Surrounded by hostile neighbors, Israel has relied on its military capabilities to survive since its founding over seven decades ago.
Despite the small size of the country, Israel’s Defense Forces (IDF) are arguably the best trained, best equipped, and most capable military service in the entirety of the Middle East.
The Israeli government prioritizes using technological advances to achieve its military edge over its adversaries. For this reason, Israel’s homegrown weapons arsenal is thriving.
Additionally, the Jewish state has acquired top-of-the-line equipment from its American ally, some of which the IDF has further advanced with indigenous systems.
With that said, here is what I would argue are Israel’s top 5 weapons of war – and these are military platforms that any nation on Earth would love to have.
The F-35I Adir
Israel’s specialized variant of the American-made F-35 Lightening II fifth-generation fighter jet truly functions as the backbone of the Israeli Air Force (IAF).
Israel became the first country outside of the Joint Strike Fighter’s nine-nation co-development group to acquire the fighter, which Lockheed Martin also granted special provisions for so that the IAF could procure a custom variant of the stealth fighter. The resulting airframe is the F-35I Adir, a fighter so advanced that it arguably could outperform the U.S. model.
The Adir platform can be externally modified by the IAF, which also can access the fighter’s advanced digital architecture. Therefore, Israel has the ability to access the jet’s electronic warfare and surveillance suite, communications systems and mission control hardware.
Lockheed Martin also allowed the IAF to integrate domestically manufactured helmet sets and wings to the Adir.
One particular attribute the F-35I possesses is its “plug-and-play’ function for add-on systems like air-to-air missiles and external electronic warfare pods.”
This “game-changing” platform has only added to Israel’s premier Air Force and its pristine capabilities. The Adir flew in its first-ever operation in 2018, when an F-35I fleet flew in an operation for the Israeli Air Force. Since then, the Adir has helped Israel deter hostile adversaries and has aided the IDF’s shadow war with the Islamic Republic of Iran.
While maintaining air superiority over its neighbors is critical, the IDF has not dismissed the significance of supplying its ground forces with the best technology possible.
Israel’s Merkava “Chariot” tank is so powerful that it is largely touted as the best Main Battle Tank (MBT) on the planet.
Since its founding, the Jewish state has been vulnerable to ground assaults along its shared borders with hostile adversaries. Without the Merkava, Israel’s armored corps would be in a more dangerous position.
The Merkava was developed in Israel following the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when the IDF recognized that pursuing a domestic tank would be in the best interests of Israel’s security. At this time, Israel’s regional foes were using Soviet-made tanks which the IDF’s armored corps needed to counter.
The tank entered service in 1979, sporting unprecedented designs. The Merkava featured a frontal-facing engine which was unorthodox since other modern tanks were typically designed with engines at the rear. Additionally, the Merkava hosted thicker-spaced armor to protect its crew better.
Over the years, the Merkava played a critical role in numerous conflicts. Following the 1982 Lebanon War, Israel integrated modifications to the tank while maintaining its indigenous design. The most recent Merkava IV variant is by far the most powerful in the family of tanks.
It is equipped with the best asset protection any platform possesses in the armored corps, the Trophy active protection system.
The Trophy Defense System
The Trophy active protection system was designed to defend armored vehicles, including tanks, against incoming anti-tank missiles and rocket-propelled grenades.
The advanced system is able to use advanced radars to locate a threat and intercept it before the tank it protects is targeted.
In addition to its obvious defensive capabilities, the Trophy also qualifies as an offensive weapon. Since tank shells travel at faster speeds than missiles do, the tank is able to return fire once it detects a threat.
As explained by the Trophy system’s manufacturer Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, “TROPHY creates a neutralization bubble around the vehicle. It rapidly detects, classifies and engages all known chemical energy (CE) threats – including recoilless rifles, ATGMs, AT rockets, HEAT tank rounds, and RPGs. It increases the lethality of combat forces, successfully neutralizing the enemy’s anti-tank teams.
The Trophy system has saved many lives since it became operational in 2011 and continues to protect Israel’s ground forces in operations along the country’s border.
Israel’s Iron Dome air-defense system gained notoriety last year during the Hamas-Israel flare-up in May 2021. The purpose of the defensive system is to intercept and take out short-range projectiles from distances ranging from 2.5 miles to 90 miles away.
The Dome has proven to be an instrumental asset to the Jewish state’s defense procedures since it was first deployed over a decade ago. Many of Israel’s enemies can position attacks from its border, making the ability to destroy short-range drones, missiles, and rockets extremely vital.
The Dome uses a radar that can locate approaching rockets, a command-and-control system that deciphers the threat level of those rockets, and an interceptor that will take out the threat before its impact. The missile defense system has a stunning success rate of over 90%. While the Dome is not perfect, it is undoubtedly a staple of Israel’s defense strategy.
The Iron Beam
The Iron Beam also represents a looming staple to the Jewish state’s air-defense capabilities. In May, Israel’s Ministry of Defense announced its successful test launch of the laser missile defense system that is capable of intercepting mortars, rockets and anti-tank missiles. Although these capabilities appear to be already taken care of by the Iron Dome, the Iron Beam comes with additional benefits. Compared to the Dome’s exorbitant costs, the Beam would only cost $2 per interception. The Beam can also function as a stand-alone system or be used with the Dome simultaneously. Since the Beam costs so little, the IDF could deploy this defense in large numbers which would immensely hamper the threat from short-range projectiles.
However promising the Iron Beam’s capabilities appear to be, the weapon is still being developed and may not enter service with the IDF for years to come.
Maya Carlin is a Middle East Defense Editor with 19FortyFive. She is also an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel.