Saudis may purchase Israeli defence systems

4 June 2022

Saudi Arabia has expressed its interest in the immediate purchase of some Israeli made air defence systems. According to an Israeli senior defence source there are advanced negotiations about some of the systems.

Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz and the past two heads of the Mossad have visited Saudi Arabia in recent years, Israeli daily Israel Hayom reported on Sunday.

In recent weeks, media coverage of Israel's ties with Saudi Arabia has increased ahead of US President Joe Biden's possible visit to Saudi Arabia during his Middle East visit in late June.

Previous to this, then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with then-US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Neom, Saudi Arabia, in November 2020.

The Saudi interest in some very advanced Israeli-made air defence systems increased significantly immediately after the 2019 Houthi attack on the Aramco oil facilities in Saudi Arabia.

According to Yemen's Houthi rebels, their drones attacked two major oil facilities inside Saudi Arabia, damaging facilities that process 95% of the country's crude output, and raising the risk of a disruption in world oil supplies.

In recent weeks, the talks about a possible purchase of Israeli-made air defence systems have accelerated. However, in response to an inquiry for confirmation, a spokesperson of the Israeli ministry of defence explained they "do not discuss negotiations with customers for Israeli made defense systems."

A senior defence source says the Saudis are also showing great interest in the Iron Dome and Spyder made by Rafael and the Barak MX made by Israel aerospace industries (IAI). He says the Saudis were "very impressed" by the results of the recent test of an upgraded version of the Iron Dome, which was put through a range of complex scenarios and successfully intercepted and destroyed targets simulating existing and emerging threats, including the simultaneous interception of multiple UAVs as well as a salvo of rockets and missiles.

The Saudi interest in the IAI BARK MX in particular was boosted when Morocco signed a contract to purchase the system.

The Barak-MX is a modular air defence system that is designed to address missile and aircraft threats. It operates on both marine platforms and land, and is capable of simple integration with any existing legacy or sensors. All of its Land Deployable components (BMC, Launchers with interceptors and Radars) can be operated from static infrastructure or can be truck mounted and deployed to temporal operational sites.

According to the developer, Barak MX’s innovative, software based modular approach offers "exceptional flexibility in operation and power build up and ensures simple adaptation to future threats, making it one of the most powerful, all weather, day & night solutions" for today’s most challenging threats.

Professor Uzi Rabi, an Israeli senior expert on Middle East and Gulf issues, told FrontLine that the big interest of the Saudis in Israeli defence systems is a direct outcome from their understanding the Iran with a bomb will also reflect of their proxies like the Houthis. "This new phase in the relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel is in the interest of the U.S." adds Prof Rabi. "I will not be surprised if, in the planned visit of president Biden in the Middle East, a formal White House announcement will be released about the establishment of new relations between Riyadh and Jerusalem."

Arie Egozi is a defence journalist based in Tel Aviv.