The United States is expected to soon begin deploying Iron Dome missile interceptor batteries, one of the jewels of Israel's arms manufacturing industry, in its bases in the Gulf States, according to security officials.
This comes against the backdrop of the Abraham Accords between Israel and two Gulf States, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, and of two large U.S. arms deals, one with the UAE, and the other with Saudi Arabia.
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Three weeks ago, the Israel Missile Defense Organization in the Defense Ministry handed over a second Iron Dome battery to the U.S. Defense Department. The battery was developed by Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems as part of an agreement for two Iron Dome batteries signed between the two countries in August 2019.
The Iron Dome systems were handed over to the Americans – and Israeli defense sources say the United States has received the approval of senior Israeli officials to begin deploying the missile defense systems on American military bases in a number of countries, including in the Middle East, Europe and Far East.
“I am certain that the system will help the U.S. Army defend American soldiers against ballistic and aerial threats,” said Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the ceremony for delivering the second batterys.
Because of the sensitivity of the matter for the Americans, Israeli officials are refusing to reveal in which countries the Iron Dome interceptors will be deployed. But behind closed doors, Israel gave its tacit agreement to the Americans to place the batteries in order to defend its forces from attacks by Iran and its proxies, according to Israeli officials.
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As well as the Gulf states, deployments are also expected in Eastern European countries, out of fear that Russia could endanger American forces, or strategic infrastructure in those countries, said the Israeli officials.
In September 2018, a Saudi newspaper reported that Riyadh had signed an agreement to purchase an Iron Dome battery from Israel with the Americans acting as a mediator. The Defense Ministry rushed to deny the report that such a deal had been signed – but did not deny that the Saudis had asked to purchase the system.
After the attack on the oil refineries and facilities of the Saudi national oil company Aramco in Saudi Arabia in September 2019, which was attributed to Iran, the Saudis – and other countries – raised their request to buy Iron Dome batteries to defend against the Iranian threat, defense officials said. But Israeli officials deny that providing Iron Dome systems was part of the normalization agreements with the Gulf states – because the purchase of the Iron Dome batteries by the United States was signed in 2019, well before the Abraham Accords.
The first two batteries delivered to the United States were developed in Israel by Rafael and other partners. But in a few months, Rafael is expected to open a production line along with U.S. defense contractor Raytheon, one of the largest defense companies in the world, for an American version of the interceptor missiles. This will enable Rafael and Raytheon to export the American version to the U.S. Army and other countries in Europe, the Gulf and East Asia.
The Defense Ministry and military industries have asked oversight bodies to ease the export restrictions on Israeli weapons systems, including Iron Dome. The defense industries think it is possible to make export versions and sell them to a number of countries to which Israel has so far has avoided selling advanced weapons systems.
The establishment of a Rafael subsidiary in the United States and its connection with a leading defense firm such as Raytheon – which also makes the Patriot antiaircraft systems – could make it much easier for Rafael to export the American version of Iron Dome, even to countries that until now were off-limits because of security and diplomatic considerations.
Raytheon has a large share of the arms deals signed between the United States and the UAE, in part from the sale of dozens of long-range stealth cruise missiles that can be launched from F-35 planes.