Published originally in the Jewish News Syndicate (JNS).
A bill to develop a strategic approach to how the United States will work to encourage cooperation between members of the Abraham Accords in combating Iranian aggression was introduced on Wednesday in both chambers of Congress.
The bipartisan bill, Deterring Enemy Forces and Enabling National Defense (DEFEND) Act, would require the Secretary of Defense to work with America’s allies in the Middle East to structure an air and missile defense plan for countries whose people and infrastructure are threatened by attacks from Iran or its proxies.
The introduction of the bills comes a day after a dronethought to have come from an Iran proxy attacked the U.S. consulate in the Kurdish city of Erbil, Iraq.
The countries listed in the bill include members of the Gulf Cooperation Council—Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates—Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Egypt and other regional allies that the secretary may identify.
The bill was introduced on the Senate floor by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), with support from Senate Abraham Accords Caucus co-chairs Sens. James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), and caucus member Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.).
“America’s cooperation with our allies and partners in the Middle East should evolve as violent extremists, like Iran, change their tactics and onboard new capabilities capable of catastrophic damage against civilian targets, but the ability to do so is reliant on a commitment to collective security,” Ernst said in a news release. “This bipartisan, bicameral effort will lay the groundwork for security collaboration with our allies and partners in the region and help them to step up and take on the threat posed by Iran and its violent extremist proxies.”
“We cannot hope for peace; we must work to create peace. That is why the Abraham Accords are so essential to the future of the region,” Lankford said in the release. “My colleagues and I also want the U.S. Department of Defense to prepare a strategic plan to strengthen integrated air and missile defense capabilities to protect people and infrastructure from the ongoing threats from Iran. We can and must be smart about the realities existing in the region from Iran, but we must also continue to integrate people and commerce in the region toward a goal of lasting peace.”
If the bill is signed into law, the Secretary of Defense will have 180 days to submit a plan to congressional defense committees. The plan should include an assessment of the threat from cruise missiles, ballistic missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles from Iran and its proxies; a description of current efforts to coordinate warnings of such attacks as well as current defense systems; and a description of how the architecture developed by the department would work.
“As U.S. forces and our partners in the Middle East face increasingly sophisticated air and missile threats from Iran and its terrorist proxies, we must act in a coordinated way to defend against shared threats,” said Rosen, noting that the legislation will support the Department of Defense’s efforts to “integrate the defense capabilities of our Middle Eastern allies and partners, including Israel, and leverage their unique capabilities to develop an integrated air and missile defense architecture.”
In the House, the bill was introduced by House Abraham Accords Caucus co-chairs Reps. Cathay McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Brad Schneider (D-Ill.), along with House Armed Services Committee members Reps. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) and Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.).
“Iran is on the one-yard line in their pursuit of a nuclear weapon, and is threatening our allies in the region in numerous other ways. Strengthening our allies by building unity and enhancing shared security capabilities is critical to confronting Iranian threats to the region,” Schneider said in a news release. “U.S. leadership, in developing integrated air and missile defense, would provide essential security, stability, and a unified defense to the region.”
The DEFEND Act is the first piece of legislation introduced by the Abraham Accords caucuses, which were established in both chambers in January.
The bill would also require the department to outline how these systems would be procured and whether and to report on the feasibility of establishing a fund to aid in procurement.
The bill was endorsed by numerous pro-Israel organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League, AIPAC, American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Congress, Hadassah: The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Jewish Federations of North American, Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA), U.S. Israel Education Association.
Senior Middle East scholars at the Atlantic Council also expressed their support for the measures.
In a news release, JINSA applauded the bill’s introduction, saying that the United States and its Middle Eastern partners can leverage the growth of the Israeli-Arab cooperation to “bolster regional stability, security and prosperity,” thanks to the historic Abraham Accords signed between the United States, Israel, Bahrain and the UAE in 2020.
“The United States has a fundamental interest in strengthening the Abraham Accords, one of the greatest developments in the Middle East in decades,” JINSA president and CEO Michael Makovsky said in the release.
The organization cited recommendations from a report put forward by a group of experts from JINSA’s Abraham Accords Policy Project, calling for a “flexible” but “ambitious” approach to building a new Middle East security architecture.
Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Herzog tweeted that he was “thankful that the bipartisan Abraham Accords Caucus is working actively to support regional security in the face of destabilizing forces in the Middle East.”
The AJCongress wrote that the authorization to the Secretary of Defense in the bill would foster further cooperation with allies and partners in the Middle East to counter the Iranian threat.
“The DEFEND Act presents a needed vision for a new security architecture in the Middle East—one that proactively builds on the remarkable diplomatic developments that we have seen between Israel and Arab partners,” said Jack Rosen, president of the AJCongress in a news release. “By promoting the integration of defense capabilities among our Middle Eastern allies and partners, the United States can further encourage these stunning cooperative efforts. This bill contributes to our national security priorities, safeguards Israel, and defends our crucial allies in the region. More importantly, it combats the rising military threat posed by Iran, at its source.”