Israel deploys a layered air and missile defense architecture built to counter a wide variety of air and missile threats emanating from state and non-state regional adversaries. This threat spectrum includes rockets, mortars, drones, ballistic missiles, and cruise missiles. Reflecting this diverse set of threats, Israel today deploys a tiered missile defense architecture. Iron Dome makes up the lowest tier to intercept rockets, artillery, and mortars, largely fired by Hamas and Hezbollah. David’s Sling, which Israel began developing in 2006 and fielded in 2017, makes up the middle tier, defending against cruise missiles and lower-tier ballistic missiles. Arrow provides the upper tier of Israel’s missile defense against ballistic missiles with the Arrow-3 interceptor, which Israel fielded in 2017.
Since the 1980s, United States has been a critical partner for Israel in missile defense technology research and financial assistance. During the Gulf War, the United States deployed two Patriot missile defense batteries to Israel to counter Saddam Hussein’s strategy of using ballistic missile attacks to draw Israel into the conflict and fracture the American coalition.1 Shortly after the Gulf War, Israel established the Israel Missile Defense Organization (IMDO) to consolidate and accelerate its development of missile defense capabilities in cooperation with the United States. This resulted in the initial deployment of the Arrow 2 system in 2000 to defend Israeli territory from regional Scud missile arsenals.
In the 1990s, Israel began facing an emerging threat from nearby nonstate actors such as Hezbollah and Hamas wielding short-range rockets and other small projectiles. Hezbollah conducted its first rocket attack on Israel in 1996, and Hamas launched its first rockets at Israeli territory in 2001.2 In response to the Hezbollah attacks, Israel and the United States began collaboration on the Tactical High Energy Laser (THEL) to provide rocket defense using a chemical-powered laser. The United States and Israel discontinued the effort to develop a directed energy rocket defense system in 2005. As an alternative, Israel developed a lower-tier kinetic defense system, the Iron Dome, that employed chemically powered interceptor missiles.3 After Hezbollah launched nearly 4,000 rockets at Israel during a 34-day conflict in 2006, Israel accelerated development of the Iron Dome rocket defense system. Israel first fielded the Iron Dome system in 2011 and has since become the world’s most combat-tested air and missile defense system.
After Iron Dome’s initial deployment, the United States expanded its support for Israeli missile defense beyond research and development to include direct assistance with procurement. In 2011, Congress appropriated funds to purchase four additional Iron Dome batteries for Israel. U.S. assistance with Israeli missile defense purchases peaked in the 2014 defense budget when Congress appropriated over $445 million for Iron Dome procurement and $729 million overall for procurement and research and development programs. In 2016, the United States and Israel signed a 10-year Memorandum of Understanding which took effect in 2019. The MOU set U.S. funding for cooperative missile defense programs at $500 million per year.4
- J. Michael Kennedy, “U.S. Rushes Defenses to Israel,” Los Angeles Times, January 20, 1991, https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1991-01-20-mn-804-story.html.
- Charles Levinson and Adam Entous, “Israel’s Iron Dome Defense Battled to Get Off Ground,” Wall Street Journal, November 26, 2012, https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887324712504578136931078468210.
- Jacob Nagel and Shachar Shohat, “Iron Dome Developers Set the Record Straight on its Evolution,” Jerusalem Post, April 8, 2021, https://www.jpost.com/arab-israeli-conflict/iron-dome-developers-set-the-record-straight-on-its-evolution-664542.
- Matt Spetalnick, “U.S., Israel Sign $38 Billion Military Aid Package,” Reuters, September 14, 2016, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-israel-statement/u-s-israel-sign-38-billion-military-aid-package-idUSKCN11K2CI.