Biden Unlikely to Announce Regional Defense Pact During Mideast Visit, Israeli Sources Say

Israeli sources expect 'significant' U.S.-Israel bilateral agreement, but that measures on Israel-Saudi ties will be announced in Jeddah, not Jerusalem

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Iran's army chief and Iranian Armed Forces chief of staff visit an underground site with drones at an undisclosed location in Iran, in May.
Iran's army chief and Iranian Armed Forces chief of staff visit an underground site with drones at an undisclosed location in Iran, in May.Credit: WANA NEWS AGENCY/ REUTERS

Despite hopes that U.S. President Joe Biden's visit to Israel and the Gulf this week will yield a defense pact between Israel and Arab states in the region, the likelihood of such an agreement being announced at this time is low, Israeli sources said.

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The United States and Israel are seeking to lay the groundwork for a security alliance with Arab states that would connect air defense systems to combat Iranian drone and missile attacks in the Middle East, sources familiar with the plan said.

Speaking to Haaretz, the Israeli sources cited the complexity of forming such an alliance between Israel and Arab states, as well as internal disputes in Israel regarding its effectiveness.

The sources added that during the visit, a "significant" bilateral U.S.-Israeli agreement is expected to be signed, touching on security and economic issues. They expect Biden will announce measures that have to do with closer Israeli-Saudi ties in Jeddah, rather than in Jerusalem.

At the same time, Arab diplomats told Haaretz that Gulf states have forged closer ties with China and Russia in recent years, and therefore do not view the United States or Israel as potential allies on which they need to rely – but they do realize they have a strategic need to maintain contact with Washington.

The diplomatic sources stressed that even though Saudi Arabia does not deny the need to promote security and intelligence ties with Israel, there is still a long way to go before formally normalizing ties.

A senior Palestinian source involved in recent talks between Jordan's King Abdullah II and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told Haaretz that the Saudis may agree on several symbolic measures concerning Israel, but also said that normalization is not immediately on the table.

The Saudis are more attentive to the Palestinian issue, the official said, and would not move ahead before any Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Speaking at the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee last month, Defense Minister Benny Gantz addressed the plan backed by the U.S. to strengthen military cooperation between Israel and other countries in the region, and said he hopes Biden's upcoming visit will take the plan to the next phase.

Some of the plan, he said, includes air force cooperation "against Iranian attempts to harm countries in the region with rockets, cruise missiles, and drones." Gantz added that this type of cooperation has already proven to be useful in thwarting Iranian ploys.

Last week, Iran's foreign ministry said that such plans would only increase regional tensions. "The entry of foreigners in the region … will not create security and stability but is itself the main cause of tension and regional rift," ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani said, according to state media.

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