The Israel-UAE agreement: Busting myths and sending messages
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The Israel-UAE agreement: Busting myths and sending messages

20 Aug 2020 - 12:18
Photo: The Great Mosque in Abu Dhabi. © Pixabay
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The Israeli peace agreement with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is transforming strategic alliances in the Middle East. It also busts myths about Israel and Middle Eastern politics according to Israeli researcher Eytan Gilboa.

Gilboa-Map showing Isarael (Blue) and UAE (Red). Wikimedia Commons
Map showing Israel (Blue) and UAE (Red). © Wikimedia Commons

The Israel-UAE agreement is extremely important. This is the third peace agreement to be signed between Israel and an Arab country. The other two were with Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994. The UAE agreement will increase the prospects for peace, stability and prosperity in the Middle East.

Israel and several Gulf states have been closely collaborating under the table for a number of years, mainly on security issues. These relations are now being opened up and upgraded. More and more people across much of the Sunni Muslim Arab world no longer perceive Israel as an enemy but rather as a potential ally. This deal will increase Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state in the Middle East.

A combination of threats and opportunities made the agreement happen. The threat both countries face is Iran’s quest for hegemony and domination in the Middle East via violence, terrorism, military interventions and nuclear weapons. Iran is active in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. The Arab Gulf states are especially vulnerable to the Iranian threat.

Other Gulf states like Bahrain and Oman are likely to sign similar agreements with Israel

The Israel-UAE alliance is expected to deal more effectively with Iran. Other Gulf states like Bahrain and Oman are likely to sign similar agreements with Israel, as they share the same concerns that brought about the agreement with the UAE.

Gilboa-Deputy Supreme Commander of the United Arab Emirates Armed Forces Al-Nahyan and U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., May 2017 - Official White House
Deputy Supreme Commander of the United Arab Emirates Armed Forces Al-Nahyan and U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., May 2017. © Official White House

In addition to the matter of the common threat, opportunities exist in the fields of technology and trade. Israel, the “start-up nation”, leads the world in innovation, advanced technologies and artificial intelligence in the fields of medicine, agriculture, solar energy, water conservation and desalination – all important areas for the Gulf states.

The UAE is seeking breakthroughs in these and other areas and wants to have more influence on Middle Eastern politics. It has the resources while Israel has the human power with which to promote innovation, sustainability and entrepreneurship. The agreement will also improve the reputation and standing of both countries in the eyes of the world.

West Bank and the Trump peace plan
The Israel-UAE agreement halted Israel’s plan to unilaterally apply sovereignty to areas in the West Bank that the Trump peace plan had allocated to Israel. This is an important aspect of the agreement because the Palestinians have threatened to use violence to prevent the annexation, and the UAE was able to justify the agreement by claiming to have protected a core Palestinian interest.

The right in Israel blamed the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for trading areas in the West Bank for the peace agreement, but he stated that the sovereignty extension has been only suspended, not cancelled. It seems that this plan will not be implemented in the near future.

The agreement, however, also sends the Palestinians four clear messages:

  • The Palestinians can no longer exercise veto power on relations between Israel and Arab states with which it shares significant security and economic interests.
  • Containing the Iranian threat is more important to some Arab states than the Palestinian cause.
  • Time is not on the Palestinians’ side. For decades, they have rejected American proposals – including the most recent one proposed by Donald Trump – on the assumption that eventually, Israel would be forced to accept their uncompromising demands. This premise can no longer be taken for granted.
  • The agreement undermines the Palestinians’ strategy of conditioning peace agreements between Israel and Arab countries on an agreement between them and Israel.

The agreement sends a message to the EU, especially to the Western member states that still subscribe to obsolete beliefs about the Middle East

The Israel-UAE agreement exposes the enemies of peace and stability in the region. Iran and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Turkey, the two big non-Arab Muslim autocracies, have not only condemned the agreement but have threatened the UAE and promised retaliation. Their purpose is to deter other Arab countries from following the UAE’s example.

Erdoğan employs threats and intimidation as a matter of policy. Recently, he also threatened Greece over gas reserves and maritime rights in the Eastern Mediterranean. It is about time the United States and NATO define Turkey as a hostile power undermining Western interests in the region and act accordingly.

Gilboa-A United Arab Emirates Air Force pilot in 2013 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevava. - Robert Sullivan - Flickr
A United Arab Emirates Air Force pilot in 2013 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. © Robert Sullivan / Flickr

The agreement sends a message to the European Union, especially to the Western member states that still subscribe to obsolete beliefs about the Middle East. Despite the so-called “Arab Spring” and the ongoing horrific civil wars in Syria, Yemen and Libya, they still mistakenly refer to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the “Middle East Conflict” and view peace between Israel and the Palestinians as the key to stability for the entire region. Like the Palestinians, they continue to claim that Arab-Israeli peace can come only after an Israeli-Palestinian peace.

The Israel-UAE agreement also busts the myth that a right-led Israeli government cannot make peace with Arabs. Persistent though this myth may be, it was proven false as long ago as 1979, when the first peace agreement was negotiated by the right-led government of Israel’s Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat. Similarly, a right-led Israeli government negotiated the Israel-UAE agreement.

Trump’s only foreign policy achievement
Trump would like to have a public celebration in honour of this historic agreement like those on the White House lawn that marked the signing of the peace agreement with Egypt in 1979 and the Oslo Accords in 1993, as well as the one held on the border between Israel and Jordan to celebrate their 1994 peace agreement. The “Deal of the Century” has not worked out too well, but the Israel-UAE agreement is certainly cause for celebration.

Trump is hoping this breakthrough will help him win the 2020 presidential election, as up to this point, he has had no significant foreign policy achievements. While the Israel-UAE agreement is indeed a major achievement, it will not significantly affect the vote. American voters are focused on the coronavirus pandemic and the economy and are unlikely to place much importance on this agreement.

The Israel-UAE agreement could be a message to Biden

Jimmy Carter helped reach peace between Israel and Egypt in 1979 but lost the 1980 election because of bad economic conditions in the US. Similarly, George H.W. Bush got Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait but lost the next presidential election due to worsening economic conditions.

Gilboa-Joe Biden with Benjamin Netanyahu during his visit to Israel in March 2016 as Vice President. U.S. Embassy Jerusalem
Joe Biden with Benjamin Netanyahu during his visit to Israel in March 2016 as Vice President. © U.S. Embassy Jerusalem

Timing could be a factor in the US role. The selection of Kamala Harris as the Democratic vice-president candidate is a big plus for Joe Biden and strengthens his candidacy. The Israel-UAE agreement could somewhat offset the negative repercussions.

Israel and the Gulf states are worried to death about Biden and the Democrats because of their intention to restore the nuclear deal with Iran negotiated by Barack Obama. The Israel-UAE agreement could be a message to Biden and the Democrats that they would do well to give more weight to the interests of American allies in the region and should certainly not legitimise an untrustworthy Iran with imperial aspirations.

This article was first published by the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA) at Bar-Ilan University in Israel on August 17, 2020.

Authors

Eytan Gilboa
Director of Center for International Communication at the BESA Center for Strategic Studies