Since the end of 2020, four Middle Eastern countries — the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan — have established fully regularized economic and diplomatic relations with Israel. Two other Arab states did so much earlier: Egypt was the first to enter into diplomatic relations with Israel, signing a peace treaty with it in 1979 and engaging in trade cooperation, and the Kingdom of Jordan was the second, agreeing with Israel on peace and cooperation in 1994.
On September 15, 2020, UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani signed peace treaties between their countries and Israel, represented by its Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The UAE officially requested the Israeli Foreign Ministry to open its embassy in the Israeli capital Tel Aviv, and on January 24, 2021 the UAE leadership approved the opening of its permanent representative office in the city. The Israeli embassy in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE, opened on January 25, 2021. On March 31, 2021, Bahrain appointed its ambassador to Israel. The opening of Israeli embassies in Morocco and Sudan is planned soon.
These events, as shown by several Arab media publications, have raised natural questions among the residents of the region: Why did these countries of the Arab world, despite strong cultural differences and sometimes historical animosities, cooperate with Israel? How was this received worldwide, particularly in Muslim countries? How will this affect the development of the region?
Iran is playing an increasingly important role in the Middle East. It has long claimed to be a great regional power. On March 27, 2021, the Islamic Republic of Iran signed a treaty with China on comprehensive cooperation, including military cooperation. Iran’s army will soon receive new and high-quality weapons. The Iranian Armed Forces have about 600,000 servicemen. Iran has a high population of about 85 million people. It is also important that Iran, according to the age and sex pyramid, has a very high proportion of young people in the prime of their lives. If the Iranian leadership starts a full-fledged mobilization, it will easily be able to deploy a large number of troops.
In Iraq, where about 60% of the population is Shiite, pro-Iranian sentiments remain prominent (in Iran about 85% of the population is Shiite). Iran is increasing its military cooperation with Iraq, as well as supporting pro-Islamic groups in that country.
It is also important to note that Iran is involved in the Syrian civil war on the side of President Bashar al-Assad. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps provides all kinds of assistance to the Syrian government forces. Iran has made a significant contribution to the de-escalation of the conflict in Syria.
All of the above cannot but worry Israel and the Gulf countries. They are afraid of losing their former importance in the Middle East. These countries’ worries are exacerbated by the weakening military presence in the region of their main ally, the United States.
At the moment, the US is experiencing a number of domestic problems, as well as trying to stop the growth of China’s influence in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, increasing the number of military facilities in these regions. That is precisely why the number of US military personnel in the Arab states is decreasing year by year.
America’s Middle Eastern allies understand that the US is losing its former strength, and that if it wants to maintain its influence in the region, it needs to act in a more coordinated fashion.
Another reason for the warming of Israel’s relations with its most promising partners, the UAE and Bahrain, was the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 and the economic crisis that followed it. For example, on August 17, 2020, shortly before the official conclusion of the UAE-Israel peace treaty, one of the UAE’s leading medical institutions, the Abu Dhabi Stem Cell Center, and their Israeli colleagues signed a memorandum of cooperation on coronavirus research.
Members of the international community have reacted differently to Israel’s normalization of relations with the four Arab states. For example, European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on behalf of his organization that he approved of the signing of the peace accords and called it one of the most important steps to stabilize the situation in the region. Egyptian President Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi considered the beginning of Israel’s dialogue with the UAE and Bahrain to be a step toward the prosperity of the Middle East region. Representatives of Oman, Mauritania, Sudan, and many other countries also reacted positively to this event.
However, not all Muslim states were receptive to Israel’s peace treaty with the UAE and Bahrain. Turkish President Recep Erdogan sharply condemned the new arrangements and threatened to recall the Turkish ambassador from the UAE. However, he never carried out his threats. Mohammed Amari Zayed, a member of the Libyan Presidential Council, said during a conversation with an Al-Jazeera journalist that peace with Israel is a betrayal of the entire Muslim world by the Arab states. Mahmoud Abbas, chairman of the Palestinian Authority, also condemned the Emirati-Israeli treaty and recalled the Palestinian ambassador from the UAE. Iran reacted particularly harshly to this event. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian reminded the leaders of the UAE and Bahrain of the fate of former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, who signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979 and was assassinated in 1981 by Islamic terrorists in revenge for his dialogue with the Jewish state.
The normalization of relations between countries in most cases leads to positive consequences. On April 16, 2021, a historic meeting of representatives of Israel, Greece, the Republic of Cyprus and the UAE was held in Cyprus in the city of Paphos. Negotiations focused on the coronavirus epidemic and its consequences, economic cooperation, energy, and tourism. On April 7, for the first time in the history of the Arab countries, events were held in the UAE and Bahrain to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust.
In conclusion, Israel’s peace treaty with the Middle Eastern states will stimulate the normalization of relations between the Jewish state and the Arab world. The Arab-Israeli conflicts have been on the decline in recent years, and now it is time for engagement. If cooperation does take place, Iran’s position in the Middle East may weaken, and then the leadership of the Islamic Republic will have to pursue a more nuanced policy. But on the whole, peace between Jews and Arabs could play a positive role in ending the eternal conflict between East and West.
Dmitry Bokarev, a political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.