Will US deploy Iron Dome to protect bases in the Gulf?

Will US deploy Iron Dome to protect bases in the Gulf?

In early January Israel completed delivery of a second Iron Dome Defense System battery to the to US Army. The deal goes back several years and is a major step for Israeli defense cooperation with the United States and also a major step for Israel’s Rafael Defense Systems which developed the Iron Dome and is producing it in the US with America’s Raytheon. 

At the time Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that he was confident “the system will assist the US Army in protecting American troops from ballistic and airborne threats as well as from developing threats in the areas where US troops are deployed on various missions.” The deal has been done with the Israeli Missile Defense Organization in the Directorate of Defense Research and Development (DDR&D), of the Israel Ministry of Defense. 

 A report on Sunday morning at Haaretz said Israel “allows US to deploy Iron Dome missile defense in the Gulf.” This was always a possibility for the system given that the US has bases festooned throughout the Gulf. However it was a sensitive issue. The Abraham Accords means that Israel now has peace deals with Bahrain and the UAE. Israeli defense companies are expected to take part for the first time at IDEX, a major defense confab, in Abu Dhabi in February. However the key issues for Israel in this new world are export licenses and agreement by the Ministry of Defense and Missile Defense Organization. 

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However nothing seems to preclude the US using their two batteries on bases in the Gulf. The question is whether two batteries are sufficient to cover the sensitive installations there. The US already has other defense systems such as Patriots and C-RAM and the Light Marine Air Defense Integrated System as well as microwave weapons that the US has been working on. One of these is called THOR. In May last year the US tested a laser weapon on board a ship that is supposed to be able to defeat drones, and probably missiles as well.  

However the US hodge-podge of existing and experimental air defense is not that well suited to the mission at hand: Protecting areas against Iranian asymmetric drone and missile threats. Iran lifted the veil on these threats in September 2019 when it used 25 cruise missiles and drones to strike at Abqaiq in Saudi Arabia. It is believed the drones flew over Kuwait or Iraq to get around behind the radar and defenses at Abqaiq. Iran has sent drones to Yemen to be used for attacks and Yemen’s Houthis have developed their own. Iraqi militias also have used drones to threaten Saudi Arabia.

The US is concerned about Iranian threats because Iran can use them to blackmail the US. Iran wants a new nuclear deal with Washington but is not afraid to use threats to get it. Iran has mined ships in the Gulf of Oman and recently fired long range ballistic missiles that fell within 100 miles of a US carrier.  

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The Haaretz report says that the US is expected to deploy Iron Dome to the Gulf. The report says the US received approval from Israel “behind closed doors.” However there are questions about how many batteries could be needed or deployed. The development of the system through the Rafael agreement with Raytheon points the way for much larger scale production. However it’s not clear how many batteries could or would be built a year and how many the US would assess that it needs in the Gulf. It is clear that it would be more sensitive to put the system in countries Israel has no relations with, such as Kuwait or Qatar.

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The system would be a game changer for the Gulf region because it would neutralize Iran’s threats and prevent Iran and its militias from blackmailing countries with these types of threats. For instance the Houthis have used drones to attack an installation near the UAE in 2019. Back in 2018 there were even reports that the Houthis could target the UAE itself. Iron Dome has proven successful for a decade at dealing with a variety of threats. In Israel it is integrated into a multi-layered defense system that is integrated with David’s Sling and Arrow and Israeli radar. The US would need to integrate it with its existing systems, such as Patriot batteries that more nearly mirror the David’s Sling in their place in an integrated system.  

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