Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Monday that Israel has been working with regional countries on a US-backed anti-Iran military alliance that focuses on integrated air defense systems, dubbed the Middle East Air Defense Alliance.
The revelation demonstrates the growing military cooperation between Israel and Washington’s Arab allies since the US-brokered Abraham Accords saw Israel normalize relations with the UAE and Bahrain. A major aspect of the US push for the normalization deals was to isolate Iran in the region.
“Over the past year I have been leading an extensive program, together with my partners at the Pentagon and in the US administration, that will strengthen the cooperation between Israel and countries in the region,” Gantz said in a briefing to Israeli lawmakers.
Gantz wouldn’t elaborate on what countries are involved in the alliance at this point but claimed it has already been used to thwart Iranian attacks. “This program is already operative and has already enabled the successful interception of Iranian attempts to attack Israel and other countries,” he said.
Since the signing of the Abraham Accords in September 2020, Israel, the UAE, and Bahrain have begun participating in US-led military exercises together. Earlier this year, Israel signed an agreement with Bahrain meant to boost security ties, and Israel has dispatched a military official to be stationed in the Gulf country.
Saudi Arabia has been hesitant to sign a normalization deal but has been signaling its openness to increasing military ties with Israel. Earlier this year, the Saudis openly participated in US-led military naval exercises with Israel for the first time. Oman, which also doesn’t have relations with Israel, also took part in the drills.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Saudi Arabia is engaged in US-brokered talks with Israel on economic ties and “security arrangements,” and a public deal to boost relations is expected to be announced soon. Gantz said more details on the Middle East Air Defense Alliance might be announced during President Biden’s tour of the region next month, which includes stops in Israel and Saudi Arabia.
While in Saudi Arabia, Biden will attend a summit of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) leaders. A Western diplomat told Reuters that the US is still working on convincing the GCC to join the regional air defense alliance, and Biden will likely push the issue at the meeting. The GCC includes Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman.
The effort has support in Congress as a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced legislation in the House and the Senate that would coordinate missile defense upgrades for Israel and several Arab states to counter alleged threats from Iran.