A controversial report detailing that Saudi Arabia has purchased Israeli's Iron Dome defense system went viral this week after a prominent Arabic news site made the claim based on diplomatic sources.
Al-Khaleej Online, which is based in the UK and Persian Gulf, published the bombshell report on Wednesday, which alleged that the first Iron Dome missile battery is slated to be transferred to Saudi Arabia before the end of the year in December.
As Israel and Saudi Arabia are still longtime "official enemies" in the eyes of much of the Middle East public despite keeping increasingly close intelligence relations out of a shared desire to thwart Iran in the region, the story immediately stirred deep controversy, prompting Israeli officials to issue a prompt denial.
“We deny the existence of a deal to sell Iron Dome to Saudi Arabia,” Israel's Defense Ministry said in an emailed statement to the Times of Israel. Israeli officials were responding to the story sweeping national media on the heels of the claims taking Arabic social media by storm.
And further controversial is that the missile transfer, said to be in "excess of tens of millions of dollars," reportedly included the mediation of the United States.
Saudi Arabia, for its part, has been mum on the controversy, which is not actually the first time the allegation has been made. Riyadh and Tel Aviv have reportedly developed closer ties in the midst of both Syrian and Yemeni wars, where they fear growing Iranian influence.
Amidst these closer intelligence and defense relations as a result of the Shia Houthi-led rebellion in Yemen, the two were said to be in prior talks concerning the advanced Iron Dome system.
According to Newsweek:
In May 2015, just two months after Saudi Arabia and allies launched their campaign against the Zaidi Shiite Muslim Houthis in Yemen, U.K.-based Arabic-language Rai al-Youm reported on an alleged Israeli offer to sell the Iron Dome to Saudi Arabia on the sidelines of talks hosted by the U.S. in the Jordanian capital of Amman, citing a Western diplomatic source. The offer was reportedly rejected at the time.
And in May of this year, just as President Trump pulled the US out of the 2015 Iran nuclar deal, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman appealed directly to what he called "moderate" Sunni powers, including Saudi Arabia, to urge they should "come out of the closet" and openly cooperate with Israel. This was despite the fact that the two countries still don't have official diplomatic ties, something which would enrage much of the kingdom's Sunni Wahhabi religious scholars and citizens.
Israel relies on the Iron Dome system to take out short-range rockets and artillery shells lobbed from Gaza, and in past years to protect against the threat of sophisticated Hezbollah rockets based on southern Lebanon.
Saudi Arabia has of late been the target of medium-range ballistic missiles from from Yemen's Houthi controlled areas, which its current U.S.-built Patriot missile systems have reportedly had trouble intercepting.