Israel intends to ask US President Joe Biden to approve the delivery of an Israeli laser-powered air defense system to Arab countries aligned against Iran, including Saudi Arabia, according to a Monday report.
The move would be part of a US-led effort to establish regional cooperation against the threat of Iranian attack drones and missiles. Recent reports have said the parties include the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar.
Channel 12 news, which did not cite its sources, reported that the plan would see the system, Iron Beam, delivered to the UAE and “likely also to Saudi Arabia.”
Israel has diplomatic relations with Egypt, Jordan, the UAE and Bahrain, but not with Saudi Arabia or Qatar.
On Monday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz appeared to confirm, at least in part, a report that the Israeli military was in talks with its Saudi and Qatari counterparts on building a regional air defense alliance against Iran, and spoke of a possible “breakthrough” during Biden’s upcoming visit to the region.
“We are building our wide partnership with additional countries in the region to ensure a secure, stable and prosperous Middle East. Among other things, this also includes aerial defense,” Gantz said, speaking at the start of his Blue and White party’s faction meeting in the Knesset.
“Of course, we are all preparing for Biden’s visit to the Middle East and Israel, which I hope will have a positive influence and maybe even bring a breakthrough in our ability to act against Iranian aggression in the region,” he said.
Biden is slated to visit Israel, the West Bank and Saudi Arabia on July 13-16.
Earlier this month, a senior US administration official briefing reporters on the president’s trip to Israel said Biden would “discuss new innovations between our countries that use laser technologies to defeat missiles and other airborne threats.”
The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that a summit had been held earlier this year in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula with representatives from Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Jordan.
Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi reportedly attended the event alongside Gen. Fayyadh bin Hamed Al Ruwaili, the chief of staff of the Saudi armed forces. Representing the US was Gen. Frank McKenzie, the then-head of the US Central Command.
It was the first time that such high-ranking officers from Israel and Arab countries had met under US military auspices, according to the report.
According to reports, the opportunity for the airborne defense coalition followed normalization agreements between Israel and Arab countries, including the UAE and Bahrain, which are geographically closer to Iran.
Israel’s Defense Ministry has been testing the laser-based defense system for several years, shooting down drones, unguided rockets and anti-tank guided missiles in a series of tests in March.
The ground-based laser system, which is being developed with the Rafael weapons manufacturer, is not meant to replace the Iron Dome or Israel’s other air defense systems, but to supplement and complement them, shooting down smaller projectiles and leaving larger ones for the more robust missile-based batteries.
Hundreds of millions of shekels have been allocated to the final development stages and trial phase, in which the system will be placed on the border with the Gaza Strip. Initial deployment is reportedly scheduled for next year.