In his latest appeal for help from abroad, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has questioned Israel’s reluctance to sell its Iron Dome missile defence system to the besieged nation.
Israel has condemned the Russian invasion but has been wary of straining relations with Moscow, a powerbroker in neighbouring Syria where Israeli forces frequently attack pro-Iranian militia.
“Everybody knows that your missile defence systems are the best … and that you can definitely help our people, save the lives of Ukrainians, of Ukrainian Jews,” Mr Zelenskyy, who is Jewish himself, said while addressing the Israeli parliament by video link.
He mentioned Israel’s Iron Dome system, often used to intercept rockets fired by Palestinian militants in Gaza.
So how likely is it the Iron Dome will be deployed in Ukraine?
What is Israel’s Iron Dome?
Israel’s Iron Dome system targets incoming rockets, firing interceptor missiles to destroy them in the air within seconds of them being launched.
Once an enemy rocket has been launched, a radar system detects it and tracks it before a control system estimates the impact point. A portable missile launcher then fires to intercept and destroy the rocket.
Israel began developing the state-of-the-art technology in 2007, and the first battery was deployed in southern Israel in 2011.
Israel now has 10 batteries deployed across the country, each with three to four launchers that can fire 20 interceptor missiles.
The Iron Dome was expensive to develop. However, manufacturers say it is cost-effective because the system ignores rockets it determines will land in uninhabited areas.
Would the Iron Dome work in Ukraine?
John Blaxland, a professor of international security and intelligence studies at the Australian National University, says Iron Dome is effective, but deploying it in Ukraine would be complex.
“The Iron Dome has proven effective against fairly rudimentary rocketry and against Soviet-era missiles, so it’s been effective in the past and it is obviously something that Israel updates regularly,” Dr Blaxland says.
“It is highly likely that it would be effective if it was deployed at the right locations in sufficient quantity. So there’s a number of variables there.”
“It doesn’t have complete coverage of the Earth. You effectively have to place the Iron Dome system close to where you anticipate the rockets coming from.”
“When you’ve got a country as big as Ukraine, you may well be able to position them to defend Kyiv.
“But if you deploy them to somewhere like Mariupol, do you then risk them falling into Russian hands? And, by positioning them there, are they going to drive Russian initiatives elsewhere?
How likely is it to be deployed?
Dr Blaxland says even if the Iron Dome could be successful in Ukraine, it is unlikely Israel will give President Zelenskyy what he wants.
“It’s a very tough call for Israel, and a sad one, but I’m not optimistic that that’s going to happen,” Dr Blaxland says.
“There is an understandable reluctance in Israel to share with Ukraine because Israel is deeply worried about the prospect of Russian vengeance manifested through proxies in Syria,” Dr Blaxland says.
“This is the hard-nosed reality of it all. Israel is deeply worried that by providing Ukraine with this technology, Russia will then let slip its forces and its proxies and provide incentive for Hezbollah and Syrian anti-Israel groups to attack Israel and make life difficult for Israel.
Dr Blaxland says the United States’ Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system could be an alternative to the Iron Dome, but getting it deployed in Ukraine would be no less complex.
“It’s not the same as the Iron Dome but there is an overlap, there’s a complementarity to them, which the United States could possibly deploy,” he says.
“But the problem once again [would be] you’ve got the US seen to be confronting Russia in a way that would provide Putin with an excuse for escalating the conflict even further and taking it beyond the boundaries of Ukraine.”
“The Israelis are thinking longer term about what happens after the conflict and what the repercussions might be and what Russia might be prepared to do to make life difficult for Israel.”