Sunday, June 26, 2022

The U.S. convened a secret meeting of top military officials from Israel and Arab countries in March to explore how they could coordinate against Iran’s growing missile and drone capabilities, according to officials from the U.S. and the region.

The previously undisclosed talks, which were held at Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, marked the first time that such a range of ranking Israeli and Arab officers have met under U.S. military auspices to discuss how to defend against a common threat.

The meeting brought together the top military officers from Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt and Jordan and came as Israel and its neighbors are in the early stage of discussing potential military cooperation, the officials said.

The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain also sent officers to the meeting. The U.S. was represented by Gen. Frank McKenzie, then the head of the U.S. Central Command.

The talks were enabled by several changes, including common fears of Iran, improved political ties signaled by the Abraham Accords and the Trump administration’s decision in January 2021 to expand Central Command’s area of coverage to include Israel.

Another factor driving expanding military cooperation has been Arab countries’ desire for access to Israeli air defense technology and weapons at a time when the U.S. is shifting its military priorities toward countering China and Russia.
After initially distancing itself from the Abraham Accords, the Biden administration belatedly started to embrace them and now to expand them to include other Arab countries. 

Recall that there was another meeting in March in Sharm el-Sheikh, between the leaders of Israel, Egypt and the UAE, on March 22.

The date of the military meeting is not known, but General McKenzie gave a hint about it in a media briefing from Centcom Headquarters in Tampa, Florida on March 16

"Iran's ballistic missile threat has continued to advance and expand with greater ranges and accuracy," he said, adding that land attack cruise missiles and small unmanned aerial vehicles also are part of that threat. 

Partner nation air defense systems in the region far outnumber those that the U.S. has there, he said. Air defense systems, including high-end ones like the Patriot system, are used by the Gulf States and others. 

"The task in the theater is really how do you knit those together so that you create more than a simple sum of the component parts," he said. 

"By doing so, you create a common operational picture, so everybody sees the same thing. Everybody gets early warnings; everybody can be prepared to react very quickly to a potential Iranian attack. That's where the future in this theater is," he said. 

Iranian ballistic missile threats have provided some opportunities for the United States to advance regional cooperation in the area of air defense, he said.  

"Centcom is focused on operationalizing the Abraham Accords as we brought Israel into our area of operations, and missile defense is one area of cooperation that all our partners understand," he said. 
The focus, according to the now-retired general, was to facilitate communication between all regional states so everyone can share early warnings of Iranian attacks. This has the advantage, he hinted, of Israel being able to cooperate with Arab countries that it has not made peace with by not requiring any physical presence of Israelis in Arab countries or vice versa. 

Such cooperation is still in very early stages, but the Trump decision to incorporate Israel into Centcom is paying off in closer military cooperation between all Arab states and Israel, via the US.

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Elder of Ziyon - حـكـيـم صـهـيـون

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