Israel is creating a regional air defence alliance against Iran with the support of the United States, in a move which could further enable Tel Aviv to forge ties with Arab governments in the region.
In a briefing to Israeli lawmakers this week, Israeli Defence Minister, Benny Gantz, announced the “Middle East Air Defence Alliance”, in which countries in the region band together and coordinate their air defence systems in an effort to repel Iran and its influence.
According to the news agency, Reuters, which cited the official transcript of briefing, Gantz revealed that “Over the past year I have been leading an extensive programme, together with my partners at the Pentagon and in the US administration that will strengthen the cooperation between Israel and countries in the region.”
The Defence Minister clarified that the programme “is already operative and has already enabled the successful interception of Iranian attempts to attack Israel and other countries. “It was not revealed which countries banded together with Tel Aviv in the alliance, but it is suspected that they include Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) States such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain.
The common caution towards Iran and its influence in the region has often caused some GCC States and Israel to see eye to eye despite the two sides’ historic opposition. In recent years, the UAE and Bahrain – as well as other Arab states such as Sudan and Morocco – have already normalised relations with Israel, making such defence sector coordination likely.
Saudi Arabia, however, has not yet followed in the footsteps of its neighbours, and has insisted that a Palestinian State must first be established and resolved in order for normalisation to occur. Amid a revamped effort by the US to broker a normalisation deal between Riyadh and Tel Aviv, however, there are reportedly hopes that this “Middle East Air Defence Alliance” could finally enable such a process by encouraging further cooperation.
According to an anonymous Israeli official who spoke to Reuters, the alliance’s member States are synchronising their air defence systems by remote means of electronic communication rather than coordination through physical sites and facilities.
Gantz’s announcement comes a week after an anonymous Western diplomat told the news agency that the US was working to convince GCC states to join an integrated air defence system with Israel, saying that such an effort “would help to fill the gap left by the withdrawal of US hardware over the last two years from the region … and would draw Israel and Saudi Arabia closer to reaching a normalisation deal”.
So far, Iran has mocked reports of joint military activities between Israel and some Gulf Arab, saying they are being conducted “out of desperation”. The enhanced coordination comes amid the ongoing talks over the revival of the Iranian nuclear deal, Tehran’s reported advancement of its ballistic missiles programme and increasing regional tensions surrounding those issues.