While the last few months since the Abraham Accords and normalization agreements signed between Israel and numerous Arab and Muslim countries have witnessed many unprecedented events, this could outshine them all.
The historic narrative of the Israel-Arab conflict has been that the region and the wider Arab and Muslim world will not countenance the existence of the Jewish State, and has tried on many occasions in the past to extinguish it.
That has come to an end in recent years, when the State of Israel and pragmatic Sunni Arab states in the region have been on the same side against common foes, whether extremist non-state entities like the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda, or more prominently against the Islamic Republic of Iran and its Shiite terrorist proxies in Yemen, Lebanon, and Iraq. .
What began as back-channel coordination and clandestine meetings in the 1990s has moved in the last decade to closer cooperation, even if largely unacknowledged at first. Already in 2013, there was talk of Israel joining an anti-Iran defense alliance with a number of moderate Arab states that would involve sharing Jerusalem’s newly developed anti-missile technologies.
According to those earlier reports, Israel would gain access to radar early warning stations in Saudi Arabia and the UAE and in exchange share its own data from its multi-layered anti-ballistic missile defense systems. The report also detailed that Jordan would be protected from surface-to-surface threats by Israel’s Arrow long-range anti-missile batteries.
While nothing formal ever came from these reported attempts, the noise surrounding a potential defense alliance has become much louder now that Israel has formal relations with the UAE and Bahrain and close relations with Saudi Arabia, including an unannounced trip to Saudi Arabia by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to meet the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, in November.
This is of course an extremely welcome process, and one that Israel should seize with both hands.
It can demonstrate that it is an indispensable ally to these Gulf nations and help protect their populations and interests. A safe Sunni bloc is necessary for a safe Israel.
The defense alliance can and should ensure that Israel help them to defeat the Iranian menace in the Gulf, and the proxy war raging in Yemen. Israeli intelligence capabilities should replace America’s recent capitulation to the Houthis. The Israeli navy should operate its submarines and new Sa’ar missile corvettes from Emirati and Bahraini ports.
In return, Israel should be seeking assurances that cooperation is not a one-way street, and that Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain should help Israel fight its enemies many of which are closely allied to or receive funding and armaments from Iran.
The threat from Hezbollah, the terrorist state which has pretty much captured the Lebanese government, is well known. While there are many estimates surrounding its capability, Israeli intelligence assesses that Hezbollah has around 14,000 Zelzal-2 rockets, which have a range of up to 200 kilometers, and between 100,000 and 150,000 non-precision rockets. This is without the Fateh-110 and the Scud-B/C missiles which can pretty much cover every inch of territory in Israel, something that Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has regularly boasted openly about of late. Their army is financed by Iran and trained by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and is larger and better financed than many sovereign nations. Hezbollah's military budget runs about one billion dollars per year.
Hezbollah, and other Iranian proxies, are also attempting to gain a foothold on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights in order to constantly terrorize the Jewish State from its north-eastern border.
However, that is certainly not the end of Iran’s attempt to attack Israel from near and far.
In recent months, Iran has offered unconditional support to Hamas and Islamic Jihad, two genocidal terrorist organizations operating from the Gaza Strip and responsible for the ongoing and relentless attacks against Israeli civilian centers in the south. This backing has taken primarily the form of military aid, weaponry and know-how for self-manufacturing and the training of militant personnel. This has been complemented by financial assistance to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars annually.
These are some of the better-known threats to Israel which the defense alliance should focus on, but it should be also used to end the Israel-Palestinian conflict once and for all. While certainly seen currently as the least threatening or potentially deadly, it is a conflict that still has the capability of flaring up and steals the attention of the region and the international community.
The over-100-year conflict has largely been run and directed by the more mainstream Palestinian Arab leadership, associated in recent years with Fatah and the PLO. While ostensibly, since 1993, Israel and the Palestinian Authority have been in a peace process, it is clear from the words and actions of Palestinian leaders that the war aims of destroying Jewish sovereignty in its ancestral and indigenous homeland has never ended.
Helping Israel destroy Palestinian violent rejectionism and win the conflict is a win-win for the Sunni nations in the defense alliance. They would be providing a quid pro quo for Israel helping it rid its own borders of enemies, and it would be ending the conflict which many see as an obstacle to greater rapprochement with the Jewish State in the region.
Helping Israel defeat Palestinian rejectionism while ensuring the post-conflict stability and prosperity of the Palestinian polity would ensure a greater possibility of peace and security for both Israelis and Palestinians.
This would also allow all of the nations in the defense alliance, which could then be enlarged, to focus all of their energies towards the greatest threat to the region, Iran, its proxies and its relentless attempt to attain nuclear weapons capability.
It would also break down the last barrier towards full relations between Israel and the wider Sunni world, thus allowing for the sole focus for both to be on breaking the back of the Iranian ever-growing stranglehold on the region.
Gregg Roman is Director of the Middle East Forum