Israel and US said to increase cooperation to combat Iranian drones

Idea of establishing Mideast no-fly zone for Iranian UAVs reportedly raised in first interagency working group meeting between Israeli and US officials on tackling growing threat

By TOI STAFF23 June 2021, 6:09 pm  

Illustrative. Iranian Revolutionary Guard Commander Gen. Hossein Salami, left, and the Guard's aerospace division commander Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh talk while unveiling a new drone called "Gaza" in an undisclosed location in Iran, in a photo released on May 22, 2021. (Sepahnews of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, via AP)

Illustrative. Iranian Revolutionary Guard Commander Gen. Hossein Salami, left, and the Guard’s aerospace division commander Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh talk while unveiling a new drone called “Gaza” in an undisclosed location in Iran, in a photo released on May 22, 2021. (Sepahnews of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, via AP)

The United States and Israel reportedly held talks earlier this month on cooperation against unmanned Iranian drones, with which the Islamic Republic is believed to be arming Shiite militias and terrorist organizations in the region.

Building on an April agreement by the two counties’ national security advisers, an interagency working group dealing with the threat to Israel and other US allies from Iranian drones and precision-guided missiles convened for the first time three weeks ago, the Walla news site reported.

Quoting both senior US and Israeli officials involved in the talks, the report said  the American team was led by White House National Security Council Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa Brett McGurk and the Israeli team was headed by deputy national security adviser Reuven Ezer.

One idea reportedly raised in the meeting was establishing a “no-fly zone” in the Middle East for Iranian UAVs.

In May, Israel downed a drone it approached Israeli airspace near the northeastern city of Beit She’an, with then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu later saying it was made by Iran and launched by Iranian forces toward Israel from either Syria or Iraq. In a similar case in 2018, a drone was flown from Syria into northern Israel before it was shot down by an Israeli helicopter. In response, the IDF launched a wave of strikes on Iranian assets in Syria.

Israel has a waged a nearly decade-long bombing campaign in Syria aimed at thwarting Iran and allied militias, including Hezbollah, from setting up bases to attack the Jewish state, as well as the transfer of advanced arms from Iran to Hezbollah.

Sunday’s report comes days after the news site said that the US had increased military coordination with Israel and with a number of moderate Middle Eastern countries in an effort to counter the threat posed to the region by the Islamic Republic.

Over the past two months, the US military’s Central Command (CENTCOM) has increased the pace of coordination and the number of high-level meetings with Israel, Egypt, Jordan, several Gulf states, Cyprus and Greece, the Sunday report said.IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, center-right, and US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, center-left, salute outside the US Department of Defense in Washington, DC, on June 21, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

During his ongoing visit to the US, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi visited the Florida headquarters of CENTCOM Tuesday, touting the “operational cooperation” between the two US and Israeli militaries as “unprecedented.”

“A joint operating target of the two militaries is Iran, which is working to entrench itself and establish terrorist forces in many states throughout the Middle East and is continuing to present a regional threat in terms of nuclear, advanced weapons systems, ballistic missiles and funding terror armies,” Kohavi said alongside CENTCOM chief, General Frank McKenzie.

Kohavi’s trip comes amid lingering tensions between the US and Israel over the Iran nuclear issue. US President Joe Biden’s administration intends to return to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, a move that Israeli officials, including Kohavi, have staunchly and publicly opposed.

On Friday, Channel 13 news reported that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is hoping to use the coming weeks, ahead of the inauguration of the new hardline Iranian president, Ebrahim Raisi, to hold talks with Washington in order to influence the expected US return to the nuclear deal.

The report said Bennett has removed a ban by his predecessor, Netanyahu, on Israeli officials discussing the details of the emerging renewed deal between the US and Iran. Netanyahu had instructed security officials not to hold talks on the details of the deal with American officials, in an apparent effort to distance Israel from it.Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (2R) leads a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, June 20, 2021. (Amit Shabi/POOL)

Last week, Iran announced that it had amassed 6.5 kilograms (14.3 pounds) of uranium enriched to 60 percent purity, and 108 kilograms of uranium enriched to 20% purity, in five months. Uranium enriched to those levels can be relatively easy to further enrich into a weapons-grade level of 90% purity.

Former US president Donald Trump abandoned the Iran deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), in 2018, imposing fresh sanctions on Iran and Iranian officials, leading Tehran to follow suit shortly thereafter. Since then, Tehran has ratcheted up tensions on the nuclear front by amassing greater quantities of enriched uranium at greater degrees of purity and by making advancements in the development of missiles that could be used to carry a nuclear warhead.

In recent months, Iranian and European negotiation teams have been meeting in Vienna to discuss a return to the nuclear deal by the US and Iran. Though all sides have reported progress, the talks have stalled somewhat in recent weeks as Iran geared up for its presidential elections, which were held last week.

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