20.08.2020 Author: Salman Rafi Sheikh

New Deal Makes Israel Indispensable to the Arab Middle East

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Whereas the recently announced UAE-Israeli deal may have significant relevance to the falling political fortunes of both Netanyahu and Donald Trump and their attempt to project this deal as a ‘success story’, there is much more to the deal that meets the eye. This is particularly pertinent with regards to the geo-politics of the Middle East and the Gulf states’ calculations about their future in an environment where Iran is not the only regional threat to Arab dominance and where the US has, as of recently, repeatedly failed to fulfil its security commitments, evident from Houthi missile attack on Saudi oil-facilities and the failure of American defence systems to intercept.

Therefore, even if Netanyahu and Trump had their domestic political arenas as the core reasons for this deal, for the UAE the increasing imperative of buttressing its/GCC position vis-à-vis the emerging regional alignment of Turkey, Qatar & Iran has a pre-eminent position. A UAE-Israel permanent alliance, in this context, would reinforce Arab position even if Trump loses the up-coming presidential election.

If the recently released polls are to be believed, the US president Trump is trailing Joe Biden. As such, in the wake of Trump’s defeat and Biden becoming the president, the US policy on the Middle East, including towards Iran, might change once again from Trump’s ‘maximum pressure’ to the Obama-era ‘constructive engagement.’ Such a policy would also imply a potentially and significantly reduced US commitment to the Gulf states’ security; hence, the urgent need for the Gulf-Arab states (the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait) to move towards formalising their relations with Israel and utilise its intelligence and security services for their own defence and security both at internal and external levels.

Accordingly, the UAE-Israel joint statement emphasised that the full normalisation of relations between Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi “will unlock the great potential in the region”, allowing both states to make agreements relating to diverse fields, ranging from tourism and direct flights to security and “other areas of mutual benefit.” The range of new agreements is not limited to the UAE and Israel. Indeed, the joint statement mentioned a strong possibility of similar agreements with other Gulf/Arab states in near future. Jared Kushner said Israel-Saudi normalisation is “inevitable” now.

Whenever new agreements are announced, however, the guiding lens would still be theses countries’ “similar outlook regarding the threats and opportunities in the region, as well as a shared commitment to promoting stability through diplomatic engagement, increased economic integration, and closer security coordination.”  This is a perfect recipe for future alliance against the rival bloc of countries.

There is an intersection of interests, not a small one, between us and many of the Arab states,” Meir Dagan, the Israeli Mossad chief from 2002 to 2011, said in an interview before his death in 2016. According to Dagan, Arab states’ core interests were never against Israel. What they feared the most was the possibility of “Iran with a nuclear weapon.” Israel, with or without a nuclear weapon, was and is always acceptable. The fact that Iran is now potentially allied with Turkey and Qatar within the Middle East geo-political landscape has made Arab states even more uncomfortable, forcing them to take as bold a step as recognising and developing relations with Israel.

There are deep divisions in the Middle East, and the very announcement of the UAE-Israel deal has further reinforced the emerging regional faultiness. Turkey’s condemnation of the deal coupled with its readiness to present itself as the new leader of the ‘Muslim world’ indicates which way the wind is blowing.

Erdogan has already hinted that Turkey might suspend or downgrade its ties with the UAE. There is little denying that this deal is nothing short of a challenge for Turkey and Qatar. At the same time, for these countries, the deal is a blessing in disguise, which might give them the opportunity to take the centre stage as the ‘sole champions’ of the Palestinian cause. A strongly-worded statement by the Turkish Foreign Ministry said, “History and the conscience of the region’s peoples will not forget and never forgive this hypocritical behaviour of the UAE, betraying the Palestinian cause for the sake of its narrow interests.”

Iranian foreign ministry said that “the dagger which stabbed both the Palestinian nation and the Muslim peoples in the back will backfire and further strengthen the Resistance Axis by enhancing unity and solidarity against the Zionist regime and reactionary governments in the region.”

While the UAE-Israel joint statement avoided any references to the Palestinians, giving the rivals states an opportunity to construct their narrative on the ‘great betrayal’ of the cause, these states will, from now onwards, have to counter not just Israel but a host of Arab states as well on the question of the resolution of the Israel-Palestine dispute.

In other words, if the UAE has made Israel indispensable to the Gulf states, Israel has made the UAE (and other Gulf states-to-follow-the-agreement) equally indispensable to the resolution of the dispute. The UAE, as it stands, is now an indispensable party to the decades old territorial dispute. Israel has won important regional allies just as the UAE has got the most powerful regional military power on its side.

Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.


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