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Abraham Accords: Dusk or Dawn ?

The White House has marked the formal normalization of Israel’s ties with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the Kingdom of Bahrain has created a significant inflexion point in regional history and geopolitics. Israel and two Arab Gulf states, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, have formally and publicly established diplomatic relations. The White House is calling the agreements “The Abraham Accords,” and President Donald Trump, in typically understated fashion, announced that “there’s going to be peace in the Middle East.” The U.A.E. and Bahrain are the third and fourth Arab countries to open diplomatic relations with Israel; Egypt and Jordan were the first two. Here is a brief, tentative analysis of the winners and losers in this new arrangement

Everything you need to know

The Abraham Accords:

  • Has been signed recently by the UAE, Bahrain and Israel, under U.S. President Donald Trump’s mediation.
  • It marks a new beginning in the relations between the Sunni-ruled Gulf kingdoms and the Jewish state. 
  • Under the agreement, the UAE and Bahrain would normalise ties with Israel, leading to better economic, political and security engagement. 
  •  The agreements have the backing of Saudi Arabia, arguably the most influential Arab power and a close ally of the UAE and Bahrain. More Arab countries are expected to follow suit.
  • This is the first agreement between Israel and Arab countries since the 1994 Jordan-Israel peace treaty.

Should we call it a win?

The White House is aided by naming this agreement “The Abraham Accords”

A genius marketing move, though one would have preferred the “Isaac and Ishmael Summit,” or “The Treaty of Ghent,” for that matter. “The Abraham Accords” is grandiose for any number of reasons, including the fact that what was signed yesterday does not even constitute a peace treaty. Peace treaties are made between warring parties, and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have never been at war with Israel.

Considering the urgency of the win

The agreement is a monumental victory for Mohammed Bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and the de facto ruler of the Emirates; Mohammed Bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia; Benjamin Netanyahu, the forever prime minister of Israel; and President Donald Trump. Each of these men needed this agreement rather urgently.

Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and United Arab Emirates (UAE) Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed display their copies of signed agreements while U.S. President Donald Trump looks on as they participate in the signing ceremony of the Abraham Accords, on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, U.S., September 15, 2020
  • Bin Zayed, because he realized that the U.A.E. is deeply unpopular with Democrats (the U.A.E. leadership put itself on President Barack Obama’s bad side and was a bit too ostentatiously relieved when Trump came into office), and so understands that he needs to make his country look helpful and constructive to Joe Biden, just in case.
  • Bin Salman, without whom these Gulf states, Bahrain in particular, would not dare make such a bold and public move, needs this agreement for much the same reason: He has to prove to Democrats (and to Europeans) that he is a constructive and moderate leader, and not merely a murderer of dissidents.
  • Netanyahu benefits in at least three ways: First, he diverts attention from his miserable handling of the corona virus pandemic (Israel is moving into a new, three-week lockdown on Friday). Second, he manages to make “peace” with Arabs who are not Palestinians, the particular group of Arabs he’d most like to avoid. And third, he buttresses his reputation among Israeli voters as a statesman on the world stage.
  • Donald Trump, because he can tell his followers, particularly his more gullible followers, that he has brought peace to the Middle East. (Not that American voters reward presidents who bring peace to the Middle East; just ask Jimmy Carter.)
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The makers of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, sure shot warfare maneuver

In many ways “The Abraham Accords” amount to an arms deal. The U.A.E. and other states that now engage with Israel will find themselves armed with a better class of American weaponry. The U.S. has pledged for a very long time to maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge, but the U.A.E. in particular might have just arranged for itself a similar promise.

Israelis, tourism encouragement

They can now travel to Dubai and Abu Dhabi (and maybe, soon, to Morocco and Sudan and Oman). The crushing sense of isolation that Israelis feel in their own neighborhood may be partially lifted by this agreement.

The fall backs

The Palestinians mourn it as “black day”

A dark and cruel joke I once heard in Saudi Arabia: What’s the difference between Arab Gulf leaders and Netanyahu’s Likud party? The Gulf states really despise the Palestinians. Once again, Arab leaders are signalling to the Palestinians that they have grown tired of what they see as Palestinian rejectionism and obduracy, and also that they would very much like to be partners with Israel in high-tech development and in the fight against Iran.

“I believe that each people, anywhere, has a right to live in their peaceful nation. I believe the Palestinians and the Israelis have the right to have their own land.”

Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud,the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.

Both the Palestinian Authority (PA) based in the West Bank and Islamist movement Hamas which rules Gaza have condemned the U.S.-brokered accords as a “stab in the back” of their people.

“We will witness a black day in the history of the Arab world, of defeat for Arab League institutions, which are not united but divided,”

Mohammed Shtayyeh,Prime Minister of the State of Palestine
The Iranians , left behind

This in no news, that the state of Israel and the United Arab Emirates (along with other Gulf states) have secretly cooperted with each other against their common enemy, the Islamic Republic of Iran, for more than a decade. The normalization of relations strengthens this coalition, the members of which (mainly correctly) see Iran and its various terrorist appendages as threats to their stability and territorial integrity, and even to their existence.

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India and our hidden gratitude

Geopolitically, India has welcomed the establishment of diplomatic relations between the UAE and Israel, calling both its strategic partners. In general, the Israel-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) breaopens widens the moderate constituency for peaceful resolution of the Palestine dispute, easing India’s diplomatic balancing act. However, nothing in West Asia is monochromatic: The Israel-GCC ties may provoke new polarisations between the Jihadi fringe and the mainstream. The possibility of the southern Gulf becoming the new arena of the proxy war between Iran and Israel cannot be ruled out, particularly in Shia pockets. India would have to be on its guard to monitor and even pre-empt any threat to its interests in the Gulf.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi became the first Indian prime minister to visit Israel, with which India has forged strong ties in the fields of defence, technology and trade. At the same time, the Modi government has worked assiduously to court Arab countries in West Asia, which is home to some eight million expatriates and a key source of energy.

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The foresight and the hindsight

The result is likely to be a new arms race at a time when wars in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya continue to cause immense human suffering even as they destabilize the region.

Truth be told, the UAE is just as likely to use any new weapons in other regional conflicts as it is to employ them to deter or fight with Iran. It is even less likely to threaten Israel with them. Although the UAE has withdrawn most of its troops from Yemen, the country arms and train militias that have helped prolong the war — all while engaging in torture according to an AP report and impeding the provision of humanitarian aid, in its role as a primary player in the Saudi-led coalition prosecuting the war. The UAE has denied the AP’s report of torture, that it has let weapons fall into unauthorized hands, and that it had been the source of weapons found in Libya.

The UAE’s history in Yemen and beyond should sow serious doubts about its ability to keep American weapons and technology out of the hands of US adversaries. US-supplied armored vehicles and small arms sold to the UAE have ended up in the hands of extremist militias with ties to Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and the UAE is a major supplier of weaponry to the forces of Libya’s Gen. Khalifa Haftar in violation of a United Nations arms embargo, The New York Times reported. Add to this the UAE’s tilt toward the Assad regime in Syria, and there is a high probability that if the US sells arms to the UAE, they could be used against American interests and for purposes that undermine regional prospects for peace.

So, what is to be done? First and foremost, if the UAE is truly interested in normal relations with Israel, there should be no need to grease the wheels with a major arms package. Instead, the US should take the lead in pressing for limits on arms sales to the region. That would be a worth accord.

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