Lawmakers launch bipartisan campaign for defense deal between Israel and its Arab neighbors

WASHINGTON (JTA) — A bipartisan slate of lawmakers has launched a bill that would establish an “integrated air and missile defense capability” joining the United States, Israel and Arab countries in an effort to deter Iran.

Members of the Senate and House of the Abraham Accords Caucus introduced the bill, called the DEFEND Act, at a Thursday press conference outside the Capitol and described it as a way to move the accords forward. of normalization negotiated by the United States between Israel and four Arab countries that collectively carry this. Last name.

“The full potential of the Abraham Accords, economic cooperation, educational exchanges, trade agreements between Israel and our Middle Eastern partners cannot be achieved without a commitment to collective security,” he said. said Sen. Joni Ernst, a Republican from Iowa who is the leader. -sponsor of the bill with Sen. Jacky Rosen, a Jewish Democrat from Nevada. “America’s role in activating and networking our allies and partners in the Middle East must evolve as violent extremists, like Iran, change tactics and integrate new systems capable of causing catastrophic damage against civilian targets.”

The bill does not specify how formal the arrangement would be. The bill tasks the Secretary of Defense with establishing an “architecture” and “procurement approach” for an “integrated air and missile defense system” to counter threats from Iran.

Israel has traditionally been wary of formal defense pacts with even its closest allies, wishing to preserve its right to act unilaterally. However, Israeli officials have signaled in recent years that less formal arrangements that preserve Israel’s agency are acceptable.

The bill also designates as participants in the arrangement the four countries that signed the Abraham Accords – Morocco, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain – as well as countries that still have no relations with Israel, including Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

Saudi Arabia appears closer than ever to formalizing what has for years been a secret relationship with Israel, and is reportedly close to a deal that would allow Israeli planes to fly over Saudi airspace. But Iraq is openly hostile to Israel.

Ernst said the United States should encourage those countries to participate. She noted that the US consulate in Erbil, Iraq, was attacked by a drone on Wednesday, an area that has already come under fire from Iran and its proxies.

“We understand that they are not part of the Abraham Accords,” she said of Iraq and Saudi Arabia, “but it is extremely important that we continue discussions with them and that we include them in this agreement under the DEFEND law. We need to continue these conversations with them. We just saw the attack in Erbil yesterday.

In a press release, Ernst named a range of Jewish and pro-Israel organizations that support the bill, but there were no institutions linked to any of the Arab countries named in the bill. The main quote was from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

“By directing a strategic approach to missile defense cooperation and drone coordination, this legislation strengthens the U.S.-Israeli partnership while enhancing regional cooperation against common security threats,” the powerful pro lobby said. -Israeli.

Hadassah said the bill, if it becomes law, “would strengthen cooperative defense among strategic allies in the Middle East to protect Israel and its neighbors against growing threats from Iran and its proxies.”

Among the lawmakers leading the bill in the U.S. House of Representatives are Rep. Brad Schneider, a Jewish Democrat from Illinois, and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Republican from Washington.

Ernst expressed confidence from the start that the bill would pass through Congress, given his bipartisan support in both chambers, but he could face some obstacles. Progressive Democrats have in recent years become increasingly reluctant to deliver arms to the Middle East, to Israel and also to authoritarian Arab countries like Saudi Arabia.

The bill could also be seen as an irritant to the Biden administration’s efforts to re-enter the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

At Thursday’s press conference, lawmakers suggested deterring Iran was made urgent by the apparent failure of those talks, which are currently stalled in Vienna due to Iran’s insistence that Biden removes Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from the list of designated terrorist groups. The Trump administration backed out of the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, in 2018, and Biden wants to return because he sees the deal as the best way to keep Iran out. get a nuclear weapon.

“As we realize as the administration strives to revive the JCPOA from the dead, Iran not only continues to bolster its escape time to build a nuclear weapon, it is also doubling its nuclear weapons program. ballistic missiles as well as its regional unrest in the Middle East,” said Rep. Jimmy Panetta, a California Democrat.


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