WASHINGTON — Despite widespread global interest and reputed export sales to countries from East Asia to the Arabian Gulf, Israel's Iron Dome intercepting system has not yet been sold to a single customer, according to government and industry sources.
That's because Israel agreed — in response to generous production funding assistance from Washington — not to export the celebrity system without express US third-country export permission.
"It has not yet sold," Mishel Ben Baruch, director of exports and defense cooperation at Israel's Ministry of Defense (MoD) told Defense News of the anti-rocket and short-range missile system credited with saving countless lives since it deployed operationally in 2011.
"There are regulations," he said. "We're making efforts to market and advance this system in full cooperation with the Americans."
Normally, Israel would not require US export approval for homegrown systems such as Iron Dome, which was developed without US funding and does not contain US technology.
Aside from China, Russia and a small handful of other countries of national security concern to Washington, Israel is not obligated to pre-clear or even notify US authorities of prospective sales.
Such has been the case with the Iron Dome's EL/M-2084 Multi-Mission Radar by Elta Systems Ltd., a subsidiary of state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries. Several such radars have been sold to customers worldwide, including India and Canada.
But given the approximately $1 billion that Washington has provided to the program in recent years, Israel has committed to "coordinate" with US authorities, a former MoD official said.
"It was an exchange of letters offered in the context of extraordinary production funding assistance from Washington," the official said.
"In most cases, we would not require US permission to sell something that is blue and white," he said, using the colors of the Israeli flag to connote Iron Dome's indigenous pedigree.
Developed by state-owned Rafael, Iron Dome has garnered extraordinary name recognition across the globe for its consistent operational successes in intercepting Gaza-launched rockets.
In recent months, Rafael successfully tested a sea-based version of the system, called C-Dome, which the Israeli Navy intends to integrate on its Sa'ar 5-class Corvettes and planned Sa'ar 6-class combat vessels in defense of Israel's economic waters.
And in April, Rafael and its US partner, Raytheon Missile Systems, scored their first intercept outside of Israel in a US Army test at White Sands, New Mexico. In that test, the Iron Dome's Tamir missile was launched from a US Army Multi-Mission Launcher against a drone target, which was completely destroyed.
Raytheon co-produces major parts of Iron Dome's Tamir interceptors in Tuscon, Arizona, and Huntsville, Alabama, under a work-share arrangement mandated in exchange for US production funds. The two firms also have a teaming agreement whereby Raytheon co-markets Iron Dome for prospective sales in the US and select target markets.
"What the world has seen so far with Iron Dome is just the tip of the iceberg. It's footprint is much larger what we've seen in action," Rafael executive Ari Sacher said of the system's attributed 70 kilometer intercepting range.
Rockets are fired from inside the Gaza strip toward Israel on the sixth day of Israel's Operation Protective Edge on July 13, 2014, as seen from Sderot, Israel.
Photo Credit: Andrew Burton/Getty Images
"There is tremendous interest in C-Dome against modern naval threats," Sacher said. "In tests, we've destroyed salvos of artillery shells, multiple PGMs [precision-guided munitions], and we've turned UAVs into UAV-juice."
Neither Sacher nor other Rafael executives interviewed agreed to discuss foreign sales, or to clarify media and blog reports over the years of the system being sold to India, Singapore, South Korea and even one country of the Gulf Cooperation Council.
Ben Baruch's definitive statement was the first official clarification of conflicting reports going back years.
US administration officials routinely cite Washington's support for the system as emblematic of the intimate and intensifying bilateral security ties with the Jewish state.
In a June 6 address in Washington to the American Jewish Committee, US National Security Advisor Susan Rice flagged Iron Dome as an example of President Barack Obama's "unshakable" commitment to Israel's security.
"It's the billions we've invested in jointly developing and procuring Iron Dome and other missile defense technologies," Rice said. "When Hamas was raining down 100 rockets a day on Israel, those systems saved untold lives."
Obama's budget has requested $42 million in the upcoming budget for Iron Dome production, an amount that has been supplemented by an additional $20 million by House and Senate committees.