Thursday, October 15, 2015

GCC to buy Iron Dome?

Two days ago Sky News reported that the GCC has plans to buy the Israeli defense system the Iron Dome in addition to other missile defense systems including David's Sling and Arrow to protect against Iran. These reports are interesting, yet misleading; Iron Dome protects against a very narrow band of threats, and Iran (not including proxies) does not provide this type of threat towards any Gulf state except perhaps Kuwait.

The story emphasizes the Iron Dome (in the headline as well as the text), while downplaying the other systems potentially for sale. This is probably due to a multitude of reasons including the name recognition; Iron Dome is widely credited with successfully intercepting hundreds of rockets from Gaza and maintaining a high success rate while doing so. There are those who doubt the efficacy, but as I've pointed out here and here (and have another piece in the works), these accusations are baseless and fraudulent. The other systems are known to be less successful, but given the higher degree of difficulty in intercepting a much faster moving threat this is logical.

The Iron Dome's maximum range was initially stated to be around 70 kilometers (just about the distance from Gaza to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem), though this is believed to be a slight underestimate and it may be as high as 100 km. Iran (with a few exceptions) is more than 70 km away from the GCC states, therefore Iron Dome would not be tasked with intercepting any potential Iranian rockets and missiles. The only locations that are within 70 km are the very tip of the UAE, and parts of Kuwait.
Light blue=70 km buffer
Purple=100 km buffer
It is clear that the Iron Dome with a few exceptions has absolutely not business defending against Iranian weapons; even if Iran attacked from the coast of Iran, almost all GCC territory is far beyond 70 or even 100 km. The only way for 'Iran' to attack from inside a defensible range would be for them to attack from the sea, or for them to have somehow infiltrated borders elsewhere. 

Weapons have been provided to the Houthis, and these weapons have been used to attack Saudi Arabia, but as the map below shows, the range factor makes the possible locations which 'Iran' could attack from quite limited. Additionally, Saudi already has the Patriot missile defense system which it has used against Houthi SCUDs. A deal to upgrade the system from PAC-2 to PAC-3 was just finalized. Iron Dome interceptors are cheaper than Patriot missiles by approximately a factor of 10, but when considering the number of batteries needed to defend the entire border area this is infeasible.

Light blue=70 km buffer
Purple=100 km buffer

The other way that Iran could attack a GCC country with extremely short-range rockets or missiles would be for them to launch these from the Persian Gulf. This is unrealistic because Iran's navy is set up to be asymmetrical and the 'asymmetrical' method of attacking with rockets would be to set up a rocket on a small speedboat; something which isn't going to happen for a number of reasons. Lastly even if 'Iran' was able to infiltrate a country and attack from within, the Iron Dome has had trouble with smaller mortars and wouldn't be able to defend against them. Larger rockets would be incredibly difficult to smuggle in to a country, though Iran could potentially arm terror groups this way. This wouldn't technically be an 'Iranian' attack. It is unclear if by 'Iran', Sky's source was also including proxies. 

Israel spent a lot of money on the development and production of this system, and they would love to recoup some of the expenditures. Potential sales to Asian countries (India, South Korea and Singapore) have fallen through or been false rumors. There remain a handful of countries that could use the system, though they are few and far between. These include Poland, Ukraine, Taiwan, Afghanistan, Iraq and the 3 countries previously mentioned. Iraq and Afghanistan would be under US supervision and both parties are hesitant to place the sensitive system in a location so vulnerable.

The United States gives a lot of aid to various countries, often with the stipulation that this money MUST be spent with US defense manufacturers. Raytheon is now producing Iron Dome missiles in this fashion. It is possible that the money spent on Iron Dome by GCC states would be from the US. A more likely scenario would be that the Iron Dome was included as some sort of package deal with the longer range and therefore more useful defense systems (David's Sling and Arrow).

I myself believe that this is not an accurate story and that this is disinformation spread for a political or economic agenda. It makes almost no sense for the GCC to buy the Iron Dome, even for the psychological purpose of making their citizens feel more safe. It is possible that this will be sold no matter, but I find it highly doubtful. 

Bilal Saab from the Atlantic Council's Scowcroft Center agrees with me, the reports of GCC attempting to buy Iron Dome are 'total BS' 

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