Breaking Defense
June 23, 2022

A Middle East NATO? A missile defense network with Israel? Major shifts brewing in region

The growing perception of Iran’s aggression in the Middle East, along with Washington’s desire to reduce Russian and Chinese influence in the oil-rich Gulf Arab states, has prompted intense bouts of diplomacy in recent months that could lead to major tectonic shits in the political and military landscape.

Many reports have surfaced in past weeks regarding significant developments in play that will likely come together during President Joe Biden’s expected visit to the region next month, according to analysts who spoke with Breaking Defense.

The idea of a new defense alignment was underlined Friday when Jordan’s King Abdullah II said he would support the creation of a Middle East alliance similar to NATO, telling CNBC “I would be one of the first people that would endorse a Middle East NATO.”

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Abdullah’s comments are the strongest from a regional leader on this issue, but perhaps not as eye-raising as what occurred Monday, when Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced on Monday that Israel has joined what he called the Middle East Air Defense Alliance (MEAD), a US-led regional air defense network that includes some Arab countries. Although Gants did not name the Arab countries, many observers assume that MEAD would likely include the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Egypt, and/or Jordan.

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When rumors of the defense arrangement circulated earlier this month, a White House spokesperson told Breaking Defense only that the US “strongly support[s] Israel’s integration into the broader Middle East region, and this will be a topic of discussion when the President visits Israel.”

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Abdullah added that the UAE and Saudi Arabia were working on establishing an axis of “moderate” Arab states that will be more open towards cooperation with Israel in efforts to enhance regional security – including air defense.