Calev’s newsroom: How Israel and the Gulf are cooperating on defence
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Calev’s newsroom: How Israel and the Gulf are cooperating on defence

Calev’s newsroom: How Israel and the Gulf are cooperating on defence

The growing level of cooperation has been set in motion by the Abraham Accords


When US President Joe Biden arrived in Israel on July 13th, the first thing he did was visit a display arranged by the Defence Ministry of its multi-tiered air-defence systems – the Arrow, David’s Sling, Iron Dome and still experimental laser-powered Iron Beam – designed to counter aerial threats ranging from ballistic missiles to low-flying drones.

The event looked like a sales exhibition, and in a sense it was; but the intended client wasn’t the US, which has partnered with Israel in the development of many of these systems.

The customer in mind that day was the Arab World – particularly the nine countries whose leaders greeted Biden two days later in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, at the gathering of what’s been dubbed the ‘GCC +3’: the six nations that constitute the Gulf Cooperation Council, along with Egypt, Jordan and Iraq.

Going into that summit, the US hoped to join these nations into a regional air-defence alliance that would in some way utilise Israel’s expertise in the field, thus helping to further integrate it into the region and expand the diplomatic developments set in motion by the Abraham Accords. Nothing like that came out of the Jeddah summit.

Although the concluding statement declared the US would accelerate its “cooperation with Saudi Arabia and other partners in the region to counter unmanned aerial systems and missiles that threaten peace and security in the region,’’ and that it remains “committed to advancing a more integrated and regionally-networked air and missile defense architecture.’’

Saudi Arabia explicitly rejected the idea of an “Arab NATO” and any Israeli component to those plans. Israeli defence technology, in particular that relating to air defence is filtering into the Arab world, with a potentially profound impact. This is especially so concerning its two Gulf partners in the Abraham Accords, the UAE and Bahrain.

According to Israel’s Defence Ministry, seven per cent of all the country’s arms sales in 2021, which rose to a record $11.3bn, went to the Gulf.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said just prior to Biden’s visit that the total fi gures of Israel’s arms exports to the Gulf since the signing of the Abraham Accords amounted to roughly $3bn. Though much of that work will continue to remain out of the public eye for the time being, the expanding market for Israel’s defence industries in the region is certainly no secret.

The unprecedented participation of such Israeli defence firms as Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), Rafael, Elbit Systems, Nir-Or, UVision and Tomer, in last November’s Dubai Air Show provided those companies with a highly visible platform to display their wares.

The Biden visit is likely to boost those prospects. His administration came into office seemingly hesitant to provide the Gulf states with the kind of advanced defence technology it needs to counter regional challenges; for example, initially declaring a pause and review of the $23bn sale of US F-35 jets to the UAE, seen as a corollary arrangement accompanying the Abraham Accords.

But there has been a clear shift in Washington as the aerial threat to its allies in the Gulf has become more pronounced, such as the drone attacks launched at the UAE by Yemen’s Houthi rebels. The growing need for increased oil production by Gulf States in the wake of the Ukraine conflict and cut-off of Russian energy exports to the West, has also made the Biden administration more accommodating towards meeting the defence needs of its partners in the region.

The change in tone from Washington towards military exports to the Gulf has another effect, an Israeli defence industry executive told me; it will likely also make Israel’s Ministry of Defence, which in some cases, has been hesitant to sign off on sending some sensitive technology to even friendly Arab states, more pliable in this regard.

This works in the other direction as well, he notes, pointing out that Israeli defence firms are eager to set up joint initiatives with UAE partners, benefitting by both its substantial technological investment, and position as a gateway opportunity to other nations in the region and beyond.‚While political considerations may hold back more of Israel’s Arab neighbours from taking steps toward normalisation, the executive believes commercial ties, especially in the military realm, will continue to develop unimpeded, both in under-the-radar sales, and Israeli participation in regional defence-and-security exhibitions.

It’s an old axiom that in the Middle East, diplomacy moves with the speed of a glacier. The Abraham Accords proved that it is possible for a dramatic breaking of the ice. Security concerns in the Gulf were a driving force in that process – and one can now say, without exaggeration, when it comes to defence cooperation on both the governmental and commercial level, the skies are literally the limit.

Calev Ben-David is an anchor of the nightly news programme, The Rundown, on i24NEWS

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