Israel's Rafael to sell Spyder air defense system to UAE, sources say

The deal reinforces how, for some Arab states, resolving the decades-long Israel-Palestinian conflict has now been overshadowed by national priorities, such as security and the economy.

SPYDER air defense missile system (photo credit: ERESHKIGAL1/CC BY 3.0 ( WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
SPYDER air defense missile system

Israel has agreed to sell its Spyder air defense system to the United Arab Emirates, marking the first time such a state-owned air defense system is sold to a Gulf country. 

According to a report by Reuters, Israel approved a UAE request in the middle of the summer. It was not immediately clear how many interceptors, which are fitted to vehicles and can defend against short to long-range threats, would be supplied, or if any had so far been shipped.

The SPYDER (Surface-to-air PYthon and DERby), is developed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and was on display at Dubai’s IDEX 2021 late last year.

The mobile system incorporates Rafael’s advanced Python-5 and I-Derby missiles to provide short, medium, and long-range protection against a range of threats including attack aircraft, cruise missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles, stand-off weapons and more.

The system, which uses electro-optical observation payload and wireless data link communication, can engage multiple threats simultaneously up to 80 kilometers away in all weather conditions.

SPYDER quick reaction air defense system of Indian Air Force firing a Derby missile (credit: INDIAN AIR FORCE/EDICTGOV-INDIA/VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)SPYDER quick reaction air defense system of Indian Air Force firing a Derby missile (credit: INDIAN AIR FORCE/EDICTGOV-INDIA/VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

SPYDER has been sold to several international customers, including the Czech Republic and the Philippines. 

Israel and the United Arab Emirates normalized relations in 2020 as part of the Abraham Accords and ties have flourished since. Last week UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed was in Israel and met with Defense Minister Benny Gantz, President Isaac Herzog and Prime Minister Yair Lapid.

Israeli defense officials have held some 150 meetings with their counterparts in the region and have signed more than USD $3 billion worth of deals since the signing of the Accords in order to increase its military-to-military ties and to sign defense deals. 

Trade between Israel and the UAE alone is expected to reach over USD $2 billion in 2022.

At least eight C-17 Globemaster heavy transport aircraft belonging to the United Arab Emirates Air Force landed in Israel in April.

The Boeing C-17A Globemaster III is a four-engine heavy transport aircraft that can accommodate huge payloads of 164,900 pounds, fly 2,400 nautical miles and land on runways in 3,000 feet or less on a small airfield. 

All the aircraft landed at Israel Air Force’s Nevatim airbase in southern Israel and took off about an hour after landing. While it’s unclear why the heavy transport aircraft were in Israel, it is believed that the aircraft likely were transporting equipment related to defense contracts signed between the two countries.

UAE faced missile and drone strikes

The UAE is part of a Saudi-led military campaign against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels and in recent months has seen several missile and drone attacks by the rebels. 

Israel has offered support to the UAE against such attacks, and following a January missile and drone attack that killed three people in Abu Dhabi, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that he “ordered the Israeli security establishment to provide their counterparts in the UAE with any assistance” that could help to protect against future attacks.

Anwar Gargash, diplomatic adviser to the UAE president, told reporters in July that the UAE would consider anything that protects the country from drones and missiles as long as it was defensive and not targeting a third country.

According to a source who spoke to Reuters, the UAE had acquired Israeli technology capable of combating drone attacks like those that struck Abu Dhabi earlier this year.

Both Israel and the UAE have worked together covertly for years against Iran’s hegemony, and according to foreign reports have behind closed doors improved their intelligence-sharing and military relations in order to be prepared for Iranian threats.

As rocket and drone attacks by Iran have increased, talks have been taking place between Israel and several Gulf states to understand what is most relevant to counter the threats.

Gantz has said that Israel is building a US-sponsored ‘Middle East Air Defense Alliance’ that has already thwarted threats and “that it will strengthen the cooperation between Israel and countries in the region.”

The alliance has reportedly brought Israel and Arab states in the Middle East around a shared table to defend their countries from Iran and its proxies who have increased their attacks, some of them deadly, in recent years.