Israeli anti-missile system becomes operational

The David's Sling misile defense system. Photo courtesy of JTA/Israel Ministry of Defense

Israel’s medium-to-long-range anti-missile system became operational on April 2 as tensions on the country’s northern and southern borders have heated up. The defense system is meant to intercept rockets fired from a range of 20 to 200 miles, including those fired from the Gaza Strip toward Tel Aviv.

“I will reiterate, that whoever wants to strike us will be beaten, and those who threaten our existence are putting their own lives at risk,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the official launching ceremony for the system, adding that defending the home front is of the “utmost importance.”

The system, called David’s Sling (which used to be called Magic Wand) joins the Iron Dome, which is designed to shoot down short-range rockets, such as those fired from the Gaza Strip at Jewish communities near the Gaza border, and the Arrow system, which intercepts long-range missiles of more than 300 miles. David’s Sling is designed to intercept tactical ballistic missiles, medium- to long-range rockets and cruise missiles.

“It’s always good when you have several layers of defense, as there is always some leakage [of missiles that get through],” said Shlomo Brom, a former head of the strategic planning division of the Israeli army. “This is an optimal system for dealing with medium-range missiles.”

Hezbollah has threatened to target a large ammonia storage tank in the northern Israeli city of Haifa. The Haifa District court has ordered the 12,000-ton tank shut, fearing it could cost thousands of lives if it were hit. Despite an April 1 deadline for closure, the site remains open. David’s Sling could hit a Hezbollah missile fired from Lebanon.

David’s Sling is a joint project with Israel’s Rafael Advance Defense Systems collaborating with Raytheon, which also produces the Patriot missile system. Some of the components were built by Elta, a subdivision of Israel Aerospace Industries that developed the system’s radar, and Elbit Systems, which developed the command and control mechanisms.

Vice Admiral James Syring, director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, attended the launching ceremony and Netanyahu addressed part of his speech to him.

“Admiral, today marks an important milestone in our joint development of cutting-edge missile defense technologies. We face, both of us, increasingly sophisticated threats, but we have repeatedly demonstrated that together we can meet these challenges a lot better than any one of us could do so alone,” he said.

“We’re white and blue, [but] red, white and blue, in this context, works even better.

“At a time when budgets are tight, please know that the government of Israel and the people of Israel are deeply grateful for the ongoing support by the United States of this crucial effort and the ongoing support of the United States for the general defense of Israel,” Netanyahu said.

The new system comes as President Donald Trump has said he wants to cut budgets for foreign aid.

“When it concerns declarations, President Trump is very supportive of Israel, but a basic element of the policy that he talked about during the campaign is that he wants to cut U.S. foreign aid expenses because America is first now,” Brom said. “If this project is continuing, it shows the U.S. wants to make an exception when it comes to Israel.”