Romania is considering Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system, potentially the first European client. Like in 2018?

Defense Minister of Romania has confirmed his country is considering acquiring the Iron Dome technology, Israel’s cutting-edge air defense system. It would be a first in Europe, but their interest in the Iron Dome isn’t that new.

Israel's Iron Dome air defense system in August 2022
Israel’s air defense system Iron Dome during Operation “Breaking Dawn” and clashes with Gaza in August 2022 | © Israel Defense Forces

Romania is interested in acquiring the Iron Dome technology, the cutting-edge air defense system operating in Israel since 2011. An opportunity for Israel to sell it abroad as it could be the first country in Europe to make such an acquisition. But it was already news back in 2018.

The defense minister of Romania Vasile Dîncu visited Israel from September 13 to 16 where he had the opportunity to visit the headquarters of several companies of the defense industry and discuss security in the Middle East and Black Sea regions.

Mr Dîncu first declined to comment on whether Romania was interested in the Iron Dome in an interview with Israeli newspaper Haaretz on September 20. However, he later confirmed to Romanian broadcast Digi24 the country’s interest in the Israeli defense system. “It is an aspiration of ours,” he said on September 27.

Romania and Israel are for the moment only working on renewing their military cooperation agreement but Romania has “a good chance that we will protect ourselves with this new type of ballistic protection.” In terms of timing, they are “talking about the next five years,” the minister added.

The Iron Dome is an air defense system designed to protect from short-range rockets and artillery missiles. A battery of the Iron Dome has a radar, calculator and a firing unit that launches interceptor missiles, which can protect a zone about 150 kilometers large (93 miles).

Iron Dome has such a reputation that Ukraine asked for being able to use it against the Russian invasion, although such technology is mostly designed for a limited area against rockets, drones, helicopters, mortars and short-range ballistic missiles. In May 2021, the Iron Dome for instance neutralized a large number of rocket missiles launched from the Gaza strip to Israel.

The U.S. needs to agree on deals involving selling the Iron Dome

Symbol of Israeli technological advancement, the United States has also substantially financed the Iron Dome production. As such, the United States needs to agree on which country can acquire it, limiting potential buyers. But Romania is a NATO member that signed a mutual defense agreement with the United States 25 years ago.

NATO and the United States have troops deployed in Romania, a territory part of the eastern flank of the NATO bloc. From September 12 to 23, 700 Romanian soldiers and NATO allies from France, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal and the United States have been training in Smârdan, an eastern town close to Moldova’s southern border, the Odesa Oblast in southwest Ukraine, and the Black Sea.

Romania shares 649 km (403 mi) of its border with Ukraine to the north and east, and 245 km (152 mi) of coastline to the Black Sea, its only direct access to the sea and a strategic area of regional security. And Romanians seem to feel safer belonging to NATO since the war started in Ukraine.

Romania is also a key commercial partner for the United States as it is the first country to buy its small modular nuclear reactors, the newest generation of civil nuclear power plants.

The declarations of Romania’s Defense Minister come few days after a meeting between Romanian and U.S. defense representatives. On September 24, United States Assistant Secretary of Defense Celeste Wallander and Romanian State Secretary Simona Cojocaru met in Romania to discuss bilateral defense and regional security issues, although nothing mentioned whether the Iron Dome acquisition had been discussed.

The Iron Dome may be cutting-edge and effective technology, it has however been perceived in Israel as not selling that well, so far. If the United States bought two batteries, they used them as tests to adapt their own solutions. Expensive, the Iron Dome is also reportedly hard to adapt to other defense systems. Singapore, Canada, South Korea, India, Finland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic for instance only bought the radar component. South Korea also plans to build its own Iron Dome, now.

In 2016, during Donald J. Trump presidency, the authoritarian regime of Azerbaijan said it bought the Iron Dome, which could be the only foreign client of the entire system to date.

Last August, the Jerusalem Post reported that Cyprus found an agreement to buy the Iron Dome. However, the Israeli defense ministry only communicated about defense agreements with Cyprus in June, without referring to the Iron Dome.

If Romania acquires the Iron Dome system, it could be a first in Europe according to Haaretz.

Yet in 2018 already, when Romania and Israel signed a bilateral cooperation plan the Iron Dome was already on the table. A month later, Israeli defense company Rafael Advanced Defense Systems indeed communicated it signed a deal with Romaero, Romania’s largest government-controlled company in the aerospace industry, to facilitate local production and knowledge transfer of…the Iron Dome system.

Rafael’s press release mentions cooperation about the Iron Dome system, the ground version now called I-Dome, along with its naval version, the C-Dome Naval Air Defense System. At the time, Romaero was reportedly said to be interested in exporting it.

Romania would like military knowledge transfer

During his recent visit to Israel, Minister Dîncu affirmed Romania’s availability to discuss “enhanced cooperation” about equipment and the country’s willingness to invest so that it “may enable the Israeli technological transfer and know-how,according to the press release.

We enjoy a very good collaboration in the field of joint training which can be consolidated by approaching new fields such as research and development, including emerging and disruptive technologies, artificial intelligence and military medicine,” said Mr. Dîncu while meeting his counterpart Benjamin Gantz. Both expressed their willingness to “identify potential collaboration projects.”

Romania already has eight purchasing agreements with Israel, which resulted in the construction of four factories to make parts of drones, turrets and electronic equipment. Elbit Systems, an Israeli defense company, is also currently in competition in three tenders in Romania for projects involving electronic warfare, radar and drones. But nothing about the Iron Dome.

To modernize Romania’s military and improve its defense know-how, the country has been willing to not just buy material but also welcome manufacture and production to benefit from knowledge transfer, a point also recently discussed with South Korea which plans to produce its own Iron Dome.

It seems to be aligned with Israel’s position as it would like a license to manufacture directly in Romania, according to Minister Dîncu. “This will enable us to export the weapons systems to NATO,” justified Mr. Dîncu to Haaretz. That way, Romania may eventually have the Iron Dome system, while helping Israel, which is not part of NATO, market its Iron Dome abroad. This also vaguely recalls the situation from 2018.

In 2018, Romania’s defense budget was 4.36 billion dollars, or 2% of its gross domestic product. In early 2022, the country planned to increase it to 2.5%, or 6.14 billion dollars, in 2022, motivated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Would the difference lie here?

Read more about Romania

Planul bilateral de cooperare româno – israeliană, semnat la sediul M.Ap.N., Romania Ministry of Defense, 2018Întâlniri ale ministrului apărării naționale cu reprezentanți ai industriei de apărare israeliene, Romania Ministry of Defense, September 2022

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