Gulf states seek Israeli missile defense systems

Israel, UAE and US delegates meet in UAE / Photo: Reuters

The missile attack on Saudi oil installations in 2019 helped push the UAE towards normalization with Israel.

The dilemma of sales of Israeli-made arms and defense technologies has sharpened with the signing of the peace agreements with the UAE and Bahrain, and soon with Sudan. These agreements, it is estimated, should lead to substantial growth in defense exports to the Gulf states, which are among the world's largest weapons purchasers.

The dilemma will shortly reach a very significant juncture. Sources inform "Globes" that several Gulf states have expressed initial interest in buying electronic missile defense systems from Israel, as well as actual military hardware to defend oil installations against missile attack. According to a source familiar with the matter, the contacts are only at a preliminary stage.

Interest has been expressed in Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd.'s Trophy active protection system for armored vehicles, and in systems for defense against missiles fired from drones, covering radar and other detection systems, electronic interference systems, and physical interception missiles.

These contacts are taking place against the background of the involvement of the UAE and Saudi Arabia in the civil war in Yemen on the side of the government, against the Houthi rebels, who are supported by Iran. Forces of the Gulf states are fighting in this conflict in the air, on land, and by sea, and the Israeli systems could be very useful.

As far as missile defense is concerned, the interest is understandable after the attack on Saudi Arabian oil installations in September 2019, which was attributed to Iran. That attack put out of action half of Saudi Arabia's oil production capacity for several days. Iranian "suicide" unmanned aerial vehicles and cruise missiles were used in the attack, which played no small part in pushing the Gulf states towards rapprochement with Israel and in their desire for an official alliance against the common enemy, Iran.

If the expression of interest becomes an official approach, then three people will have to decide how to respond - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Minister of Defense Benny Gantz, and Minister of Foreign Affairs Gabi Ashkenazi. They will have to make a decision in principle, which will involve ascertaining the stance of the US on the matter, certainly regarding products developed jointly with the US. They will also have to take into account the risk of information on weapons systems being leaked to hostile elements.

According to a defense source, the temptation to sell defensive weapons to the Gulf states is great. It would position Israeli weapons systems in Iran's backyard, and thus realize the huge advantage of the recent peace agreements. "Deployment of Israeli weapons systems, even defensive ones, completely changes the Israel-Iran equation, which up to now has contained a proximate threat only to Israel, through missiles held by Hezbollah and Islamist organizations in the Gaza Strip," the source said.

There is of course the economic aspect as well. According to SIBAT, the International Defense Cooperation Directorate of the Ministry of Defense, Israeli arms exports reached $7.2 billion in 2019. Asia-Pacific countries account for 41% of the toal, Europe 26%, and North America 25%. India is a large importer, as are the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and Azerbaijan (which is currently using Israeli weapons in the conflict with Armenia in Nagorno-Karabakh).

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on October 29, 2020

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2020

Israel, UAE and US delegates meet in UAE / Photo: Reuters
Israel, UAE and US delegates meet in UAE / Photo: Reuters
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