(May 5, 2022 / JNS) Earlier this month, Israel’s Defense Ministry released figures on annual Israeli defense sales, indicating that the year 2021 saw a record-breaking $11.3 billion in such sales to military clients around the world.
In addition to itemizing the type of defense products that were sold last year, the figures also contained a regional breakdown revealing that Europe was the highest importer of Israeli defense technology (41% of sales), followed by Asia and the Pacific region (34%), and then North America (12%). Arab states that recently normalized relations with Israel—the Abraham Accord countries—formed 7% of the clients. This represents a new, noteworthy trend.
At present, countries that have signed on to the Abraham Accords are the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan.
The defense sales figures did not break down which country had bought what, but recent media reports provide some interesting hints.
Brig. Gen. (res.) Yair Kulas, head of the International Defense Cooperation Directorate of Israel’s Ministry of Defense, said this month: “Looking ahead, shifting global priorities and partnerships such as the Abraham Accords create high demand for Israel’s cutting-edge technological systems.”
He added that the Defense Ministry is working together with Israeli industries “to ensure the continuing increase in defense cooperation.”
In February, the Israeli business daily Globes reported that Israel Aerospace Industries concluded a deal to supply the Moroccan military with the Barak MX air- and missile-defense system in a deal reportedly worth more than $500 million.
IAI did not comment on the report. With military tensions rising between Morocco and its North African neighbor, Algeria, Rabat’s need for an effective, advanced missile-defense system becomes clear.
In fact, IAI has become a global “empire” when it comes to developing and supplying missile-defense systems, and the Barak MX forms the core of this activity.
Depending on the type of interceptor purchased, the system can intercept threats from 35- to 150-kilometer ranges (22 to 93 miles) with launchers placed either on land or at sea.
It is operational with Israel Defense Forces (in the Israeli Navy), as well as in India’s Navy, Air Force and land-based forces. The Barak MX system is unique in that it allows a naval commander to be with one battery and see the radar picture of a second battery on board another ship, and order the launch of an interceptor from a third battery onboard a third ship.
In Israel, the system is set to be installed on the Navy’s new Sa’ar 6 Magen ships, giving them the ability to intercept ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles, combat aircraft and helicopters.
According to international media reports, the system has also been supplied to Azerbaijan and used to intercept Armenian missiles during the Nagorno-Karabakh war in 2020.
Common threat: Iran and its network of terrorist proxies
During a visit by Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz to Morocco in November, a historic Memorandum of Understanding detailing defense collaboration between Israel and Morocco was signed.
The Moroccans were reportedly impressed with the flexibility and capabilities of the Barak MX system.
In addition to tensions with Algeria, Morocco is also in conflict with Islamist and separatist non-state organizations, and decision-makers in the country are concerned by the prospect of Iran supplying missiles to some of these groups, according to Globes.
In March, Globes reported that the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain also asked Israel “for defensive weapons.”
The historic Negev Summit, held in southern Israel on March 27-28, was attended by the foreign ministers of the United States, the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Egypt. It reportedly included discussions on the Rafael-made Iron Dome anti-rocket system, as well as IAI’s Arrow air- and missile-defense system.
The joint interest that Israel and moderate Sunni-Arab states have is clear: Iran and its network of terrorist proxies threaten them all. The Iranian-backed Houthis are firing missiles and UAVs at Saudi cities and oil facilities, and have launched deadly attacks on the UAE in recent months. Hezbollah is training the Houthis. Everyone in the region is worried about the prospect of being attacked by Iranian UAV swarms and precision-guided missiles.
As the Abraham Accords develop and new allies learn about each other’s comparative advantages, cooperation between Israel and Gulf States could extend considerably to include capability-sharing, air-force overflights, joint missile alerts and deploying Israeli air-defense systems, as well as joint intelligence-sharing.
Israel’s new membership in the U.S. Military’s Central Command (CENTCOM) area of responsibility can create a framework for optimizing some of this cooperation.
Ultimately, members of the moderate camp in the Middle East and North Africa have expressed their desire for stability and prosperity in the region.
While in the past, members of this camp had been held back by the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict—waiting for a resolution on the matter—these days, the threat posed by Iran to their security has become more urgent than their wish to wait for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to come to an end.
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