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Former Israel Air Force chief says Israel must invest in laser defense to confront aerial threats

Artist's rendering of a laser defense system shooting down drones (Photo: Ministry of Defense)

A retired IDF general who led the Israeli Air Force (IAF) during its successful 1981 mission to destroy Saddam Hussein's Osirak nuclear reactor near Baghdad in Iraq, said Israel needs enhanced aerial defense capabilities to counter the escalating threats from Iran and its regional terrorist proxies.

More than four decades after the Osirak operation, former IAF General David Ivry highlighted the importance of investing in laser aerial defense systems during a Tel Aviv University conference on Sunday.

Since the Hamas Oct. 7 attack on Israel, the terrorist forces of Hamas and Hezbollah have fired thousands of rockets and missiles toward Israel. On April 14, the Iranian regime fired over 300 suicide drones and missiles in an unprecedented attack against the Jewish state. Israel’s advanced multilayered aerial defense systems have successfully neutralized most of the incoming threats.

However, Ivry warned that Israel is relying too much on its current aerial defense systems such as the Iron Dome and Arrow 3 defense systems.

While admitting that the current system is efficient in military terms, Ivry argues that it is not a financially viable long-term solution because while the Iranian regime and its proxies are capable of launching inexpensive rockets and drones, Israel’s sophisticated aerial defense systems are very expensive to operate.

Military officials have estimated that it cost Israel about $1 billion to thwart Iran’s mega aerial attack last month. By contrast, it cost Tehran merely a fraction to initiate the aerial attack.

Ivry, who is now the president of Boeing Israel, urged Israel to adopt new strategies and embrace the much more cost-efficient laser-based aerial defense system.

Former IDF Chief Spokesman Brig.-Gen. (res.) Ran Kochav echoed similar sentiments, noting that Israel “needs to get ready for the next threat, for the next 30-40 years.”

“What new capabilities do we want? What technologies – whether lasers, hypersonic missiles, WMDs [weapons of mass destruction], drones, or mortars” that Israel needs to confront, he assessed.

In July 2021, American defense company Lockheed Martin signed a cooperation agreement with the Israeli defense firm Rafael Advanced Defense Systems concerning the development of a new laser-based aerial defense system, later known as the Iron Beam.

At the time, Tim Cahill, Lockheed Martin's vice president of Global Business Development, praised the Israeli military for its innovation

“We are honored to work with the Israeli government and industry to address this critical security need that will support Israel’s national security. Rafael is a world-class defense company, and we look forward to expanding our existing collaboration by leveraging our respective capabilities in high-energy laser systems to address this growing threat,” Cahill said.

In April 2022, the Israeli Defense Ministry announced successful tests of the Iron Beam system.

At the time, then-Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett confirmed the laser system had undergone successful tests.

“We have successfully completed a series of tests on our new “Iron Beam” laser air defense system. This may sound like science fiction, but it’s real,” Bennett stated.

“This is the world’s first energy-based weapons system, that has proven to actually work. The Iron Beam’s interceptions are silent, they’re invisible and they only cost around $3.50. We are turning the tables on terror,” Bennett added, noting the cost for each individual aerial defense interception. While the Iron Dome and Arrow 3 systems are very efficient, each missile costs tens of thousands of dollars.

In November 2023, a month after the Oct. 7 terror attack, the Israeli military industry estimated the Iron Beam would be partially operational in 2024. The growing missile and drone threat from Iran only underlines the need to speed up the implementation of an operational and cost-efficient laser-based aerial defense system.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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