Regional alliance needed against Iran - Defense Minister Gantz

Senior Air Force officers have confirmed regional cooperation against Iranian threats

Defense Minister Benny Gantz patrolling the West Bank with IDF forces on Tuesday, April 12, 2022 (photo credit: NICOLE LASKVI/DEFENSE MINISTRY)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz patrolling the West Bank with IDF forces on Tuesday, April 12, 2022
(photo credit: NICOLE LASKVI/DEFENSE MINISTRY)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz called for a regional alliance and an expansion of intelligence cooperation in order to make up for a lack of inspections of Iran’s nuclear project.

Speaking at a Washington Institute Policy Forum, Gantz said that Iran is continuing its uranium enrichment, and is close to 90% that is suitable for nuclear weapons “once they decide to reach it.”

He told the audience that while he understands America’s need for an agreement, the loopholes in the deal need to be closed because “if you don’t close the open loopholes, you will have serious problems down the road.”

Pointing to the war in Ukraine, where Western countries are using economic and political pressure on Russia but are being “very careful” with military options because Moscow has nuclear capabilities, Gantz warned that this is not something Israel wants with Iran.

Thus if a deal is not reached, “we will have to move to Plan B,” he said. “We must make sure we are increasing our intelligence cooperation, and create an intelligence coalition that operates against Iran and compensates for a lack of inspection capabilities.”

 Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz in a briefing on Iran to ambassadors from 80 countries, April 6, 2022  (credit: SIVAN SHACHOR) Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz in a briefing on Iran to ambassadors from 80 countries, April 6, 2022 (credit: SIVAN SHACHOR)

At the recent Negev summit in southern Israel, Iran and regional cooperation were central topics among the foreign ministers from Israel, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco and Egypt.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid called it “the right model for regional cooperation in order to fight terrorism and strengthen political ties that will ensure regional stability.”

In addition to strengthening ties with regional countries, Gantz said that Israel “will have to increase offensive capabilities, intercept regional activities carried out by Iran in other countries, increase our defensive capacities, and communicate with the Iranian society held hostage by the regime in the long run.”

Gantz told the audience that in addition to expanding intelligence cooperation with the Americans, there should be a regional intelligence coalition against Iran, which also poses a threat to Gulf states.

“We must expand intelligence cooperation [with the US], possibly even regional coalition in this field, which will make up for the lack of inspection in a possible agreement, since inspection should be ‘anytime, anywhere,’” he said. “I can also see the possibility for future cooperation in air defense.”

In February, CENTCOM Commander Army Lt.-Gen. Michael Kurilla said that Israel’s incorporation into US Central Command has increased the possibility of a regional integrated air and missile defense system against aerial threats.

“That’s probably the area with some of the greatest opportunity: working toward an integrated air and missile defense,” said Kurilla. “I think the addition of Israel... will help with that. We are collectively stronger together, and there are areas where each one brings unique capabilities.”

Israel formally moved from US European Command (EUCOM) to CENTCOM in September, a move that is believed to not only simplify the cooperation with American troops in the region, but can also create the potential for a regional coalition with Arab countries that have normalized ties with Israel against shared threats posed by Iran.

A month later, senior Israel Air Force officers confirmed that Israel is working with countries in the region to counter threats coming from Iran, namely drones and other unmanned aerial vehicles.

The IDF views the coordination between neighboring countries like Jordan with which it has robust security coordination and intelligence sharing mechanisms as a strategic asset, because it provides strategic depth to Israel and has kept the country’s eastern and longest border the quietest and safest for decades.

According to foreign reports, Jordan has also allowed Israeli jets to use its airspace for its war-between-wars campaign in Syria, where Israel continues to act against Iranian weapons transfers and other Iranian threats.

The IAF officers said that “regional partnership is unprecedented,” and there has already been cooperation with countries in the region, including aerial drills and even operations.

Last year, Israeli F-35s downed two Iranian Shahed-197 drones that were heading toward the Jewish State. The drones that were downed outside of Israel’s borders were collected by the armed forces of a regional country and delivered to Israel for further inspection.

Israel also took part in a drill with neighboring countries several months ago based on scenarios that included drones and other aerial threats.

Increasing Israel’s cooperation with Gulf countries that are geographically closer to Iran will allow the IDF to stop threats even further from its borders.