US discussing possibility of transferring Israeli Patriot missile defense systems to Ukraine

The Biden administration is holding discussions with Israel and Ukraine about the possibility of transferring aging Patriot air defense systems currently in Israel to Ukraine as it continues to defend itself in the war with Russia, according to a senior administration official and a source familiar with the discussions, as the US urgently prioritizes air defenses for Kyiv.

No final agreement has been reached to transfer the crucial systems - and the countries are still working through specific logistics - but the administration official said they are hopeful the efforts might succeed, especially given the effectiveness of the Patriot batteries already operating in Ukraine.

The US and Germany have already sent Patriot systems to Ukraine, but the Biden administration has made it clear that Kyiv needs more as Russia continues to launch aerial attacks on the country.

It is unclear how long the process of finalizing details and transferring the systems to Ukraine would take. The systems would likely need to be transferred to the US first, where they would undergo refurbishment, before being sent to Ukraine.

If completed, the transfer would mark a significant shift in Israel’s position regarding the war in Ukraine. Israel has been careful not to overtly criticize Russia, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has tried to walk a fine line with President Vladimir Putin. Russia in 2022 warned that providing Israeli arms to Ukraine would “destroy all interstate relations between our countries.”

Though Israel has participated in the US-led multinational group to ship supplies to Ukraine, the Israeli government has been loathe to openly provide Kyiv with weapons. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky pleaded for Iron Dome missile interceptors months after Russia’s invasion began. But Israel said it would only help Ukraine develop an air defense system instead of sending weapons, an offer Ukraine’s ambassador to Israel said was “too late.”

The Financial Times first reported news of the ongoing discussions.

In April, the Israel Defense Forces said it would soon retire its Patriot systems, which were first fully integrated into the military in 1991. The first Israeli Patriot intercept came during the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas, when the system shot down a drone launched from Gaza.

But the Patriot missiles is not Israel’s primary air defense system. To date, the IDF said Israeli Patriot batteries have carried out 19 interceptions, including nine during the current war. Israel relies far more on its short-range Iron Dome aerial defense system, as well as its medium-range David’s Sling and long-range Arrow missiles.

Last week, the Biden administration announced that it was prioritizing critical air defense capabilities for Ukraine over other countries to “ensure Ukraine’s survival” in what was described as a “rather extraordinary” policy adjustment at a critical moment for Ukraine.

“We work with all of our partners to take into account what [Ukraine’s] defense needs are, and we’re going to do everything we can to support those,” said Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder at a news briefing last week. “The bottom-line message here to our allies and partners is, if there’s an existential threat, you know, we’re going to step up and we’re going to help you.”

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