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September 20, 2020

On the deals

Opinion

September 20, 2020

Israel has accomplished two significant diplomatic victories in the Middle East after Bahrain announced its normalisation of ties with the state, the second Gulf country to do so in less than a month following the Abraham Accord between the UAE and Israel last month.

Ever since US President Trump announced on August 13 that the UAE and Israel had agreed to establish diplomatic ties, speculations were rife that Bahrain would follow suit. While there are different factors and motivations for the Gulf States to befriend Israel, getting further close to Washington, DC and common geopolitical interests are high on the list. Whether real or perceived, for most of the Gulf States, the Iranian threat is seen as an existential challenge.

Like the Israel-Bahrain deal, the normalization of ties between Israel and the UAE and the subsequent deal (known as the Abraham Accord) between the two is an unprecedented diplomatic success for Israel. President Trump has not done enough good to his own country than to Israel as he played a vital role in breaking the ice to bring these strange bedfellows closer. The whimsical US president has also stated that he expects that more Arab and Muslim countries will establish diplomatic ties with Israel. It merits a mention here that the UAE was the first nation in the Gulf and only the third Arab country following Egypt (1979) and Jordan (1994) to institute formal links with Israel. We don’t know yet how Bahrain and the UAE are going to reap the dividends of the peace deal but in the case of the other two Arab states, both regained control of their territories seized by Israel during the Six-Day War of June 1967.

While some countries such as Iran, Turkey and Qatar vehemently criticised the UAE and Bahrain and termed these deals a stab in the back of the hapless Palestinians, other regional players have welcomed the initiative; Egypt, Jordan and Oman openly hailed the Abraham Accord. That is why analysts expect that sooner or later Oman, Morocco and even Saudi Arabia could follow the UAE’s lead. Oman congratulated Israel and the UAE on their agreement as it had played the role of an interlocutor between Israel and the Arab world in the past. For obvious reasons, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has thus far maintained silence on this extraordinary development in the region. However, there are speculations that showing no reaction to the deal is a soft signal of tacit support for the deal.

Apparently, the Abraham Accord includes plans to establish business relations, tourism, direct flights, scientific cooperation and gradually full diplomatic relations between the two countries. The key ingredient of the deal, although not particularly elaborated at this stage, is seen as enhanced security cooperation between the two countries against 'regional' threats.

The UAE claims that the suspension provides a window of opportunity for Israel and the Palestinians to start afresh their peace negotiations. However, there is a realization among the Palestinians and the broader international community that with each passing day, the idea of a two-state solution to the conflict is a distant and unrealizable dream. And perhaps this has been realized by both the Palestinians and Arab states as a fait accompli.

Besides aiming at establishing multidimensional ties with Israel, the Abraham Accord could also give the UAE an opportunity to secure cutting-edge US weaponry, such as advanced drones and possibly F-35 combat planes. Thus, by openly joining the US bloc, the UAE will be in a better position to upgrade and further modernize its military arsenal in the same way when Egypt was able to secure superior US arms after its peace treaty with Israel in the late 1970s.

Thus, like the current deals between Israel and the two Gulf States, the Yom Kippur War of October 1973 between Egypt and Israel was a turning point in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict and Egypt’s domestic policy orientations. Egypt’s foreign policy underwent some dramatic changes culminating in the reduction and eventually severing of relations with the Soviet Union and re-engagement with the US in the late 1970s. Owing to its strong military, Egypt was perhaps the only country in the Middle East that could challenge the might of Israel on the battlefield, notwithstanding its crushing defeat in the Six-Day War of 1967.

However, unlike the UAE or Bahrain, Egypt’s domestic economic and monetary challenges were also critical factors in this re-orientation towards the US. Cairo’s peace initiatives with Israel involving Washington as a third party, President Sadat’s historic visit to Israel, and the signing of the Camp David accords between the two old rivals earned huge military and economic aid for Egypt. Following the Camp David agreement, the US started to provide substantial economic and military aid to Egypt. Since then, aggregate US economic and security assistance to Egypt mostly remained between two to three billion dollars per annum. While economic aid has gradually declined in recent years, the US still provides substantial military aid to Egypt.

Before 1979, the US neither provided any military aid nor authorised the supply of arms to Egypt. However, after joining the US bloc, the US started the allocation of unprecedented military aid and arms’ sales to Egypt along with economic aid. Since then, Egypt’s position has been consistent towards the US and the US has never suspended economic and military assistance to Egypt and has turned a blind eye to the latter’s democracy and human rights record.

According to USAID data (Greenbook), Egypt has obtained a total of $42 billion in economic aid and $66 billion in military assistance between 1979 and 2020. Similarly, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) arms transfer database, US arms sales to Egypt totalled $30 billion during this period. In view of these statistics, it can be summed up whether it was the Egypt-Israel peace agreement or the current Israel-UAE and Israel-Bahrain deals, nation-states pursue their own trade, commercial, political, security and strategic interests. Notions like Islamic solidarity, brotherhood, humanitarianism, justice and international norms and values are lofty ideals but states tend to follow what suit their interests.

The writer holds a PhD from Massey University, New Zealand. He teaches at the University of Malakand.

Email: [email protected]