Saturday March 02, 2024

New turn in the Middle East

August 25, 2020

The agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has given a new twist not only to the politics of the Middle East but has also created new challenges for some other countries in the region such as Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey.

Though Iran has been pretty clear about this matter from day one, for Pakistan this is a tough nut to crack. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in one of his speeches has unequivocally termed the new deal with Israel a major political blunder by the UAE and a ruse by Israel. On August 13, when US President Donald Trump announced the agreement between Israel and the UAE, most observers were stunned as a third party was making it public rather than the signatories. This announcement made it clear that behind this deal there appears to be strong pressure or persuasion from the US and the Zionist lobby in the US.

Per this deal both countries will establish full diplomatic relations. Iran’s threat perception is not entirely out of place as one of the goals of this deal may be to create an alliance of countries that are against Iran. President Rouhani has warned the UAE that any strengthening of Israel’s position in the Middle East will have serious ramifications, but the UAE has not taken any heed of this warning and has formally launched the process of normalizing its relations. Trump is eager to get reelected in November and with his diminishing prospects he apparently wanted to show to the American people at least some achievement.

Trump has tackled the Covid-19 crisis in a clumsy manner and the people of his country are mad at him. With this deal, if President Trump is unable to please his electorate, at least he expects to please the Zionist lobby which has considerable influence in American elections. That is the reason Washington announced the deal and not Abu Dhabi or Tel Aviv. Why do Saudi Arabia and the UAE want Trump to win?

There may be at least three reasons: one, Trump has given a tough time to Iran by pulling out from the deal the Obama administration signed with Iran. This withdrawal has made both Saudi Arabia and the UAE pretty happy. A second reason may be related to the dependence of the royal families on Trump, and his no-holds-barred approach to economics and politics. Human rights are none of Trump’s concerns as the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi proved.

A third reason is perhaps that the two countries want to gain some financial and military benefits from Israel. How much Israel benefits them, only time will show. From Iran, not only President Rouhani but also the Revolutionary Guards (Pasdaraan-e-Inqilab) have issued statements terming Israel the ‘butcher of children’ heading towards destruction.

The UAE has been trying to give the impression that the deal is not against Iran, but at the international level this clarification is being taken with a pinch of salt. Even Turkey has severely criticized the UAE but it has rejected all such objections. The UAE minister of state for foreign affairs, Anwar Qarqash, says that Iran has no reason to worry as the deal doesn’t involve Iran, and his country has no intention to target it. This statement is naive at best, as Israel and the US are the worst enemies of Iran and if the UAE embraces Iran’s enemies, it will have implications for it.

Interestingly, in the very next breath Anwar Qarqash also said that due to the complicated nature of relations with Iran, the UAE does have some reservations; but he did not elaborate on them. It is noteworthy that the UAE has been involved in the civil war of Yemen where Iran is helping the Houthi rebel tribes. Contrarily, the UAE has supported the factions fighting against the Houthis. Thus, for the first time in history, the UAE has directly entangled itself militarily. In comparison with Iran, Turkey is slightly different as it has its embassy in Israel.

Turkey has termed the deal as a betrayal to the Palestinian cause. Here, we may raise a question or two about Turkey’s trade relations with Israel which apparently do now sound a ‘betrayal’. Moreover, every year over half a million Israeli tourists travel to Turkey and visit cities and historical places. Does this also not fall into the category of ‘betrayal’ with the Palestinian cause? All this shows a blatant duplicity that the president of Turkey, Erdogan, has been displaying over the years. There is also annual trade of over two billion dollars between Israel and Turkey.

Turkey keeps its embassy In Israel, which shouldn’t be a problem as in the modern world we must keep all diplomatic channels open for negotiations, despite having myriad differences. India and Pakistan do not enjoy good relations but have diplomatic ties, which is how it should be.

After the unilateral announcement of annexation of Kashmir into India, had Pakistan snapped diplomatic ties with India, it would have been a wrong move. Similarly, if Pakistan can maintain such relations at the diplomatic level, all Arab and other Muslim countries do have a right to establish diplomatic relations with Israel. They may keep chattering about the rights of Palestine as Pakistan does about the Kashmiris.

One outcome of the new deal is that Israel temporarily postponed the annexation of more Palestinian land on the West Bank of the River Jordon. The UAE presented this as a grace period for the leaders of Palestine who may in the meantime reconsider their position and initiate talks with Israel. That’s how the UAE practically endorsed the ‘peace offer’ that Netanyahu and Trump made to the Palestinians.

So, the UAE expects the Palestinian leaders and not Israel to change their position. There is little doubt that after the announcement of the new agreement the Palestinian leaders will see a disappointing decline in the number of countries that support them. Naturally, the Palestinians will feel more isolated and alone. The UAE has become only the third Arab country to establish diplomatic ties with Israel in the past four decades or so.

After the establishment of the state of Israel, Arab countries have tried multiple times to defeat Israel militarily and liberate Palestine. They failed in the wars of 1948, 1956, 1967, and in 1973, and finally in 1979 Egypt decided to call it a day. It became the first Arab country to sign an accord at Camp David under the supervision of then US president Jimmy Carter. The establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel cost Egyptian president Anwar el-Sadat his life as some extremist army officers assassinated him in 1981. Then in 1994, Jordan became the second Arab country to establish relations, though present-day Israel is located on lands that were historically the territory of Jordan.

Even Al-Aqsa Mosque and Jerusalem were in Jordan till Israel occupied them in 1967. Now, it plans to move its capital from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Still, Jordan has put aside all its differences and established relations without demanding that first Israel vacate its occupied territories. Following Egypt and Jordan, the UAE is the third Arab and the first Gulf country to sign an agreement with Israel. After this accord, Palestinian leader and president, Mahmoud Abbas has proposed that the Arab League call its meeting to discuss this development.

But the Arab countries that were traditionally pro-Palestine, such as Iraq and Syria, have been rendered toothless. A third example is of Libya whose Muammar Gadhafi had to pay a horrendous price for his anti-Israel rhetoric and stance.


The writer holds a PhD from the University of Birmingham, UK and works in Islamabad.