Could Ukraine Get Israel’s Mothballed Patriot Air Defense Batteries?

As Ukraine sits in dire need of air defenses, Israel will reportedly place all its Patriot systems into storage over the next two months.

byHoward Altman|
Israel is mothballing its Patriot air defense systems, will Ukraine get them?
ISRAEL – APRIL 12: In this photograph provided by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), a Patriot missile is fired from a desert launch site April 12, 2005 in southern Israel. The launch took place during the annual joint Israeli army and United States Juniper Cobra air defense military exercise. (Photo by IDF via Getty Images). (Photo by IDF via Getty Images)


Israel's move to mothball its Patriot air defense systems could open up an opportunity for the U.S. to acquire them and transfer them to Ukraine, which is desperate for additional means of protecting its skies against constant Russian missile and drone barrages. Whether Israel is willing to let them go, however, is another question entirely.

“We are currently in the process of reducing the [number of] batteries until the entire system is closed,” said the head of the Aerial Defense Array’s 138th Battalion, according to the Times of Israel. That unit operates the Patriot. “According to an article published today on the Israeli military website, the Patriot array — known in the IAF as Yahalom, Hebrew for ‘diamond’ — will be shuttered for good within two months.”

The aging Patriots are being replaced by “more advanced air defense systems,” the publication reported, adding that the troops that staffed them will begin training on Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system. Israel's Patriots, which made their first combat interceptions in 2014, have become somewhat redundant amid Israel's more modern integrated air defense system (IADS). That primarily includes Arrow for advanced ballistic missile defense and David’s Sling as the intermediate tier, in addition to the aforementioned Iron Dome for the lower tier. Israel also has fighter aircraft, ships armed with Barak SAMs and the seagoing Iron Dome variant, as well as man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) and Iron Beam, a trailer-mounted laser air defense system used to destroy targets including rockets, mortars, and drones. Israel's integrated air defense system is arguably the most advanced on the planet, and was recently stress tested unlike anything we have seen before. You can read all about it and the components that make it up in this past feature.

Patriots were first used in Israel during the first Gulf War in 1991, when systems operated by the U.S. military deployed against Iraqi Scud missiles.

The IDF has been operating the PAC-2 GEM-T version of the Patriot, with eight batteries reportedly deployed. In addition to those provided by the U.S., Israel reportedly also received four from Germany in 2015.

From our deep dive into Israel’s highly sophisticated integrated air defense system (IADS):

“The GEM-T designation refers to Guidance Enhanced Missile — Tactical. As we have explained in the past, the GEM subvariants are produced by upgrading older MIM-104C and D missiles to the E configuration. Converted MIM-104Ds were given additional upgrades to improve performance against tactical ballistic missiles, hence the GEM-T designation. As for the MIM-104E configuration, this features a completely new front section with upgrades that give both sub-types improved accuracy and overall performance. These interceptors feature various reliability updates, as well."

The IDF is mothballing its Patriot air defense systems, like this one seen on the border with Lebanon. (Photo by JALAA MAREY/AFP via Getty Images)

"Patriots can only be called air defense systems if they work and save lives rather than standing immobile somewhere in storage bases,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a recent plea on Twitter after another series of Russian attacks on civilian targets. “The democratic world has the strength to defeat Russian terror. It should not be afraid of its own power and instead work to practically protect life. 'Patriots' need to be in Ukrainian hands right now.”

The Times of Israel story does not say what will happen with the Patriot batteries once they are in storage. We've reached out to the IDF and Israeli Defense Ministry to find out more. The IDF would not provide comment. We also contacted U.S. Central Command and Air Forces Central Command to see if the U.S. military has been read into this decision and if they have any knowledge of what might become of the stored Patriots. In addition, we inquired with the Ukrainian Air Force and Defense Intelligence Directorate to see if they have been approached about Israel's Patriots.

A former commander of the 10th U.S. Army Air and Missile Defense, Command Commander who was responsible for supporting the defense of Israel against air and missile attacks, suggested to The War Zone that the U.S. or another nation could obtain them and ship them to Ukraine.

"I am not surprised [that the Israeli Patriots are being mothballed] due to their age and the more capable (and modern) David’s Sling, said David Shank, referring to the mid-tier hit-to-kill system which achieved its first operational interception against a rocket launched from the Gaza Strip last year.

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"I think the prudent move is Israel selling these to a third party and then they end up in Ukraine," said Shank.  "I would not be surprised if the U.S., Germany, Poland or the Netherlands would ask for the systems and/or interceptors."

Ukraine has used the Patriots it has received from the U.S., Germany and the Netherlands to great effect, including downing Russian aircraft over their home country last year.

Ukraine has also asked Greece and Spain for Patriot systems, neither of which has yet agreed. So far Israel has declined to provide direct aid to Ukraine. It is unknown whether it would agree to offer indirect aid via a third country purchase of the Patriot systems it is placing in storage.

Ukraine has at least three Patriot batteries. Obtaining all eight of Israel's would nearly triple its arsenal.

For Zelensky, additional Patriots can't come soon enough.

On Saturday, he spoke with U.S. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) about the "urgent need to strengthen Ukraine's air defense with 'Patriot' systems in order to protect Ukrainian cities and communities, as well as the economy and critical infrastructure, from Russian air terror."

Whether the U.S. can pressure Israel to provide the Patriots to Ukraine remains to be seen.

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