Reports have surfaced – in Arabic language newspapers, such as the London-based Al-Khaleej Online – as well as Israel-based news outlets that Saudi Arabia has purchased Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system.
There are several elements to the supposed deal – which the Saudis sought – to better-protect them against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. It is thought that the United States helped mediate the deal, which included further plans to reach an agreement on broad military cooperation between the two countries.
The Al-Khaleej story – published on Thursday – cited “high-level diplomatic sources” as revealing that Riyadh had purchased the Israeli system, with counter claims that Israel was highly reluctant to sell the Iron Dome to an Arab nation. There was no confirmation by Saudi officials, and Israeli security officials strongly denied the report, the Haaretz daily said.
The deal is thought to be worth tens of millions of dollars, with the first stage of the deployment – along Saudi Arabia’s border with Yemen – to be completed by December. The Saudis are attempting to create either a deterrence or protective capability against Iran-backed Houthi rebels who have launched missile attacks against Riyadh and Saudi targets with increasing frequency.
Unnamed diplomatic sources told the news outlet that Israel’s initial refusal to sell the Iron Dome to any Arab nation was overcome following US intervention and the addition of guarantees to be signed through the US that Saudi Arabia’s acquisition of the system “does not pose any danger to the security of Israel or its allies in the region in the short or long term.”
Israel and Saudi Arabia do not have official diplomatic relations, but the hegemonic machinations of a common enemy – Iran – has revealed an increasing overlapping of interests and concerns. It has created a situation – almost entirely unthinkable until the very recent past – where there can be military cooperation, including the exchange of intelligence and public arms and defense deals.
There is deep resentment toward Israel among the Saudi public, which widely backs the Palestinian cause. However, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman caused consternation in April, having given unprecedented recognition to Israel’s “right to exist.” In addition, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other top Israeli officials have hinted at booming but hidden ties with Riyadh.