What happened: The British Armed forces and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have signed a joint agreement to strengthen their relationship.
- Last Thursday, the UK’s Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Sir Nicholas Carter and the IDF Chief of Staff, Lt Gen Aviv Kochavi met via video link and signed the agreement to formalise and enhance defence collaboration and support the growing Israel-UK partnership.
- The news was supported by UK Ambassador to Israel Neil Wigan, who tweeted: “Delighted to announce that UK and Israeli Chiefs of Defence Staff… signed a new agreement to further deepen our military co-operation.”
- Most of the agreement is highly classified but the cooperation will include defence medical training, organisational design and concepts, and defence education.
Context: The UK and Israel military cooperation has been growing over the last decade with the relationship viewed as mutually beneficial.
- Both militaries share a commitment to improving and integrating their multi-domain capabilities in maritime, land, air, space, and cyber and electromagnetic.
- They share similar interests in the region. While Israel feels the Iranian threat far more acutely due to its relative geographic proximity, both countries wish to prevent Iran achieving a nuclear capability, curb its advanced ballistic missile programme and counter Iranian proxies, particularly in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and the shipping lanes of the Gulf.
- In 2019, the UK deployed naval assets to ensure free shipping in the Gulf, while the UK is also working to secure the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian dual national who has been detained in Iran since April 2016 after being convicted of espionage.
- The also share concerns against radical Islamist terrorism, with emphasis in recent years on the Islamic State, a mutual priority.
- British financial and military support to Jordan is also a common interest, with the stability of the Hashemite Kingdom viewed as a strategic priority by Israel, which it shares its longest border with. The military and intelligence services of both Israel and Jordan cooperate closely against mutual threats of Islamist terrorism and Iranian encroachment.
- In February 2019, the UK government designated all of Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation. Israel would, however, like to see more pressure on the Lebanese government to stop the deployment of Hezbollah personnel in southern Lebanon and the build-up of its missile arsenal in contravention of UN Security Council Resolution 1701.
- In July 2019, the Telegraph reported that the Metropolitan Police and MI5 uncovered a Hezbollah bomb plot in North London in 2015, just months before the UK signed the JCPOA nuclear agreement. Police discovered three tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored inside disposable ice packs when they raided four properties in north-west London, arresting a man on suspicion of planning a terrorist attack. The discovery of the bomb plot was reportedly assisted by information from Israel’s intelligence service, the Mossad.
- There is also significant cooperation between the two countries in cyber security, described by a senior UK official last year as a “first-order partnership”. Israel is widely recognised for its unique innovation ecosystem, with close interaction between government, military, academia and industry – a model which the UK has sought to emulate.
- Since 2010, the two countries have cooperated on the development of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) through the Watchkeeper programme, which has been deployed by British forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
- The British Army hopes to learn from the Israeli experience as it transitions to a more digital army. According to a report by Seth Frantzman in The National Interest, in October the British were given access to Israeli-based Elbit Systems’ “Rhino mobile headquarters”. It uses advanced digital technology to link together units in the field and commanders with the best information possible to help achieve results on the battlefield. The British Army said the system helps to “reduce the size of the headquarters, makes it less vulnerable and able to make and communicate decisions faster.” Elbit has worked with the UK for years on other applications, such as battle management systems.
Looking ahead As a result of good will and appreciation for each other capabilities, both militaries will continue to problem solve together, share expertise, and look to develop additional common defence platforms.
- Post coronavirus, both militaries hope to be able to return to a schedule of regular visits and meetings.