Eyeing Moscow, Finland to purchase Israeli David’s Sling anti-missile system

Deal worth $344 million announced a day after Nordic country joins NATO, dramatically expanding the military alliance’s border with Russia

Interception tests of the David's Sling Aerial Defense System on March 19, 2019. (Defense Ministry)
Interception tests of the David's Sling Aerial Defense System on March 19, 2019. (Defense Ministry)

Finland said Wednesday that it will purchase Israel’s David’s Sling missile defense system in an initial deal worth some 316 million euros ($344 million,) in an announcement made the day after it joined the NATO military alliance.

“The David’s Sling system will extend the operational range of Finland’s ground-based air defense capabilities significantly,” the statement said.

“This acquisition will create a new capability for the Finnish Defence Forces to intercept targets at high altitude. At the same time we are continuing the ambitious and long-term development of Finland’s defense capability in a new security environment,” said Minister of Defence Antti Kaikkonen.

David’s Sling, produced by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, is a capable of intercepting rockets and missiles at a range of 40-300 kilometers (25-185 miles). The statement said that Finland’s minimum flight altitude requirement of the system was set at 15,000 meters. (9.3 miles.)

David’s Sling, also known as the Magic Wand, has been operational in Israel since 2017 and makes up the middle tier of Israel’s multi-layer missile defense capabilities, which also included the short-range Iron Dome and a top level of  Arrow 2 and Arrow 3 systems, which are intended to engage long-range ballistic missiles.

This marks the first foreign sale of the system.

David’s Sling has also been a key request to Israel from Ukraine, which has been battered by Russian missiles and drones, although Israel has balked at supplying the system so far.

A picture taken on April 2, 2017, shows Israel’s David’s Sling missile defence system during a ceremony to announce its operational capacity at the Hatzor Air Force base. / AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ

The Finish announcement came the day after Helsinki joined the NATO military alliance, dealing a major blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Nordic country’s membership doubles Russia’s border with the world’s biggest security alliance. Finland had adopted neutrality after its defeat by the Soviets in World War II, but its leaders signaled they wanted to join NATO after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine sent a shiver of fear through its neighbors.

“The era of nonalignment in our history has come to an end -– a new era begins,” President Sauli Niinistö said before his country’s blue-and-white flag was raised outside NATO headquarters.

Finland noted that as David’s Sling was developed in cooperation with the US, the sale would require a sales release by the US Government.

It also said that the procurement contract will include a separate part between the Israel Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Defense of Finland to ensure the security of supply of the system.

A David’s Sling interceptor missile hits its target during a test of the system, in a photo released by the Defense Ministry on December 21, 2015. (Courtesy)

“The arrangement will ensure the availability of critical system components in all security situations,” the statement said.

The agreement also includes an option for a second purchase valued at 216 million euros ($235 million.)

The US was unlikely to stand in the way of the purchase.

In praising Finland’s membership, US President Joe Biden noted it came on the 74th anniversary of the signing of NATO’s founding treaty on April 4, 1949.

“When Putin launched his brutal war of aggression against the people of Ukraine, he thought he could divide Europe and NATO. He was wrong,” Biden said in a statement. “Today, we are more united than ever. And together — strengthened by our newest ally, Finland — we will continue to preserve transatlantic security, defend every inch of NATO territory, and meet any and all challenges we face.”

The move is a strategic and political setback for Putin, who has long complained about NATO’s expansion toward Russia and partly used that as a justification for the invasion.

Israel resisted providing weapons to Ukraine in the first year of  Russia’s invasion. One major reason for Israel’s hesitance appears to be its strategic need to maintain freedom of operations in Syria, where Russian forces largely control the airspace.

However, it was recently reported that Israel approved the sale of an electronic warfare system with a range of some 40 kilometers (25 miles) that could be used to defend against drone attacks.



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