The Arsenal of Democracy’s Stockpile in Israel
A relatively unknown U.S. arms depot in Israel has become a stockpile of democracy in recent months, as the Biden administration has transferred its artillery shells to Ukraine. Although the transfer serves Ukrainian interests, it also offers an opportunity for America to replenish the depot with updated weapons and transform it into a valuable hub for the U.S., Israel and other regional allies.
If the war in Ukraine has reminded us of one thing, it’s that building supply chains to deliver weapons to war zones takes time. It is far more effective to pre-position weapons in peacetime. We learned this lesson the hard way during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when by the time America replenished Israeli materiel, it had only limited tactical benefit for Israel’s war effort.
To address this incapacity, in 1984 the U.S. established the War Reserve Stockpile Ammunition-Israel, or WRSA-I, a forward-deployed arms depot that could serve as a readily accessible reserve for American forces in case of regional conflict. The station was also meant to function as an insurance policy for Israel, allowing it quick access to weapons and ensuring what’s known in U.S. law as its “qualitative military edge” over adversaries.
The arrangement worked as designed for several decades. Israel covers the facility’s maintenance costs and has used the stockpile at least twice—during its 2006 conflict with Lebanon, and again in 2014 during its war with Gaza. The U.S. benefited from this, too, in helping a critical ally defend itself against Iran-backed terror organizations.
Yet in recent years WRSA-I has stopped serving its strategic purpose of contributing to Israel’s military superiority. Israeli forces use some of the most sophisticated weapons in the world—including F-35s carrying precision-guided munitions, or PGMs, drones, missile interceptors and lasers. The existing WRSA-I stockpile, however, has become obsolete, housing only shells and other “dumb”—or unguided—munitions that are now of little use to Israel’s advanced forces. Senior Israeli military officials have told us repeatedly that the depot hasn’t been upgraded since before the Obama administration.
That’s not to say that the WRSA-I is entirely useless. Some of its weapons—such as the 155-mm artillery shells—are helpful for Ukrainian forces fighting Russia. In transferring these munitions to Kyiv, the Biden administration seized on an excellent strategic opportunity to arm a partner in desperate need. But there remains another opening to shore up Western strategy. The U.S. should take the time to overhaul the WRSA-I and equip it with updated materiel so that it may be again for Israel what it has become for Ukraine—a tactical and strategic asset.
It’s vital that America restock the WRSA-I with modern equipment, especially PGMs, such as the joint direct attack munitions and GBU-39 small diameter bombs. PGMs are crucial for Israel because they allow the military to hit ground targets while limiting civilian casualties and other collateral damage. Israel already uses many U.S.-sourced PGMs in its “campaign between the wars” to roll back Iran’s regionwide military entrenchment. But in the event of a major war with Iran or its proxy Hezbollah, Israel will need tens of thousands more.
As Washington asks its allies to do more to contribute to collective security, the WRSA-I can provide Israel with the necessary tools to help defend itself and American interests. This comes on the heels of Israel’s being assigned in 2021 to the “area of responsibility” of the U.S. Central Command, or Centcom, meaning the country is now part of America’s military’s training, planning and operations in the Middle East. A WRSA-I fully stocked with modern weapons and better integrated into American military supply chains, plans, and operations will doubtless enhance the security of both nations and that of America’s traditional—and Israel’s newer—Arab partners.
As a first step, the administration should direct Centcom to make an inventory of what weapons are left in WRSA-I. It should then launch a bilateral process with Israel for assessing its military-equipment needs and developing recommendations for how to replenish, update and expand the stockpile to better support high-intensity regional operations.
The stockpile of U.S. weapons in Israel should be used to give Ukraine any and everything it needs. But then America should quickly upgrade and refill it, to make sure that the next time a conflict erupts, the WRSA-I can again serve as a much-needed stockpile of democracy.
Originally Published in Wall Street Journal.
Michael Makovsky is president and CEO of the Jewish Institute for National Security of America. He served as a special assistant in the Office of Secretary of Defense, 2002-06. Blaise Misztal is JINSA’s vice president for policy.