Exclusive: Israel to sell air defence system to United Arab Emirates

Flags of the United Arab Emirates and Israel flutter during the Israel National Day ceremony at Expo 2020 Dubai, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Jan. 31, 2022. REUTERS/Christopher Pike/

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DUBAI/NEW YORK, Sept. 22 (Reuters) – Israel has agreed to sell an advanced air defense system to the United Arab Emirates, two sources familiar with the matter said, in the first known deal between them since forging ties in 2020 .

The deal confirms how, for some Arab states, the resolution of the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict is now overshadowed by national priorities, such as security and the economy.

Israel and the US-affiliated UAE share an ultimate fear of Iran getting a nuclear weapon, an ambition Tehran denies.

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Israel approved a UAE request in mid-summer and would provide the Gulf state with Rafael-made SPYDER mobile interceptors, two sources said, refusing to provide further details due to the delicate nature of the deal.

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A third source said the UAE had acquired Israeli technology capable of combating drone strikes like those that hit Abu Dhabi earlier this year.

Israel’s Defense Ministry and SPYDER manufacturer Rafael declined to comment. The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not comment.

It wasn’t immediately clear how many interceptor fighters, which are vehicle-mounted and capable of protecting against short- to long-range threats, would be delivered, or if one had already been dispatched to date.

When asked whether Israel supplied the UAE with air defense systems, Ram Ben-Barak, chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defense, said on September 20 that there was broad cooperation with the UAE, but declined to comment further.


The need to bolster the UAE’s air defense capabilities increased after a series of missile and drone attacks on the Gulf state in January and February. Most of the attacks were intercepted, but an attack in Abu Dhabi killed three civilians.

That strike shocked the leaders of the UAE, which has long boasted about its security and stability in a tumultuous region, foreign diplomats said. An under construction terminal at Abu Dhabi airport was also hit, with civilian workers injured, sources informed about the attacks said.

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At least some missiles and drones flew at low altitudes to escape detection by UAE-built Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) and Patriot interceptors, the sources said.

Rafael says SPYDER can defend large areas from threats such as drones, cruise missiles, attack planes, helicopters and bombers, including from low altitudes.

President Isaac Herzog, who visited the UAE in January when an intercepted attack took place, said Israel supported the UAE’s security needs. And last week Prime Minister Yair Lapid said he was horrified by the attacks and that Israel stood alongside and with the UAE.

Most of the attacks were claimed by the Iran-affiliated Houthi movement, which the UAE fought in the Yemen war as part of the Saudi-led military coalition seeking to restore the ousted government.

The sources said the agreement with the interceptors was reached in mid-summer, when the United States and Israel pressured Arab states to link their air defense systems in order to better defend against Iranian drone and missile strikes.

That proposal has met resistance from some Arab states with which Israel has no ties, Reuters reported in July, although an Israeli official said partner countries were synchronizing systems via remote electronic communications.

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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 is defensive and not targeting a third country.

Gulf state of Bahrain also forged ties with Israel in 2020, and the two later signed a security agreement. Israel and the UAE signed a free trade agreement this year; Israel is the first to have an Arab state. Negotiations with Bahrain started this week.

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Reporting by Alexander Cornwell and John Irish; Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Editing by Alexander Smith

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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