Israel’s military cooperation with UAE is ‘revolutionary’ - defense analysts

Deployment of Israeli aerial defense system in Gulf nation transforms Israel into a key regional player; Jerusalem unlikely to accede to Ukrainian requests for similar technology.

 A Barak-8 Missile being fired off a Kalkata class destroyer.	 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
A Barak-8 Missile being fired off a Kalkata class destroyer.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Israel’s alleged military cooperation with the United Arab Emirates is a “revolutionary” development that could transform the former into a key regional power, defense analysts have stated.  

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Satellite images from September revealed that the UAE has deployed the Israeli Barak 8 missile defense system in order to defend against Iranian missile and drone attacks, according to a report by the Tactical Report news site. The analysis, which was published on Friday, stated that two Barak launchers in addition to an Elta ELM 2084 radar system were operational near the al-Dhafra airbase south of Abu Dhabi.

The Barak 8 can defend against cruise missiles, enemy aircraft, drones, and ballistic missiles. It was jointly developed by Israel Aerospace Industries and India’s Defense Research and Development Organization.

Dr. Dan Schueftan, who heads the International Graduate Program in National Security Studies at the University of Haifa, called the deployment “revolutionary” and said that it indicates the country has for the first time become a full-fledged regional power.

“We are recognized throughout the world as a power when it comes to technology and innovation,” Schueftan told The Media Line. “But the one thing we were missing in order to be a full-fledged regional power was the ability to maneuver between the different forces in the Middle East. For a long time, the perception of Israel was not only that it was not beneficial for powers to cooperate with Israel, but also that it could be counterproductive [to do so] because Israel was so hated and isolated in the region. This has now changed in a very fundamental way.”

Barak 8 missile defense system (credit: Wikimedia Commons)Barak 8 missile defense system (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

"The one thing we were missing in order to be a full-fledged regional power was the ability to maneuver between the different forces in the Middle East."

Dr. Dan Schueftan

Israel’s burgeoning alliance with several Arab states in the face of the Iranian threat is also showcasing to countries outside the region that it can no longer be ignored as a key player in the Middle East.

“This is revolutionary,” Schueftan asserted. “It makes it much easier for Israel to defend itself because before Iran had allies on the borders of Israel and Israel had no allies on the borders of Iran. This is now changing.”

Israel has seen a spike in demand for its defense products in recent years. In fact, 2021 saw the country’s arms sales hit a record $11.3 billion, with 7% of those purchases going to Gulf nations, according to Defense Ministry figures.

Israel first made use of the Barak system in July, when it shot down a drone that was launched by the Iran-backed Hizbullah group at the Karish gas field off the Mediterranean coast.

Other analysts also viewed news of the deployment in the Gulf as a positive development for Israel’s standing.

“It is the most significant deal Israel has made with an Arab country as far as I know,” Dr. Yoel Guzansky, a senior fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies and former member of Israel’s National Security Council, related to The Media Line. “It is a very large defense system with many moving parts.”

The UAE is expected to make use of the technology to counter the growing threat from Iran-backed Houthi rebel groups in Yemen, which launched a number of missile and drone attacks on the Gulf country earlier this year.

“Israel stood with the UAE at a crucial moment in its hour of need,” Guzansky said. “It’s very important and I assume that they will remember Israel positively in that they helped the country to better defend itself.”

Though there is a ceasefire in place at the moment in Yemen the fighting could start up again at any moment, Guzansky noted, and the Houthis have shown that they take no issue with firing on either the Emiratis or the Saudis.

In addition, part of the Barak system is manufactured in India, which facilitates the system’s transfer to other countries in the region including, perhaps in the future, Saudi Arabia.

“It shows that Israel is a player that can help Arab countries from a defense standpoint, such as Morocco and other places, to help them cope with threats,” he said. “It very much strengthens Israel’s position in the region.”

The system has both land and maritime-based configurations and if it is proven to be successful in the UAE, could lead to other nations wanting to purchase it as well.

What About Ukraine?

News of the deployment in the UAE comes on the heels of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s call for Israel to supply the war-torn country with aerial defense technology. Israel has so far refused Ukraine’s repeated requests for Iron Dome and other military technology, citing fears that it could end up in the hands of Iran or Russia.

Israel has tried to remain mostly neutral on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, due in part to its need for the consent of Russia – which patrols Syrian airspace – to carry out airstrikes against Iranian terror proxies in Syria.

That stance is unlikely to change in the near future, Schueftan believes.

“For Israel, there is an existential need to fight Iran and prevent it from establishing itself in Syria,” he related. “It will become dramatically more difficult for Israel to do so if the Russians decide to make it more difficult for Israel.”

In addition, Schueftan argued, Israel’s missile defense technology is not suitable for the war in Ukraine due to the sheer size of the territory that needs defending.

“The instruments that Israel developed are for tiny territories,” Schueftan said. “There are not enough Iron Dome systems in the universe to defend a small fraction of Ukraine. Israel does not even have enough projectiles to defend itself from all the existential threats.”

Like Schueftan, Guzansky also does not believe that Israel will be open to providing the Ukrainians with missile defense capabilities anytime soon.

“It would be like putting a finger in the eye of the Russians, which is not what Israel needs and I’m against it,” Guzansky said. “It would be a mistake. There are many other countries with aerial defense systems that could help Ukraine.”