Congress wants to transform the historic peace accords between Israel and its Arab neighbors into an unprecedented military alliance centered on combating Iran.
New legislation would require the Defense Department to develop plans for a joint air and missile defense project that would integrate Israel’s military forces with those of the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and other countries that are facing down threats from Iran. The bipartisan legislation builds on the Abraham Accords peace agreements that opened for the first time in history economic ties between the Jewish state and its neighbors in the UAE and Bahrain.
Sen. Joni Ernst (R., Iowa), chair of the Senate’s Abraham Accords Caucus and a driving force behind the legislation, told the Washington Free Beacon that the peace agreements fostered by the Trump administration cannot flourish until Israel and its neighbors unite to confront Iran’s regional terrorism enterprise, which has grown significantly since the 2015 nuclear deal came into effect and provided the hardline regime with billions of dollars in cash resources that it uses to fund terror groups across the Middle East.
Dubbed the DEFEND Act, the legislation would take unparalleled steps to integrate Israel’s defense architecture with those of its Arab neighbors, primarily through the supply of joint "air and missile defense" systems capable of destroying "cruise and ballistic missiles, manned and unmanned aerial systems, and rocket attacks from Iran," according to a copy of the full legislation. The bill was introduced a day after Iranian-backed militants in Iraq launched a strike on the U.S. consulate building there, highlighting the need for a more comprehensive military alliance, according to Ernst.
"If Iran and their malign proxies continue to target civilians, our Middle East allies and partners will not see the full potential of the Abraham Accords achieved," Ernst told the Free Beacon. "Collective security is essential to the success of the Abraham Accords, and this security cooperation starts with an integrated air and missile defense. This bipartisan, bicameral effort—coupled with broad support in the Jewish and Israel advocacy community—sends a powerful, unified message to the Biden administration and our partners in the Middle East and lays the important groundwork for future cooperation with the Department of Defense and CENTCOM," or U.S. Central Command, which oversees American operations in the region.
The legislation also would require the Defense Department to publish a threat assessment outlining Iran’s ballistic missile and drone capabilities, which would help all of the countries more accurately thwart attacks from Tehran-armed militants.
The bill already has a companion version in the House, which is backed by a large group of Democrats and Republicans—significantly increasing the chances that the legislation passes with broad bipartisan support.
Pro-Israel and Jewish organizations came out behind the legislation when it was introduced last week, and pressure from these outside groups could help convince lawmakers who are undecided on the issue to back the measure. This includes broad support from some of the largest pro-Israel and national security-oriented political advocacy groups, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the American Jewish Congress, Christians United for Israel, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and the Jewish Institute for National Security of America, among others.
Senior congressional sources who briefed the Free Beacon about the legislation said the Biden administration has not done enough to build on the Abraham Accords since taking office. The U.S. foreign policy community has mostly focused on striking a new nuclear deal with Iran and boosting relations with the Palestinian government. Congress, they said, is stepping forward to initiate a military realignment in the region that will reassure U.S. allies.
The Biden administration also faced criticism for instructing staff at the State Department to stop using the term "Abraham Accords" and instead refer to them as "normalization agreements," the Free Beacon reported last year. State Department insiders described this as an attempt to diminish their importance.
"Since coming into office, President Biden’s only priorities in the Middle East have been cozying up to Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terror, and haphazardly exiting Afghanistan," said one congressional source who was not authorized to speak on record. "Our president has alienated our key allies and partners in the region, downgraded the historic Abraham Accords to ‘normalization agreements,’ and withdrawn missile defense units from Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E.—costing real lives and threatening the safety of the homeland from resurgent terrorism operations across the region."
The new defense bill seeks to restore faith in the United States’ traditional commitment to allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia that have "been ostracized by this administration," the source said.
Democrats backing the legislation, including Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.), described the bill as an opportunity to create a lasting peace framework in the region.
"By strengthening and encouraging cooperation between signatories of the Abraham Accords and other regional partners, this bill will also help foster a more peaceful and stable region," Booker said in a statement.
CENTCOM officials did not respond to a request for comment on the legislation by press time.