Israel Rebuffs American Pressure to Supply Hawk Missiles to Ukraine

After close to a year of repeated refusals of Western requests to supply Ukraine with military equipment, Israel has reportedly again pressed back against pressure from the Joe Biden administration to transfer U.S.-supplied missiles to the Eastern European state. The MIM-23 Hawk short range air defence system was one of the earliest major American weapons systems to enter Israeli inventories, and was deployed during the Six Day War in 1967 and several subsequent conflicts. The systems are currently all in reserve storage, having been replaced by the American MIM-104 Patriot and indigenous Iron Dome and Arrow systems. After Washington contacted Israel on the issue in early January, a senior official in the Israeli Defence Ministry reportedly asserted that Tel Aviv’s policy of not providing arms to Ukraine was unchanged, and that the Hawk system was “obsolete” regardless and was no longer usable for combat. The U.S. media outlet Axios, citing Israeli officials, reported that that although the Hawk’s launchers were not operational, interceptor missiles from the system could have been refurbished should Tel Aviv have had the will to provide them. Hundreds of the missiles are reportedly in storage.

Israel’s refusal to arm Ukraine comes as the West has seen almost no support for the ongoing war effort from the Middle East or the non Western world more broadly, despite threats of economic sanctions and other measures. South Korea has been among others to have endured considerable pressure to allow arms transfers to Ukraine, while Gulf States led by Saudi Arabia have notably resisted Western pressure to increase oil supplies to the West to compensate for the loss of Russian oil that resulted from Western embargoes on Moscow. NATO member Turkey has been the only country in the Middle East to openly side with the West, providing a wide range of armaments to Ukraine while continuing to support militias which target Russian forces in Syria. Turkey has notably also supplied the same Hawk systems from its own inventories Al Qaeda affiliated militants in northern Syria.

Hawk systems were notably mentioned by U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin in a speech to the pro-Israel AIPAC lobby group. He asserted that while the systems had served Israel’s security needs during the Cold War they “can still help a besieged democracy defend itself” – in reference to Ukraine. As Ukraine’s air defences have fast been depleted, and were reportedly near breaking point in December, the United States has pledged to send its own Hawk batteries alongside a wide range of other Western air defence systems such as German IRIS-T SLMs and American Patriots. The Hawk was the most widely deployed Western air defence system during the Cold War, and although limited to low engagement altitudes modernised variants are still considered somewhat viable in combat. The system continues to be relied on by a number of U.S. defence clients, most notably Taiwan which deploys them to outlying islands near the Chinese mainland, as well as by Iran which acquired the systems in the 1970s and later reverse engineered them to produce indigenous derivatives.