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Buy, America: Make Iron Dome a Joint U.S.-Israel System

by Gabriel Scheinmann
JINSA Visiting Fellow

After initially omitting funding for Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system from its budget request, the Obama administration is now backing Congressional efforts to vastly increase funding for the successful system. The House Armed Services Strategic Forces subcommittee has voted to allocate $680 million, which would allow Israel to cover the entire country against the missile threat from Gaza, the Sinai, and from southern Lebanon. However, instead of an additional booster to speed up national deployment-the U.S. invested an initial $205 million two years ago-Congress and the Administration should go one step further, as a recent news report has suggested, and transform Iron Dome into a jointly owned and managed U.S.-Israeli defense system. Doing so would be a bold and mutually beneficial symbol of the closeness and importance of the U.S.-Israel strategic alliance.

Joint U.S.-Israel ownership of such a game-changing technology would have multiple useful effects. For Israel, it would signal American resolve in Israel's battles against Iranian proxies Hamas and Hezbollah. The United States would be making a direct contribution to battling terrorist groups who have also targeted Americans. While the international community continues to characterize Israeli reactions to the launching of nearly 13,000 Hamas rockets and mortars as using a hammer to swat mosquitoes, partial U.S. ownership would demonstrate American solidarity with Israel against its enemies. Moreover, as opposed to repeated injections of aid, which are subject to the annual vagaries of the U.S. budget process, shared ownership would ensure a long-term American commitment to the program.

Also, given Iron Dome's stunning 80% success rate, Washington is better placed to market, export, and deploy the system in other potential areas of need around the world, such as large U.S. bases in the Middle East and Korea or to NATO forces in Afghanistan or the South Korean military. Rafael, Iron Dome's Israeli manufacturer, has already signed an agreement with Raytheon to market Iron Dome worldwide, but co-American ownership would bring with it greater leveraging power when negotiating with the Pentagon or other defense ministries. For perspective, Rafael's sales last year were under $2 billion, about 8% of Raytheon's nearly $25 billion.

Furthermore, such an investment might go some way toward easing U.S. diplomacy in international forums. Typically, as Israel preempts or reacts to rocket fire, the international community roundly criticizes it. Jerusalem is still scarred by the 2009 United Nations Human Right Council Goldstone Report, which accused Israel of war crimes during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, despite U.S. condemnation of the report and the lead author's recantation of the charges. With Iron Dome offering a degree of protection to at-risk Israeli communities, Israel's need to undertake kinetic action would be greatly reduced, thus vastly diminishing media coverage and international attention. Through such a long-term, massive U.S. investment in the anti-missile system, Washington in one swoop will help save Israeli lives and lessen its own headaches at the UN.

There are successful precedents to the U.S. buying into the Iron Dome program. The United States and Israel already co-own and co-manage several missile defense systems: David's Sling, a short-range anti-missile system developed by Raytheon and Rafael, and the Arrow Systems, two medium- and long-range anti-ballistic missile systems co-owned by Boeing and Israel Aerospace Industries. These dually-owned programs are key components to the U.S.-Israel strategic alliance. Past jointly owned and managed programs also include the Tactical High Energy Laser (THEL), a precursor to Iron Dome ultimately shelved in 2005.

The United States has supported Israeli security for more than three decades. In that time, Israel has transitioned from a consumer to a producer of defense systems. Israeli military innovation, from technologies developed to operational lessons, has been immensely useful to the United States, both during the Cold War and in fighting insurgencies and terrorism. Instead of a second booster shot of aid to Iron Dome, Congress and the Administration should be encouraging joint ownership of the system. By becoming a joint partner in prominent, profitable, and effective Israeli military innovations, Washington would be affirming its long-term commitment to Israeli security while using Israeli expertise to make America more secure as well.

Gabriel Max Scheinmann, JINSA Visiting Fellow, is a Ph.D. candidate in Government at Georgetown University, focusing on international security, alliance architecture, and grand strategy. His publications have been featured in the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and the Hudson Institute-New York.

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