Israeli officials stand next to a Hawk system in Jericho in 1993. Photo: Esaias Baitel/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
The Biden administration asked Israel for the old Hawk anti-aircraft missiles it has in storage in order to transfer them to Ukraine, three Israeli and US officials told Axios.
Why it matters: Israel has so far rejected most US and Ukrainian requests to provide advanced and defensive weaponry to Ukraine over concerns that such a move could create tensions with Russia and harm Israeli security interests in Syria.
- Ukraine has repeatedly asked Western countries for such weapons to help it defend itself against Russian strikes.
- Between the lines: Russia holds enormous influence in Syria but allows Israel to operate freely against Iranian activity there.
Flashback: Israel purchased the Hawk system from the US in the 1960s to defend itself against Egyptian and Syrian airstrikes.
- At the time, the Raytheon-developed anti-aircraft system was cutting-edge technology. But in more recent years, Israel has turned to other systems, including the US Patriot battery and its own Iron Dome and Arrow defensive systems.
- A decade ago, the Israeli military took the Hawk system out of service. A senior Israeli official told Axios that about 10 Hawk batteries and hundreds of interceptors remain in storage in Israel.
Behind the scenes: Senior Israeli and US officials said the Pentagon reached out to the Israeli Defense Ministry two weeks ago and requested the Hawk systems that are in storage in order to transfer them to Ukraine.
- A US official said similar requests were made to several other countries that had the system in active service or in storage.
- The senior Israeli official said an Israeli Defense Ministry official told their US counterparts there is no change in Israel’s policy not to provide weapons systems to Ukraine.
- According to the Israeli official, the Defense Ministry official said Israel’s Hawk systems are “obsolete” and can’t function because of how long they’ve been in storage without maintenance.
- But the Israeli officials say that the response wasn’t accurate. They stressed that while the launchers might be completely dysfunctional, the hundreds of Hawk interceptors Israel has in storage can be refurbished and used.
- The Israeli Defense Ministry reiterated to Axios in a statement that the “position of the Israel security establishment [on giving military aid to Ukraine] hasn’t changed. Every request is being reviewed on a case-by-case basis.”
What they’re saying: Earlier this month, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin gave a speech at an AIPAC leadership conference in Washington in which he hinted at the US request to Israel for the Hawk missiles. But his remarks went almost completely unnoticed.
- In the speech, Austin mentioned how the Hawk systems helped Israel defend itself in the 1967 Six-Day War and 1973 Yom Kippur War, also known as the October War.
- “Now, the Hawks are no longer state-of-the-art technology. But they can still help a besieged democracy defend itself,” Austin said.
- He added that the US is working with its allies and partners to provide the Hawk capability to Ukraine.
Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to reflect that an Israeli Defense Ministry official answered the Pentagon’s request for the Hawk anti-aircraft missiles, but the official was not Dror Shalom as previously stated.