Last week, a bipartisan bill aimed at uniting the U.S. and its allies in the Middle East through integrated air defense systems was introduced in both chambers of the U.S. Congress. The Deterring Enemy Forces and Enabling National Defenses (DEFEND) Act uses the relationships formed by the 2020 Abraham Accords to combat regional threats and promote peace and security in the region. The countries included in the bill include members of the Gulf Cooperation Council in addition to Iraq, Jordan, Israel, and Egypt. Similar to the historic peace accords that normalized Israeli relations with its Arab neighbors, the DEFEND Act strives to achieve regional peace while simultaneously combating Iranian aggression.
Historic Middle East Realignment
In September 2020, the Trump administration brokered a series of deals labeled the Abraham Accords. Named after the father of the three monotheistic religions founded in the Middle East – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – the unprecedented joint agreements signify the potential for regional stability and cooperative growth. The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco formally normalized ties with Israel under the banner of the Abraham Accords in 2020. Prior to these agreements, Jordan and Egypt were the only states in the region to sign peace treaties with the Jewish state. Egypt became the first country in the Middle East to sign a peace deal with Israel in 1979, following years of warfare. In 1994, Jordan became the second country in the region to formally recognize Israel, in the form of an economics and trade-based peace agreement.
While the Abraham Accords center on promoting peace by aligning U.S. allies in the region, the peace deals serve a further purpose. Normalized relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors help create a more formidable counter to Iran’s malign behavior in the region. In recent years, Iran-directed militias have carried out relentless drone and missile attacks throughout the Middle East. Its proxies in Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria function on behalf of the regime and its revolutionary principles.
For this reason, the Gulf Cooperation Council signed the Al-Ula Declaration a few months prior to the establishment of the Abraham Accords. The agreement, signed by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, and Egypt, ended a rift that had divided the Gulf for three years. Similar to the Abraham Accords, this “solidarity and stability act” was signed in part to counter the threats posed by Tehran. Saudi’s crown prince elaborated that the newly reunited Gulf Cooperation Council must “confront the challenges that surround us, particularly the threats posed by the Iranian regime’s nuclear program, its ballistic missile program, its destructive sabotage projects as well as the terrorist and sectarian activities adopted by Iran and its proxies to destabilize the security and stability in the region.”
The normalized relations formed between Israel, its Arab neighbors, and the Gulf states – made possible by the Abraham Accords and Al-Ula Declaration – are more critical now than ever. Iran’s nuclear breakout time is quickly approaching, and its hostile behavior continues to threaten regional peace.
Maya Carlin is a Middle East Defense Editor with 19FortyFive. She is also an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel.