Israel reportedly working on air defense pact with regional allies

Air force officials say prospective deal would counter Iranian drone and missile threat; reveal Israeli aircraft carried out 408 missions around northern border in recent years

An Israeli F-15 fighter jet is seen in the skies over Israel, ahead of the Blue Flag exercise in October 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)
An Israeli F-15 fighter jet is seen in the skies over Israel, ahead of the Blue Flag exercise in October 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israel and its regional allies are working on developing a joint defense system to protect against the threat of Iranian drones and missiles, according to Tuesday reports.

Jerusalem may soon sign the prospective alliance with its Middle East partners, and the countries have also recently developed joint systems for detecting missile and drone threats, Hebrew media reported, following an off-record briefing with Israeli Air Force officials.

Officials also pulled the curtain back on some aspects of Israel’s shadowy air campaign in Syria and Damascus’ attempts to thwart the strikes, during the briefing.

According to reports, the opportunity for the airborne defense coalition followed normalization agreements between Israel and Arab countries, including the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, which are geographically closer to Iran.

A summit this week brought envoys from the US, Egypt, Bahrain, Morocco, and the UAE to southern Israel for talks that also included discussion of deepening security coordination in the sky between Israel’s air force and its regional partners’ flying forces, officials said.

The briefing came as Israeli Air Force chief Amikam Norkin prepares to wrap up his five-year term next week.

The Israel Defense Forces view coordination between the countries as a “strategic asset” in defending against aerial threats that it did not previously have. One benefit is that the countries are closer to Iran and Iraq, which is home to Iranian-backed militias, and their proximity could allow the IAF to detect threats earlier.

The countries already cooperate on intelligence, security operations, and air force training.

Israel has a cutting-edge, multi-layered aerial defense system that is considered capable of handling most threats.

Two Arrow 3 interceptors are launched during a test of the missile defense system, on January 18, 2022. (Defense Ministry)

The disclosure of the possible defense pact came amid a series of incidents involving Iranian drones and missiles.

Last week, Israeli officials said they believed two drones, which were reportedly launched from Iran and intercepted by the US-led international coalition in Iraq last month, were aimed at Israel.

A wave of drone and missile attacks launched by the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen hit an oil facility in Saudi Arabia this week, causing significant damage.

Earlier this month, Iran launched a missile barrage that hit Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan, calling it retaliation for an Israeli strike in Syria that killed two members of its Revolutionary Guard. The volley of around 12 missiles hit near the US consulate, marking a significant escalation.

Later reports claimed the Iranian missile attack was revenge for a strike against Iran’s drone fleet in February. Iran claimed the attack on Erbil targeted an Israeli intelligence base.

Israel has repeatedly warned that Iranian drones are a significant threat to the region — especially as Tehran arms proxies stationed along Israel’s borders.

In this photo released on May 21, 2021, by Sepahnews, the website of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, a new drone, called Gaza, is displayed in an undisclosed location in Iran. (Sepahnews via AP)

The IDF has confirmed it intercepted at least four Iranian drones heading for Israel or the West Bank and Gaza Strip in recent years.

The air force officials said that Israeli forces have carried out hundreds of missions in recent years against regional threats, especially in Syria, even as Syrian air defenses have become increasingly active.

The officials said during Tuesday’s briefing that, between 2017 and 2021, Israel’s air force carried out 408 missions in the “northern sector” and fired thousands of missiles. Israel has occasionally hit Iranian-linked targets in Iraq, near the Syrian border, according to foreign reports.

In 2021, the IAF carried out dozens of missions in Syria, during which planes fired 586 missiles, and Syria’s anti-aircraft defenses fired 239 surface-to-air missiles at Israeli forces.

The Syrians have fired around 1,200 anti-aircraft missiles in the past decade, with the pace growing over the years. Some of the missiles set off air raid sirens in northern Israel.

Syria operates an advanced Russian-made S-300 air defense system, which has not yet been used against Israeli forces, but represents a significant challenge since the system poses a threat to aircraft for hundreds of miles around it. Israeli officials fear the system may come into more widespread use in Syria.

A Syrian anti-aircraft missile shot down an Israeli F-16 jet in 2018. Both the pilot and navigator bailed out of the plane and survived.

The IAF has hit terror infrastructure and portable weapons batteries in Syria, and thwarted weapons smuggling into Lebanon, the air force officials said.

Israel has destroyed 30 air defense batteries in recent years, including advanced surface-to-air missiles developed by Iran, the officials said.

Amid the ongoing operations in Syria against Iran-backed targets, the air force has been tasked with preparing and training for a possible strike against Iran’s nuclear program.

As a rule, Israel’s military does not comment on specific strikes in Syria, but has admitted to conducting hundreds of sorties against Iran-backed groups attempting to gain a foothold in the country.

The IAF officials also said that 99 percent of all military operations against terror groups in Gaza are carried out from the air.

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