Israel Pushes Arab Allies for Joint Defense Pact Amid Iran Tensions

RIYADH (Reuters) —

FILE PHOTO: An inactive version of Israel’s air defense system, David’s Sling, jointly developed with the United States, is seen at a media event during a joint exercise between the two countries in Hatzor air base near Tel Aviv February 25, 2016. (REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo)

The United States and Israel are seeking to lay the groundwork for a security alliance with Arab states that would connect air defense systems to combat Iranian drone and missile attacks in the Middle East, four sources familiar with the plan said.

The idea, which would use Israeli technology, could gain momentum during President Joe Biden’s stops in Israel, the Palestinian territories and Saudi Arabia on a July 13-16 trip, said two of the sources who were briefed on the plans.

As regional tensions have grown over Tehran’s disputed nuclear program, Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and parts of Iraq have come under UAV or missile strikes claimed by or blamed on Iranian-backed militias.

Discussions are still at an early stage and have already met resistance from several Arab countries which refuse to do business with Israel, the four sources said.

But Israel Defence Minister Benny Gantz last month said an emerging U.S.-sponsored air defence alliance was “operative” and could be boosted by Biden’s visit. The apparatus has already foiled attempted Iranian attacks, he added. 

Speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, an Israeli official said partner countries were synchronizing their respective air defense systems through remote electronic communication, rather than using the same physical facilities.

Israel in recent years has offered defense cooperation to U.S.-aligned Arab states which share its concerns about Iran, although the U.S. assessment is that Gantz appeared to have overstated how far such security cooperation has advanced.

For their part, Gulf Arabs have been publicly reticent on the idea.

One person in Washington familiar with the matter said that while Biden will discuss wider regional security coordination, including with close ally Israel, at a Saudi-led Gulf Arab summit next week, no announcement of a formal pact is expected.

The plan would be to build a network of radars, detectors and interceptors between Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Jordan and Egypt, with the help of Israeli technology and U.S. military bases, three of the sources said.

In May, Iraq’s parliament approved a law that will ban normalizing relations with Israel, at a time when several Arab countries have established formal ties.

Iraq has never recognised the State of Israel since its establishment in 1948 and Iraqi citizens and companies cannot visit Israel, but the new law goes further, specifically criminalizing any attempts to normalize relations with Israel.

A senior Iraqi security adviser said no official plan has been presented to Baghdad to enter a pact that includes Israel and opposes Iran, so the alliance is out of the question.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE are also treading carefully, to preserve nascent relations with Tehran, said the sources.

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