Analysts are looking forward to potential cooperation among the defense industries of Israel and the United Arab Emirates, following the Aug. 13 announcement that the two countries are establishing full diplomatic relations in a U.S.-brokered deal.
“It is monumental for both Israel and the UAE that they are now on an unprecedented path to normalization. How this might or might not affect the UAE defense sector in the short to medium term is far from certain,” said Aram Nerguizian, a senior associate with the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“There are certainly areas where industry in both countries will have a desire to collaborate, explore cost, and access sharing tied to research and development, let alone explore opportunities for equity and ownership in leading defense firms in both countries,” he added.
Some of these opportunities to collaborate include cybersecurity and advanced defense systems.
“Cybersecurity is one of the areas which could witness industrial cooperation between the UAE and Israel, and the latter have a strong edge in this area, also in unmanned autonomous systems, unmanned aircraft, missile defense, electronic systems and system integration. These are all areas where there is potential cooperation,” said Riad Kahwaji, a Dubai-based Middle East security and defense analyst who and serves as director of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis.
Opportunities are also stem from the fact that the two countries use similar platforms, like the F-16 fighter jet and Patriot missiles. And as both nations view Iran as a security threat, that common adversary could drive cooperation, Kahwaji noted.
What about the F-35?
Negotiations between the U.S. and the UAE for the latter’s purchase of the F-35 fighter jet haven’t significantly advanced since the Israel-UAE announcement, and Nerguizian doesn’t expect that to move forward.
“None of this, however, changes short- to medium-term Israeli and U.S. concerns tied to Israel’s QME [qualitative military edge] and regional proliferation. Sharing access and ownership to a fifth-generation platform like the F-35 falls into that uncertainty. For now, it is clear that both Israel and the U.S. remain concerned and opposed to the UAE acquiring the F-35,” Nerguizian said.
“Certainly, that can change from a U.S. policy perspective if the Trump administration weighs in, if it is reelected for a second term. However, doing so would go against Israel’s larger concerns that have less to do with the UAE and more to do with concern that if the UAE gets the platform, it will only be a matter of time before Saudi Arabia and eventually Egypt seek to acquire it as well,” the analyst added. “That is not something Israeli policymakers are all too comfortable with in the here and now. I should caveat that how that dynamic evolves in the medium to long term is far more uncertain. Both Israel and the UAE have reasons to deepen mutual trust and cooperation beyond narrowly balancing or containing Iran. Whether that level of cooperation extends to the F-35 or similar so-called ‘game-changer’ systems is not something we can clearly predict.”
A domino effect
Kahwaji told Defense News that the Israel-UAE deal — which required the Jewish state halt its contentious plan to annex occupied West Bank land sought by the Palestinians — could be a sign of improved relations to come among Mideast neighbors, particularly invovling Bahrain, Oman and Qatar.
“However, any negative moves by Netanyahu, like reviving his plan to annex the West Bank, will be a setback that will definitely sway many countries from following the UAE’s path and could definitely impact UAE-Israel relation in a negative way,” the military expert said.
Whether there will be growth across the entire region’s defense industries remains to be seen.
“Irrespective of administration, regional defense industries in the Arab world will continue to struggle against U.S. congressional limits and rules tied to [the International Traffic in Arms Regulations],” Nerguizian said. “There is an assumption that a Trump reelection might lead to more executive if not more legislative action, but that assumption still has to be tested, as concerns about [intellectual property] transfers, [qualitative military edge] and proliferation continue to cut across U.S. party lines.”