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Israel said planning to show Biden laser defense system, seeking partnership

Jerusalem hopes to convince US president to invest in new Iron Beam rocket interceptor, according to report

The 'Iron Beam' laser-based air defense system is seen during a test in southern Israel, March 2022. (Defense Ministry)
The 'Iron Beam' laser-based air defense system is seen during a test in southern Israel, March 2022. (Defense Ministry)

Israel will reportedly present its new laser rocket defense system to US President Joe Biden when he visits next month.

On Monday, a senior US administration official briefing reporters on the president’s July trip to Israel said Biden would “discuss new innovations between our countries that use laser technologies to defeat missiles and other airborne threats.”

The Walla news site reported Thursday that Jerusalem hopes to partner with Washington on the project, including American investment in further development and deployment of the system.

The report said such cooperation could be part of a larger effort to form a joint defense partnership with regional allies against the threat of Iranian drones and missiles.

Plans for such an alliance were reported in March by Hebrew media outlets following an off-record briefing with Israeli Air Force officials.

The officials said Jerusalem may soon sign the prospective alliance with its Middle East partners, and the countries have also recently developed joint systems for detecting missile and drone threats.

According to reports, the opportunity for the airborne defense coalition followed normalization agreements between Israel and Arab countries, including the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, which are geographically closer to Iran.

US President Joe Biden listens as he meets virtually with infant formula manufacturers from the South Court Auditorium on the White House complex in Washington, June 1, 2022. (Susan Walsh/AP)

The ministry has been testing the laser-based defense system for several years, shooting down drones, unguided rockets and anti-tank guided missiles in a series of tests in March.

The ground-based laser system — dubbed Iron Beam — which is being developed with the Rafael weapons manufacturer, is not meant to replace the Iron Dome or Israel’s other air defense systems, but to supplement and complement them, shooting down smaller projectiles and leaving larger ones for the more robust missile-based batteries.

Hundreds of millions of shekels have been allocated to the final development stages and trial phase, in which the system will be placed on the border with the Gaza Strip. It is not clear when the initial deployment will happen.

According to the Defense Ministry, as long as there is a constant source of energy for the laser, there is no risk of ever running out of ammunition. Officials have hailed it as a potential “game-changer” in the battle against projectile attacks.

The downside of a laser system is that it does not function well in low visibility, including heavy cloud cover or other inclement weather. For that reason, the ministry intends to also mount the system on planes, which would help get around this limitation by putting the system above the clouds, though that is still a few more years off, ministry officials have said.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (left) is shown a new laser-based air-defense system at a Rafael weapons manufacturer complex in Israel, on May 31, 2022. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

The Lebanese Hezbollah terror group is believed to maintain an arsenal of some 130,000 rockets, missiles, and mortar shells, which the military believes would be used against Israel in a future war.

The two largest terror groups in the Gaza Strip, Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, are also each believed to possess thousands of rockets and mortar shells, even after firing upwards of 4,000 projectiles at Israel during last year’s 11-day war.

Israeli military officials have also said they have seen an increase in Iranian use of drone attacks in recent years, dubbing it Iran’s “UAV terror.”

Against these and other threats, Israel operates a multi-tiered air defense array, made up of the short-range Iron Dome, the medium-range David’s Sling, and the long-range Arrow and Patriot systems.

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