US lawmakers aim to integrate defense systems of Israel, 9 Arab states against Iran

Bipartisan bills in House and Senate would see Israel work with countries including Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait and Qatar -- though it's unclear that they're on board

Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami (R) walks past a Khordad-3 air defense system during a visit of an exhibition at the Islamic Revolution and Holy Defense museum in the capital Tehran on September 21, 2019. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

Bipartisan groups of US lawmakers in both the House and the Senate introduced legislation on Thursday aimed at creating an integrated air defense system to boost cooperation between Israel and neighboring Arab states against Iran.

The Deterring Enemy Forces and Enabling National Defenses (DEFEND) Act is the latest effort in the US to bolster the Abraham Accords normalization agreements that the Trump administration brokered between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco in 2020.

The legislation would authorize the US Defense Department to cooperate with Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq and the entire Gulf Cooperation Council — Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and Kuwait —
to develop and implement an integrated air and missile defense architecture to defend against Iranian threats.

Save for Egypt, Jordan and — more recently — the UAE and Bahrain, Israel does not have formal ties with the remainder of the countries listed in the US legislation. With some of them, it maintains discreet relations that have grown in recent years in order to cooperate against Iran, but Iraq’s parliament last month passed legislation that criminalizes normalizing ties with the Jewish state.

It was not clear whether any of the countries listed are on board with such an effort or whether they even were consulted by the lawmakers before the legislation was unveiled.

The idea of a joint air defense system between Israel and its Arab neighbors is not new though, and it was raised during the Negev Summit of foreign ministers from Israel, the US, the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Egypt last March. It was also reportedly discussed in talks between the US and Saudi Arabia that Washington hopes will culminate in Riyadh taking steps toward normalizing ties with Israel.

The legislation will also require the Defense Department to issue a report to Congress on the feasibility of establishing such an air defense system to counter Iran’s ballistic missile, drone and rocket programs within 180 days of its passing.

The bill is being introduced in the Senate by Democrats Jacky Rosen and Cory Booker and Republicans Joni Ernst and James Lankford. In the House, it’s being brought by Democrats Brad Schneider, David Trone and Jimmy Panetta and Republicans McMorris Rodgers, Ann Wagner and Don Bacon. All of the cosponsors are members of the Abraham Accords Congressional Caucus that was established earlier this year.

“Iran is on the one-yard line in their pursuit of a nuclear weapon and is threatening our allies in the region in numerous other ways. Strengthening our allies by building unity and enhancing shared security capabilities is critical to confronting Iranian threats to the region,” Schneider said in a statement.

“US leadership, in developing integrated air and missile defense, would provide essential security, stability, and a unified defense to the region. The DEFEND Act is a prime example of the important, bipartisan, bicameral work that Congress must prioritize in our pursuit of regional peace and stability,” he added.

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