Israel says building regional air defence alliance under U.S.

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JERUSALEM, June 20 (Reuters) – Israel is building a U.S.-sponsored regional air defence alliance, the Israeli defence minister said on Monday, adding that the apparatus has already foiled attempted Iranian attacks and could be boosted by President Joe Biden’s visit next month.

Drawing closer in recent years to U.S.-aligned Arab states which share its concerns over Iran, Israel has offered them defence cooperation. They have been publicly reticent on the idea.

Unveiling what he dubbed the “Middle East Air Defence Alliance” in a briefing to Israeli lawmakers, Defence Minister Benny Gantz said such cooperation is already under way.

“Over the past year I have been leading an extensive programme, together with my partners at the Pentagon and in the U.S. administration, that will strengthen the cooperation between Israel and countries in the region,” he said, according to an official transcript.

“This program is already operative and has already enabled the successful interception of Iranian attempts to attack Israel and other countries.”

The transcript did not name partner countries nor give further details on the thwarted attacks. Iran, Israel’s arch-foe and a regional rival of Arab powers, says any military actions it takes are defensive.

“I hope that we will take another step forward in this aspect (of regional cooperation) during President Biden’s important visit,” Gantz added.

During his July 13-16 visit, Biden will come to Israel and continue to Saudi Arabia, where he will meet Arab leaders.

Riyadh was supportive of Israel’s 2020 rapprochement with United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. But Saudi Arabia has stopped short of itself normalising ties with its Israeli neighbour.

As tensions have mounted over Tehran’s nuclear programme in recent years, Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and parts of Iraq have come under UAV or missile strikes that were claimed by or blamed on Iranian-backed militias.

(Writing by Dan Williams, Editing by William Maclean)

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