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Arab states unexpectedly helped Israel fend off Iran's attack

Tom Porter   

Arab states unexpectedly helped Israel fend off Iran's attack
  • Israel found help from unlikely sources against an Iranian missile attack.
  • Jordan shot down an Iranian missile and other Arab states may have provided intel.

The skies over Israel lit up on Saturday night as its Iron Dome shot down hundreds of missiles and drones launched by Iran.

The assault was retaliation for Israel's deadly strike on Iran's consulate in the Syrian capital Damascus. It marked the first time that Iran had carried out attacks on Israel from Iranian territory.

Israel said it shot down 99% of the drones, cruise, and ballistic missiles that headed its way. In doing so, it received help from unlikely sources: its Arab neighbors.

Jordan, which has been a fierce critic of Israel's campaign in Gaza, said it intercepted projectiles fired by Iran that entered its airspace. It also appeared to open up its airspace to Israeli and US fighter jets.

Samih al-Maaytah, Jordan's former information minister, defended the move on Sunday. "Jordan's duty is to protect its lands and citizens," he said. "What Jordan did yesterday was to simply protect its airspace."

Jordan may have complicated motivations for backing Israel. As Deutsche Welle wrote on Sunday, the country shares a border with Israel and often works with Israeli authorities.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have publicly called for peace in the region. But The Wall Street Journal, citing US officials, said Iran tipped off several Gulf states about the timing and nature of the attack it was planning. They then passed the information to the US, Israel's key international ally.

"Arab countries quietly passed along intelligence about Tehran's attack plans, opened their airspace to warplanes, shared radar tracking information or, in some cases, supplied their own forces to help," the Journal reported, citing the sources.

This may jeopardize Saudi attempts to improve relations with Iran. In March, Saudi Arabia and Iran restored ties with help from China, agreeing to reopen embassies in their respective capitals.

In March 2023, China helped Saudi Arabia and Iran restore some diplomatic ties, brokering an agreement to reopen embassies in their respective capitals.

The response reveals that opposition to Iranian aggression remains a key factor shaping the region's shifting alliances, despite growing rage about Israel's attacks on Gaza.

Saudi Arabia is still interested in possibly normalizing diplomatic relations with Israel. One reason, The New York Times reported, is that it's hoping for a US security guarantee in case it's ever attacked by Iran.

Yasmine Farouk, a nonresident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told the Times that many Arab states envied the success of Israel's Iron Dome defense system, which was constructed with US support.

"What the Western countries under US leadership have done to protect Israel yesterday is exactly what Saudi Arabia wants for itself," said Farouk.

Arab countries' fears about Iranian aggression was a key factor underpinning the Abraham Accords — the agreement to normalize diplomatic relations between Israel and some Arab states brokered by the Trump administration.

The deal, which the UAE and Bahrain in the Gulf region agreed to, put aside the issue of Palestinian statehood that has long divided Israel and its neighbors and promised increased US support for Arab countries against potential Iranian attacks.

The October 7 terrorist attacks, which killed around 1,200 Israeli, abruptly halted that process. Jordan and Saudi Arabia have been among the leading voices condemning Israel's subsequent campaign in Gaza, where more than 33,000 people have been killed.

However, per various reports, Saudi Arabia and other Arab states are willing to continue discussions with Israel once fighting in Gaza has abated.

Giorgio Cafiero, the CEO of Gulf State Analytics, told Business Insider it could be risky for Arab states to be seen as coming to Israel's aid.

"There is now much anger toward Jordan on the part of many in the wider Arab-Islamic world who see Amman serving Israel and the US's interests more than six months into Israel's annihilatory campaign in Gaza which Arab governments like Jordan's have only stood against in rhetoric, not concrete action," he said.

As the conflict between Israel and Iran intensifies, Arab states face a tough choice between their security priorities and addressing public anger over Gaza.

Saudi Arabia has said that normalization with Israel must include a realistic path to Palestinian statehood. That request is unlikely to be met by Israel's current government.

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