Putin after the invasion of Ukraine, it’s unlikely that President Aliyev will challenge Putin directly by sending Ukraine a system that could strategically impact the war. In any case, this cannot take place with Israel’s approval.
Ukraine’s requests include the Iron Beam system for intercepting missiles, drones and artillery shells by using a laser beam; David’s Sling, the mid-range defense system meant to intercept anti-missile missiles at ranges of 70-300 kilometers; and the Arrow system for protection against long-range ballistic missiles such as the Scud and the Shehab.
Iron Beam is still under development, even though Israel has reported successful trials. David’s Sling was used against two Syrian missiles four years ago, but the interceptors were destroyed before hitting their target. Germany’s government recently decided to purchase the Arrow-3 system from Israel, but according to a report in Yisrael Hayom, the Biden administration has not yet approved the deal, since most of the development costs of the Arrow are covered by the U.S.
Ukraine is also asking Israel for the Patriot PAC-3 system made by the U.S. The IDF uses the system, but transferring it to Ukraine also requires American approval.
Ben Samuels contributed to this report.