The Israel Defense Forces is working to significantly boost its air defenses, particularly in northern Israel, in light of the growing threat of Iranian-made and Iranian-designed drones that have flooded into the Middle East in recent years, The Times of Israel has learned.
Within two years, the IDF intends to have a full, permanent defensive coverage in place over the airspace of northern Israel, with plans to eventually expand this to the entire country. Currently, the Israeli Air Force, which is tasked with defending the nation’s skies, has a number of fixed air defense systems in various parts of the country, which are supplemented by mobile batteries in times of heightened tensions or when attacks are expected.
In addition to the threats that Israel’s air defenses have faced in the past — rocket and missile fire, enemy aircraft — the IDF is now increasingly forced to contend with large and small unmanned aerial vehicles. Once the domain of nation-states, drone technology has become increasingly available to terrorist groups.
Countering drone attacks is particularly difficult as the UAVs are more difficult to detect than comparatively larger manned aircraft, and fly at lower altitudes and with less predictable flight patterns than rockets.
Israeli officials point to the devastating 2019 attack by Iran on Saudi Arabia’s Aramco oil facility, which was conducted with both drones and cruise missiles, as a wake-up call to the severity of the threat posed by these weapons.
“It was a sophisticated attack that managed to evade both US and Saudi defenses… Anyone who says that it can’t happen to us isn’t a professional,” Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva, now the head of Military Intelligence, said at the time.
In the two years since the Aramco attack, this threat has only grown, as Iran has exported drones to its Houthi allies in Yemen, to proxies in Syria and Iraq, and to the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon — the main military threat facing the IDF — as well as supplying designs for UAVs to Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror groups in the Gaza Strip. Some of these drones have ranges of thousands of kilometers and others have stealth capabilities, some of which Iran has stolen from American models.
Last month, Defense Minister Benny Gantz revealed the location of an Iranian airbase that he said was used to train Tehran’s regional proxies to operate advanced drones.