Patriot air defenses to be mothballed after decades of mostly gathering dust

Within two months, Air Force will replace aging US-made interceptor with more advanced Israeli systems, including Iron Dome

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

File: A Patriot battery is seen stationed in northern Israel, August 2, 2018. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)
File: A Patriot battery is seen stationed in northern Israel, August 2, 2018. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

The Israeli Air Force is set to bid farewell to its aging Patriot missile defense systems in the coming months, replacing the batteries with more advanced air defenses, the military said Tuesday.

In February, the IAF said it was in the process of closing several Patriot batteries, and its staff would be trained to operate the Iron Dome instead.

According to an article published Tuesday on the Israeli military’s website, the Patriot array — known in the IAF as Yahalom, Hebrew for “diamond” — will be deactivated for good within two months.

“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, which operates the Patriot.

US-operated Patriot missile batteries were deployed successfully against some Scud missiles fired from Iraq at Israel during the 1991 Gulf War.

The US-made system officially entered Israeli service that same year, but only made its first interception in 2014, downing a Hamas drone launched from the Gaza Strip.

An American Patriot missile defense system that was deployed in Israel in response to a series of Scud missile attacks by Iraq during the 1991 First Gulf War. (Noam Wind/Defense Ministry Archive)

Over the following decade, the system, designed to shoot down aircraft, intercepted only some 10 targets, according to the military, including Syrian fighter jets that breached Israeli airspace in 2014 and 2018.

The interceptor has not always stood up to the challenge, failing to shoot down numerous targets over the years, infamously during the Gulf War.

Amid the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip, the Patriot has been used a handful of times, although in most of the cases, interceptors were launched due to false identifications.

The system will now be replaced with more advanced air defense systems, the IAF said.

“We realized that we need to move forward and improve our defense methods. The innovations in the [air defense] array bring a better operational and maintenance response,” the battalion commander said.

The trail left in the sky by a Patriot missile, as seen in the northern Israeli city of Safed, October 12, 2023. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The lowest layer of Israel’s multi-tiered air defense system is the short-range Iron Dome, which has downed tens of thousands of rockets, mortars, and drones launched at Israel since 2011.

The middle tier is the David’s Sling system, which is designed to shoot down medium-range projectiles.

The longest-range systems are the Arrow, designed to intercept large ballistic missiles.

The announcement comes two weeks after Israel’s air defense array was put to its largest-ever test with the launch of hundreds of missiles and drones from Iran, almost all of which were downed with the help of the US, Jordan, the UK, and France.

It is unclear what will happen with the Patriot batteries, which are highly sought by Ukraine as it seeks to defend its skies against Russian missiles.

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