How can Israel and the Gulf increase air defense cooperation?
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Source Jerusalem Post
Countries need better air-defense systems against drone and cruise-missile threats. This is particularly true in the Middle East, where new weapons are proliferating, especially among Iranian-backed groups, such as the Houthis in Yemen and Hamas in Gaza, as well as militias in Iraq and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
To defend against these threats requires more investment in air-defense capabilities. The United States knows this, and US Central Command’s Gen. Kenneth McKenzie has been a leader in warning about these threats.
In Saudi Arabia, the US Marines assigned to Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force – Crisis Response – Central Command (SPMAGTF-CR-CC) recently participated in Counter-Unmanned Aircraft System (C-UAS) training, according to a report. The training involved familiarization with the handheld C-UAS devices that are designed to detect and deter enemy drones.
The SPMAGTF-CR-CC is a crisis response force that is prepared to deploy a variety of capabilities, according to a US government website. A photo of the drill shows men with futuristic “drone defender” gadgets that look like giant ray guns.
Meanwhile, the US Department of Defense is “implementing a variety of means to counter the UAS,” US-led coalition spokesman Col. Wayne Marotto tweeted on Friday. “The Dronebuster is a handheld jammer that can force a UAS to descend or to return to its operator. Also, the CLaWS, Compact Laser Weapon System, gives the coalition a dynamic defense against attack drones.”
That is the US answer to increased threats. Reports say the US is drawing down Patriot batteries in the region. There are other systems to stop threats, such as C-RAM. But it is unclear, if there are fewer Patriot batteries, what will secure a wide swath of countries that are US partners, including Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.
Israel has new peace partners in the Gulf, and it has developed its own multilayered integrated air-defense systems, such as Iron Dome, David’s Sling and the Arrow missile.
The Arrow has entered a new phase with Arrow 4 development, a collaboration with the Missile Defense Organization and the US Missile Defense Agency. It builds on 30 years of development since the Gulf war. In short, Israel is well plugged in to join development with the US, and it has provided the US Army with two Iron Dome batteries.
“Israel should sell Iron Dome to the Gulf states,” Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Ephraim Sneh wrote in an article for Ynet. He is a former deputy defense minister and the CEO of the Center for Strategic Dialogue at Netanya Academic College.
The US is withdrawing air defenses, reportedly from Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait and Jordan, “effectively removing US regional allies’ layer of protection against missiles and UAVs,” Sneh wrote. This means that while these countries may have their own defenses, “the main challenge for Riyadh still remains the protection of crucial sites.”
A new regional threat has emerged from Iran and its development of drones and missiles, as well as its exportation of this technology. Iran’s incoming president is considered to be even more extreme than the last one.
“Given this new regional reality, Israel must act,” Sneh wrote. This could involve “bolstering its cooperation with US allies in the region. Some already have open diplomatic relations with Israel, while others maintain unofficial contacts.”
There is a long road ahead. Sneh suggests Israel could offer Iron Dome and David’s Sling as a defense system to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain.
“It is no secret that Netanyahu and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman held talks on strategic issues, which have yet to lead to tangible results... It is also no secret that Israel has offered its air-defense systems to other countries,” he wrote. “The establishment of an aerial defense alliance between Israel and its neighbors is an act of diplomatic courage, and all those involved stand only to gain from it.”
Rumors about Iron Dome being offered to the Gulf or even the US sending its Iron Dome batteries there have been mentioned before. In fact, Yoel Guzansky in March argued that Israel must consider assisting Saudi Arabia, which is under constant missile attack.
Guzansky is a senior research fellow specializing in Gulf politics and security at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies. He is one of Israel’s leading experts on the Gulf, which makes him well placed to understand not only the Abraham Accords but also the new complex issues involving Saudi Arabia.
“Israel would do the right thing by offering the [Saudi] kingdom assistance in defending its strategic facilities against the growing threat from Iran,” Guzansky wrote.
There are many issues at play here. Offering the Iron Dome may not be possible due to some sensitive issues involved with the system. However, Israeli defense companies also make other systems that have air-defense capabilities.
Rafael makes Spyder, and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) makes the Barak system. Foreign reports in December 2016 said Israel had sold a Barak-8 system to Azerbaijan. The Czech Republic is among the countries that are buying Rafael’s Spyder air-defense system. The Czech Republic has also acquired the radar used in the Iron Dome, which is made by IAI’s Elta.
This means a more reasonable agreement with the Gulf might involve other air-defense technology that Israel has developed, which Israel excels at and has already sold abroad. Iron Dome, David’s Sling and Arrow, because of US support for the programs, may have hurdles. Other systems may be easier to deliver in a more timely manner.
There are other issues involved as well, such as creating a basic air-defense cooperation language to warn about threats across the region. In addition, joint naval exercises or joint air-force drills in which Israeli pilots might participate alongside their Gulf peers would help create this common language.
These tentative steps have been taken in previous drills, such as a recent event in Greece where Israeli and UAE officers were both present. Much more work remains to be done.