JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s Defense Ministry said Thursday it has secured its largest-ever defense deal selling a sophisticated missile defense system to Germany for $3.5 billion after the United States approved the deal.
Although Israel has long had close economic and military links with western European countries, the deal with Germany could draw the attention of Russia. Israel has maintained working relations with Russia throughout the war in Ukraine and has repeatedly rebuffed requests to sell arms to Kyiv for fear of antagonizing Moscow.
Germany will buy the advanced defense system, coined Arrow 3, which is designed to intercept long-range ballistic missiles. Israel sought approval for the deal from the U.S. State Department because the system was jointly developed by the two countries. Israeli defense officials said the system would extend Germany’s defense capability while strengthening the defense relationship between Israel and the United States.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the deal “historic.”
“Seventy-five years ago the Jewish people were ground to dust on the soil of Nazi Germany,” Netanyahu said. “Seventy-five years later, the Jewish state gives Germany — a different Germany — the tools to defend itself.”
The sale still requires additional procedural steps by both Israel and Germany, including approval by both parliaments, according to the director of the Israeli Missile Defense Organization, Moshe Patel. Patel told reporters Thursday that the components of the missile system will be fully delivered to Germany by 2025, with the system reaching full capability by 2030.
Germany launched the European Sky Shield Initiative last year with 17 other nations, including the United Kingdom and Sweden, which is a joint European air defense system after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius welcomed the U.S. approval allowing the deal to move forward.
“This procurement plan is essential for us in order to be able to protect Germany from ballistic missile attacks in the future,” he said in a statement posted by his ministry on the social platform X, formerly known as Twitter. He added that “the project also constitutes a signal of our special German-Israeli relations.”
Uzi Rubin, the former director of Israel’s missile defense program, said Arrow 3 could be moved to act as a long-range ballistic missile shield for other European countries. He said it was the best defense available against the threat of ballistic missiles but does not protect against cruise missiles or others flying at lower altitudes.
While Israel has turned down requests to provide Ukraine with weapons, it has sent humanitarian aid.
Israel has a delicate relationship with Russia, with which it coordinates on security issues in neighboring Syria. Israel has carried out hundreds of airstrikes against Iranian military positions in recent years in Syria. Russia is also home to a large Jewish community.
By moving ahead on Arrow 3 with Germany, Israel appears to be counting on the fact that the deal, as well as a sale of a different missile defense system to NATO member Finland, involves only defensive weapons — and will not fundamentally disrupt cordial relations with Russia.
“Relations are a bit strained,” said Rubin, who is also an expert at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, a think tank. “But still, we are not supplying Ukraine with any weapons. We do that because we want to keep relations with Russia at an acceptable level.”