‘Important Milestone’: Israel Uses New Air Defense System in Fight Against Palestinian Islamic Jihad

The Israeli Ministry of Defense on Wednesday confirmed the first operational interception of the David’s Sling missile system, a development that experts say is an “important milestone” in US-Israeli defense cooperation and for Israel’s defense capabilities.

Ari Cicurel, Assistant Director of Foreign Policy at the the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA), told The Algemeiner that while Iron Dome is the most frequently used and talked about Israeli air defense system, it’s part of a wider network of systems protecting the country.

“The first successful operation of David’s Sling underscores the importance of US-Israel air and missile defense technology as a co-produced system,” Cicurel said. “With threats continuing to grow from Iran-backed groups in the region to US service members, to regional partners including Israel, US-Israel defense cooperation will will only become more important going forward.”

David’s Sling is Israel’s “middle tier” air defense system, capable of shooting down larger projectiles than Iron Dome, including cruise missiles and short-range ballistic missiles.

While the Israeli Ministry of Defense said that they did not have have any additional information about the circumstances of the interception, Cicurel said that its first use would reverberate beyond the current conflict between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ).

“The use of David’s Sling sends a signal to not only PIJ and Hamas, but also Hezbollah to Israel’s north, other Iran-backed groups, and certainly Iran as well, that Israel has the capabilities to defend itself at the short-, medium- and long-range,” he said. “So that use, if not the reason that Israel chose to use David’s Sling, certainly is the consequence of successful use.”

David’s Sling, which fires missile interceptors to take down its targets, is jointly designed by the Israeli defense contractor Rafael and the US-based Raytheon. The project is supported by an annual $500 million in aid that was included in the ten-year memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the US and Israel signed during the Obama administration in 2016.

Daniel Shapiro, former US ambassador to Israel and a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council who was one of the negotiators of that MOU, told The Algemeiner that that steady stream of missile defense funding remains a “sound investment” for the US and Israel.

“The first operational interception by the David’s Sling system is an important milestone,” he said. “The IDF is constantly refining and adjusting the capabilities of its missile defense systems, improving their range and versatility to provide multilayered protection against the evolving missile capabilities of Israel’s enemies.”

According to Cicurel, that investment is also starting to pay dividends in the wider region, as Israel and its defense systems have significant appeal for Arab countries that also face potential rocket and missile threats from Iran.

“[Israel] has also provided to its growing number of friends in the region through the Abraham Accords,” he said. “Israel sold the UAE both its SPYDER counter-drone platform, as well as the Barak short-range air defense system for missiles and drones. Similarly, Bahrain has signed an MOU with Israel on defense cooperation and is reportedly in discussions to purchase Israeli counter-drone defenses.”

Since Operation Shield and Arrow began on 9 May, PIJ have launched nearly 900 rockets, 260 of which have been intercepted by Iron Dome with a 91% success rate. While that rate of fire has demonstrated PIJ’s ability to mount an intensive rocket and mortar campaign against Israel, there are concerns that Israel’s current defenses could be overwhelmed in a fight against the much more heavily armed and entrenched Hezbollah, particularly given how slowly the US government responds to Israel’s needs.

“Israel reportedly has ten Iron Dome systems, the US should certainly look to provide funding so that it could have more of those systems,” Cicurel said. “As this conflict continues to escalate, it’s important that Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle, in both the House and the Senate, as well as President Biden, ensure that they rapidly replenish [Iron Dome’s] interceptors, as well as look to provide more funding, more cooperation, for air defense.”

Originally published in Algeimener.