Pledges to Restore Israel’s Defenses Must Go Beyond the Iron Dome
President Joe Biden’s pledge, reiterated by some Republican senators, to replenish Israel’s Iron Dome interceptors following the recent Gaza war is most welcome. But they should go further. Another class of weapons — precision-guided munitions (PGMs) — also were vital in the latest fighting, and they will prove even more important in confronting the far greater dangers facing Israel: a nuclear Iran and the growing prospect of a major war to prevent it.
Biden’s efforts to reenter the deeply flawed 2015 Iran nuclear deal will facilitate a nuclear Iran, which Israel is determined to prevent at all costs, thereby increasing the likelihood of a considerable war between Israel and Iran and Iran-backed forces.
The latest Gaza war is a small portent to what awaits Israel in such a war. In 11 days, Gazan terrorists, supported by Iran, fired nearly as many rockets as in 2014’s entire 50-day Israel-Gaza war. Yet, Israel, without using ground forces as in 2014, accurately targeted and degraded the Hamas threat, enabling a much quicker ceasefire with far fewer casualties on either side than in 2014. Israeli sources told us this required Israel to expend roughly a couple thousand PGMs.
Yet Hezbollah in Lebanon — Iran’s strongest regional proxy that it will deploy in case of a serious conflict with Israel — can fire nearly as many projectiles in 24 hours as Hamas launched in 11 days, and its 130,000 rockets and missiles are much more powerful, long-range, and precise than the 4,000 unguided Gazan rockets fired last month.
Hezbollah can overwhelm Israel’s vaunted multi-layered air defense network, not just the Iron Dome, compelling Israel immediately to launch counteroffensives to destroy Hezbollah’s arsenal with as many airstrikes in the first 48 hours as in the entire 34-day Lebanon war of 2006. This means high PGM usage, especially since Hezbollah, like Hamas, violates international law by placing weapons among civilians.
A likely multi-front war, involving Iran and proxies in Syria, Iraq, Gaza and possibly Yemen, would stretch Israeli capabilities even further.
So, Washington must go beyond recent bipartisan verbal commitments to replenish Iron Dome and provide Israel with PGMs to help deter and otherwise mitigate a disastrous conflict with Iran and its proxies.
The Biden administration recently approved a regularly scheduled PGM sale to Israel of $735 million, primarily small diameter bombs and joint direct attack munition, which convert unguided bombs into precision weapons. But Israel needed a great deal more and now needs even more following the latest Gaza conflict.
The United States should expedite provision of PGM’s to Israel. One way to do that is through the Special Defense Acquisition Fund, whereby the Pentagon finances initial PGM purchases for eventual sale to Israel. This would give U.S. defense companies a head-start on production and would shorten delivery times, with Israel still paying for the weapons upon delivery.
Secondly, the Pentagon can provide Israel access to PGM’s by restocking the War Reserve Stockpile Ammunition-Israel (WRSA-I). This Israel-based depot of U.S.-made ammunition and supplies is intended as a readily accessible emergency reserve for Israel. Since it was established in the 1980s, American officials have underscored how WRSA-I helps ensure Israel’s ability to defend itself at acceptable cost, known in U.S. law as Israel’s qualitative military edge. However, WRSA-I hasn’t been updated for over ten years, and senior Israeli military planners consider its contents obsolete.
As the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA) explained in a report last year, Washington should store tens of thousands of PGMs in WRSA-I, managed at Israel’s expense. This could be accomplished partly by moving U.S. stocks from elsewhere in the region to the more secure Israeli location. Israel, with American approval, could access these PGMs in an emergency, avoiding the damaging wartime U.S. resupply delays, such as during the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
With Israel now assigned to U.S. Central Command, which covers the Middle East, WRSA-I could be reconceived to also support U.S. regional operations that support our Arab partners. Indeed, stocking WRSA-I with PGMs enables the United States to support Israel while also retaining ownership of these vital weapons for American military operations and contingencies. Restocking WRSA-I could become even more important to the United States as it retrenches from the region.
The latest National Defense Authorization Act authorizes precisely such “transfer to Israel precision-guided munitions from reserve stocks, including the War Reserve Stockpile for Allies-Israel.”
Now, Congress should go further with a resolution pressing the Biden administration to replenish WRSA-I with tens of thousands of PGMs, or, even better, by allocating money toward that end.
These options are not exhaustive, yet they can help ensure Israel’s crucial PGM stocks do not become exhausted, precisely when they are needed to reduce the risks of yet another, far bigger Middle East conflict.
Michael Makovsky is president and CEO of the Jewish Institute for National Security of America and a former Pentagon official. Gen. (ret.) Charles Wald, former deputy commander of U.S. European Command, is a distinguished fellow at JINSA’s Gemunder Center for Defense and Strategy.
Originally published in The Hill