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US lawmakers introduce bill to bolster Israel and Arab allies' air defences against Iran

Legislation is aimed at bolstering defence cooperation between Israel and several Arab states, including Saudi Arabia and Iraq
Iranian soldiers stand next to an Iranian Kheibar missile during a rally marking al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day in Tehran, on 29 April 2022 (AFP)

US lawmakers in the House and Senate introduced legislation on Thursday aimed at bolstering defence cooperation between Israel and several Arab states in order to thwart aerial threats from Iran.

The bill, which is known as the "DEFEND Act of 2022", would require the Pentagon to submit a strategy for an integrated air and missile defence system among several Middle East countries within 180 days.

The defences would be aimed at protecting the relevant countries from "cruise and ballistic missiles, manned and unmanned aerial systems, and rocket attacks from Iran, and for other purposes".

Countries named in the bill include Israel, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq, as well as the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council which includes Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Oman.

Neither Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait or Oman has diplomatic relations with Israel.

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The UAE signed a US-brokered agreement to normalise ties with Israel during the final months of the Trump administration.

The agreement, known as the "Abraham Accords," shattered a longstanding Arab consensus that there should be no normalisation with Israel until it reaches a comprehensive peace deal with the Palestinians.

Saudi Arabia: Israel normalisation is Biden's prize for meeting MBS
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Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco all followed suit, in deals that failed to address the Palestinian issue or Israel's military occupation of the West Bank and its settlement expansion. The UAE claimed Israel had promised to suspend its plans to annex parts of the West Bank, though annexation had already been shelved due to international pressure and a lack of US support.

Democratic Congressman Brad Schneider, who introduced the bill in the House of Representatives, said it would strengthen "our allies by building unity, and enhancing shared security capabilities is critical to confronting Iranian threats to the region."

"Iran is on the one-yard line in their pursuit of a nuclear weapon, and is threatening our allies in the region in numerous other ways," Schneider said. 

"US leadership, in developing integrated air and missile defense, would provide essential security, stability, and a unified defense to the region."

The introduction of the legislation comes a few months after Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) claimed responsibility for an attack on Erbil, the capital of Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdistan region.

Iranian and Iraqi officials told Middle East Eye at the time that the attack was in response to a previous Israeli attack that targeted an Iranian drone factory in the city of Tabriz.

Covert assassinations have also been a central element in the fight between Israel and Iran. Israeli officials refer to the long-running conflict as the "war between the wars", which they say is aimed at degrading Tehran's capabilities to hit Israel in the event of an all-out war.

Israel is widely believed to have assassinated several Iranian scientists as part of efforts to hamper Tehran's nuclear programme.

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