U.S. Suggests Joint Israel-Jordan-Egypt Missile Defense System

TEL AVIV (Reuters) -

A U.S. general proposed on Monday that Israel expand its anti-missile systems to include neighboring Jordan and possibly Egypt, and an Israeli official cautiously welcomed the idea.

The two Arab countries that have full peace treaties with Israel share some of its concern regarding the disputed nuclear program of Iran and the civil war wracking Syria — both states with long-range missile arsenals.

Jordan’s Red Sea port of Aqaba is also under threat from short-range rockets fired by Islamist terrorists in the largely lawless Egyptian Sinai — though they have more regularly targeted the next-door Israeli city of Eilat.

Brigadier-General John Shapland, chief defense attache for the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, raised the idea of extending Israel’s anti-missile umbrella in comments to a security conference in the city.

“If we were able to build a regional defence capability in, say, Jordan, that capability could easily defend Israel, Jordan and even Egypt, if you so desired, adding one more layer to your multi-layered defense,” he told Israeli officials and experts gathered at the INSS think-tank.

Shapland said his proposal was “just one idea to consider.”

Yair Ramati, head of the Israel Missile Defense Organisation, appeared open to the idea. “The policy of the (Israeli) Defense Ministry is always to cooperate with the countries of the region, including the countries cited,” Ramati said at the conference, in reference to Jordan and Egypt.

Jordanian officials and a spokesman for the Egyptian embassy declined immediate comment.

Ramati declined to be drawn on whether Israel’s two deployed systems, the Arrow II ballistic missile interceptor and Iron Dome short-range rocket interceptor, could already provide coverage for Arab neighbors.

“I won’t be sharing operational maps with you,” Ramati told Reuters. “You can draw your own conclusions from the fact we insist on not answering.”

The former head of the Israel Missile Defense Organisation, Arieh Herzog, said that protecting Jordan had been discussed when he was in office between 2000 and 2012.

“I’m not aware of any current policies on this matter, but certainly they [Israelis] have been talking for many years about the theoretical possibility of using our systems to help the Jordanians if required,” he said.