Patriot Launchers prepare for a live fire exercise in a central base in Israel, Israel Mar. 19, 2018. (Sgt. 1st Class Jason Epperson, 10th Army Air and Missile Defense Command)

JERUSALEM — After 40 years in use to defend the nation, the Israel Defense Forces will soon say goodbye to their American-made Patriot air defense systems, the IDF announced Tuesday.

The move comes as Israel’s indigenous defenses, notably the Iron Dome, Arrow and David’s Sling systems, increasingly take on the role of home defender. It also comes days after Israel’s systems and aircraft, along with help from American, French, British and Jordanian militaries, managed to stymie an Iranian broadside of drones and missiles.

The Israel Air Force had first revealed the reduction in Israel’s use of the Patriot batteries in February when the air force said that “as part of the processes of operational efficiency in the Air Force, it was decided that several batteries of the ‘Yahlom’ (Patriot) system will go out of use and its personnel will undergo a several-week conversion to operate the Iron Dome defense system.” The Israeli Air Force said at the time that this would lead to the establishment of additional Iron Dome batteries.

What comes next for the venerable old system? It’s unclear if the batteries would simply go into storage.

Israel would need America’s permission to sell the US-made system, but they could also be sold back to the US and then sent elsewhere, Eran Lerman, former Israeli deputy national security advisor and now vice-president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security told Breaking Defense.

But amid a very public clamoring in Ukraine for exactly such systems, Lerman and other analysts said it was unlikely the Israeli systems would be sent to Kyiv.

“I doubt Israel would do it. It has refrained from all sales to date, not because its sympathies don’t lie with Ukraine, but out of fear of Russia’s ability to severely harm critical Israeli defense interests in Syria and especially in regard to Iran,” said Chuck Freilich, a former Israeli deputy national security advisor and senior fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies. “I see no reason why this would this change, particularly at a time when Israel is concerned about a severe escalation with Iran-backed Hezbollah.”

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Yaakov Katz, the author of Shadow Strike: Inside Israel’s Secret Mission to Eliminate Syrian Nuclear Power and a fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute, agreed. “Israel has held by a strict policy of not transferring weapons, including missile defense, to Ukraine. it is hard to see Israel changing that policy now and risking upsetting the Russians and giving them more of a reason to supply advanced weapons to Iran.”

40-Years In Service

The Patriot first arrived in Israel during the 1991 Gulf War to counter the Scud threat from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. The Israeli Patriots were upgraded in 2012, and they first downed an aerial threat in 2014, a drone from Gaza.

Since then the systems have had 19 interceptions, nine of them in the recent conflict, the IDF said in an article on April 30. The system was also used to down a Syrian warplane in 2018. The IDF said at the time this was the first interception of a Soviet-made SU-24 in the world.

The IDF says it is replacing the Patriot systems with more advanced systems, although it did not specify the systems to which it was referring. Israel operates a multi-layered integrated air defense array which includes the Iron Dome for short range threats, as well as David’s Sling and Arrow, for medium and exo-atmospheric threats.

The David’s Sling system, jointly developed by the US and Israel, can be used in Patriot batteries and is marketed as the Stunner or Skyceptor interceptor with Raytheon in the US and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems in Israel.

The Arrow, also developed with the US, is designed to defeat ballistic missile threats. The Arrow-2 and Arrow-3 have both seen success in the recent six-month war since Hamas launched an attack on Israel and Iranian-backed groups in the region began launching attacks on Israel.

In 2021 a Patriot battery was deployed near Eilat to confront threats from the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen. Today Israel has more air defenses in Eilat, including Israel’s naval C-Dome, which is on the country’s new four Sa’ar 6 corvettes. It was recently was used for the first time to intercept threats near Eilat. Ships nearby have Barak air defense also, and Israel is also expected to deploy a laser air defense system in 2025, although it will not be for long range threats.

“I have mixed feelings about the closure [of the Patriot batteries units]. As a fighter and officer I am very connected to it, professionally and even personally. … Every end is the beginning of something new,” an Israeli IDF officer who worked with the system said, according to an IDF statement about its retirement.