military moment

Israel’s superior defense technology gives country a badly needed boost

Israel’s air defense operation against Iran’s unprecedented attack will go down in military history as one of the most successful ever carried out, analysts tell Jewish Insider

Tomer Neuberg/AP

Israeli Iron Dome air defense system launches to intercept missiles fired from Iran, in central Israel, Sunday, April 14, 2024.

For the past six months, following the surprise and shock of Hamas’ Oct.7 brutal terror attacks, Israelis’ faith in the army has been severely shaken. But faith in the country’s defensive capabilities was restored — in stunning fashion — in the early hours of Sunday morning when Iran carried out an unprecedented attack, firing some 350 suicide drones, rockets and missiles at the Jewish state.

Over the course of several hours, Israel’s various state-of-the art missile-defense systems, alongside fighter jets and even a new high-tech spy plane, were propelled into action and, for the first time, the multiple levels of Israel’s carefully designed defense system worked together to thwart the threat of the swarm of deadly projectiles carrying some 60 tons of warheads and explosives combined.

According to the IDF’s assessment, close to 99% of the missiles were struck down even before reaching Israel’s borders.

“It was an air-defense operation that will go down in military history as one of the most successful ever carried out,” Lt. Col. (ret.) Jonathan Conricus, a senior fellow at the Washington D.C.-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Jewish Insider. “The Iranians tried to trick and outsmart our defenses, but they were not able to.”

Conricus, who previously served as the IDF’s spokesman for the international media, called the operation, which included broad cooperation with American, British and French militaries, as well as forces and defense systems from regional countries under the umbrella of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), “spectacular in terms of coordination and deconfliction.”

“What I was most impressed with was the ability to intercept [missiles] far from Israel’s borders and deconflict the air space, which is a very big challenge when there are different countries deploying aircraft and missile-defense systems,” he said.  

For many years, the Israeli military did not prioritize its air-defense program as the threats facing Israel following its creation in 1948 came mostly from the ground – from state and non-state actors either within Israel or just beyond on its borders. That changed in the early 1990s, when Iraq, under Saddam Hussein, attacked Israel by firing Scud missiles over the country’s military defense perimeter and hitting civilian targets.

“Our enemies understood that they were not going to beat Israel on the battlefield and realized that the best way of inflicting damage – political, military psychological – against Israel would be to fire above our defenses,” explained Conricus.

He said that during the 1991 Gulf War, “the civilian rear became the front of the battle and since then, if you look at all of our enemies, they have invested very heavily in being able to fire from afar, above the battlefield and hit Israeli civilian targets with varying levels of precision.”

Over the past three decades, Israel has raced to develop its aerial-defense platforms, creating a multilayered system that features three different types of missile interceptor systems and fighter jets, including the $1 billion Oron, which uses thousands of advanced AI sensors reportedly with the ability to scan vast swaths of territory and gather large amounts of information at a considerable distance from multiple targets.

While the army would not confirm whether the Oron, which Israel unveiled at last year’s Paris Air Show, was deployed during Sunday’s operation, some media reported that it – and similar planes – were present, flying at high altitude and providing vital information to the defense batteries and fighter pilots on the incoming UAVs, rockets, and missiles.

The defense systems that were deployed – and which the IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi has commended for their efforts – included the long-utilized Iron Dome, which offers protection against drones and short-range surface-to-surface rockets; David’s Sling, which can intercept short-to-medium and medium-to-long-range surface-to-surface missiles fired from 100 km to 200 km (62 to 124 miles) away; and the Arrow-2 and Arrow-3 systems, which were developed with the Iranian threat in mind and can intercept longer-range ballistic missiles outside the earth’s atmosphere.

“It’s a multilayered defense system,” said Maj. Gen. (ret.) Nimrod Sheffer, a former air force deputy commander and the former CEO of Israel Aerospace Industries, a state-owned company that was involved in developing and producing the Arrow system.

He explained that since the mid-1980s, Israel has been developing those various systems, with the most sophisticated layer being “the Arrow family of missiles, which aim to defend Israel against long-range ballistic missiles,” followed by David’s Sling and the Iron Dome.

Each system, Sheffer told JI, has evolved and each has several different variations. Over the years, the systems have been tested both operationally and in the field, most notably the Iron Dome, which has intercepted thousands of rockets fired by Hamas from Gaza and Hezbollah from Lebanon.

“In the current conflict, we also saw the Arrow system and the David Sling system working against threats coming mainly from the south, from the Houthis in Yemen, but also from Hezbollah in the north,” he said. “We saw that each one worked very well as a stand-alone system.”

Sheffer said that the Iranian attack brought together all the systems to create a “system of systems,” and that it worked better than he ever expected.

“When I hear the IDF Spokesman Daniel Hagari saying that 99% of the threats were intercepted on the way and never hit any target, that is an unprecedented number,” he said, adding, “It is something that none of us could have ever dreamt about – not even me, despite knowing the technology very well as the CEO of Israel Aerospace Industries.”

Sheffer also noted that the success of Sunday’s defensive operation — which the army has named “Iron Shield” – was not only due to the innovative and effective intercepting systems that he had a hand in developing, but also due to the “command and control, which was orchestrated together perfectly.”

As for what might come next, Sheffer said that each generation of the system is improved, building on  the previous round of fighting.

“It’s a defensive war game,” he said. “You develop something, then your enemy develops the answer, then you develop something that is a little bit better and gives a good answer to the enemy’s answer – this [is the] cycle that you always find yourself in.”

According to a report this week in Reuters, Israel’s interception systems cost between tens of thousands and millions of dollars to shoot down incoming threats. Israel is developing a laser-based system to neutralize enemy rockets and drones at an estimated cost of just $2 per interception.

Subscribe now to
the Daily Kickoff

The politics and business news you need to stay up to date, delivered each morning in a must-read newsletter.