Romania is very keen to acquire the Iron Dome missile defense system from Israel, sources say following Romanian Defense Minister Vasile Dincu’s visit to Israel last week. If a deal goes through, NATO member Romania will become the first European country to buy the system.
Since it entered Israel's defensive arsenal in 2011, Iron Dome has proved its worth in many rounds of fighting against Gaza. Each battery costs around $150 million and each interceptor missile $50,000.
But Israel has failed to market the system, selling only two to the U.S. Army for $373 million. The Americans aren't thought to be interested in more.
According to confirmed reports, Azerbaijan has also acquired Iron Dome. A number of countries – Singapore, Canada, South Korea, India, Finland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic – have bought the radar component.
Although Iron Dome is the brainchild of the Israeli Defense Ministry and defense contractors, it has essentially become a joint project with the United States. Israel invested 800 million shekels ($232 million) in its development, with the Americans, through allocations by Congress, investing four times that sum.
So any sale of Iron Dome requires Washington's approval. Presumably, if Israel sold the system to Azerbaijan’s tyrannical regime during the Trump administration, the deal wouldn't have been approved on Joe Biden's watch.
Production of the missiles was also a joint project – of Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and U.S. company Raytheon. Development costs totaled about $4 billion. Sources say the odds of a deal with Romania are very good.
In an interview with Haaretz, Dincu declined to discuss Iron Dome but said his country was eager to sign upgraded security cooperation agreements with Israel. “We wish to improve our military and security cooperation with Israel in many areas,” he said.
“We want to learn from Israel how to improve military, as opposed to civilian, medicine on the front lines. Because of its experience, Israel has the best knowledge of the subject.”
“We want to bring Israeli technological knowledge and innovation to Romania. Our military industry is old-fashioned. And I've discovered that Israel, unlike others, is a country that doesn’t just want to sell military equipment but also wants to obtain a license to manufacture it in Romania, and that's very important to us. This will enable us to export the weapons systems to NATO.”
In the past quarter-century, Israel’s arms sales to Romania are estimated to have topped $1 billion. Dincu, a 60-year-old Social Democrat, has been defense minister for nearly a year. This is his second visit to Israel but his first in his current position.
Even before communism's fall in Romania in 1989 with the execution of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena, Romania had special security and intelligence relations with Israel. These ties have tightened in recent decades. “We now have eight purchase agreements with Israeli companies, including Elbit and Rafael,” Dincu said.
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These agreements resulted in the construction of four factories in Romania, employing 800 people, who make parts for drones, turrets and electronic equipment. The two countries' ties also led to Romania's consent for the Israel Air Force to train in Romania's skies to simulate a strike on Iran. Such drills were held in Turkey until President Recep Tayyip Erdogan scotched them.
Dincu says his country intends to sign security cooperation agreements that will let the Israeli and Romanian militaries conduct joint maneuvers.
Elbit previously upgraded Russian-made MiG-29s, “but Romania is interested in Western equipment,” Dincu said. The MiG-29s will be taken out of service in about a year.
With American approval, Romania has bought 17 F-16s from Portugal and 32 from Norway. Israel was also eager to sell Romania some, but Dincu says it won’t happen: Romania aims to acquire the next generation of American fighter jets – the F-35.
Still, Romania considers Israel an entry point to Western technology. Dincu says Elbit Systems has a good chance of winning in three tenders underway, projects involving electronic warfare, radar and drones. He says his government aims to increase cooperation with Israel, envisioning joint maneuvers and improved cooperation between the Mossad and the Shin Bet security service with their Romanian counterparts – which he says is already very good.
When I asked Dincu who poses a potential threat to Romania, his response was unequivocal: Russia. “Even if it's not a direct threat,” he said. “We're part of NATO’s collective defense and operate in this framework. We have to defend ourselves.”
Five thousand NATO troops are currently stationed in Romania. NATO planes patrol the skies over Romania, which shares borders with Russia and Ukraine. The war to its northeast is the most sensitive subject for Romania.
At the start of the interview, Dincu made clear that his president, Klaus Iohannis, told him not to talk about Russia's war on Ukraine. Even so, information that has become public indicates that Romania – along with Poland, Slovakia and the Baltic states – is an important player in the transit of arms to Ukraine. The war did come up in Dincu’s talks with Defense Minister Benny Gantz.
But the impression remains the same. Israel’s policy is to sit on the fence. In other words, even under Prime Minister Yair Lapid, Israel is saying: We're part of the West. Buy arms from us but don’t expect us to support your policy and strategy.