(September 15, 2020 / JNS) The signing of the normalization agreements on Tuesday by Israel with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have generated a flurry of discussion over how the moves will impact the Middle East going forward.
Richard Goldberg, the former director for countering Iran’s weapons of mass destruction at the White House National Security Council, noted that the agreements mark a shift amid common threats, including from Iran.
“We were all witnesses to history today—a first, but giant, step towards a new, integrated Middle East where Arabs and Israelis grow together as regional partners rather than enemies,” he said. “Now it’s time for other countries to claim their place in the history books.”
They were the first deals between Israel and other Middle East counties since 1994, when Israel made peace with Jordan, following doing so with Egypt in 1979. The UAE and Bahrain are the first Gulf countries to normalize ties with the Jewish state.
Ilan Berman, senior vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council, stated that the Sept. 15 event was “unquestionably a historic milestone, but they’re also part of a much larger and still unfolding story.”
“The new peace agreements between Israel and the UAE, and Israel and Bahrain, are the product of a profound geopolitical shift that has taken place in the region over the past several years,” he said. “The Israeli government deserves tremendous credit for parlaying its quiet security contacts with the Arab world, which were originally driven by shared worries over Iran, into a broader regional rapprochement on everything from politics to trade.”
Indeed, since taking office in 2009, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has worked to isolate Iran and grow Israeli ties with the Arab world, specifically in Persian Gulf states that have long been concerned with Iran’s regional ambitions.
Middle East analyst and human-rights attorney Irina Tsukerman remarked that the agreements “brought together delegations of Americans, Israelis, Emiratis and Bahrainis who had been working towards that moment for many years,” though “contacts and some level of cooperation among the Gulf states and Israel go back decades.”
Nonetheless, “this particular moment has been far from inevitable, and is not merely about confronting regional threats,” she said.
Tsukerman said the normalization deals are in response to more than just the Iranian threat, and that suggesting otherwise is “shallow” and “diminishing the value of what has been accomplished. It ignores the obstacles that had to be overcome to lead to the ceremony, including in particular, “vicious media campaign against UAE and Bahrain by Qatari and Turkish media channels, aimed to undermine their economies and standing in the region over the decision to make peace with Israel.”
‘Arab world grows tired of rejectionism and intransigence’
Foundation for Defense of Democracies CEO Mark Dubowitz analyzed that the latest normalization deals with Israel are part of an ongoing trend.
“There’s a normalization wave that’s sweeping the Middle East as Israelis and Arabs unite against the threat from the regime in Iran, in anticipation of fears of American withdrawal from the region, and in furtherance of greater prosperity and stability,” he said.
“The big losers are Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei, Turkey’s Islamist president Recep [Tayyip] Erdoğan, the Muslim Brotherhood and terror groups like Hezbollah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad,” continued Dubowitz.
Will Todman, associate fellow in the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., told JNS that while the Emirati and Bahraini deals are “a historic breakthrough for Israel and a diplomatic achievement for the Trump administration,” they adversely affect the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which the Trump administration “has exerted considerable energy on.”
He said “they represent a key milestone in the decades-long transformation of how Arab states view Israel, while also signaling the death of the Arab peace initiative. However, the normalization agreements do not bring the Middle East closer to peace, as the signatories were not in conflict and the fundamental issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remain unaddressed.”
Dubowitz disagreed with Todman, saying that Palestinian leaders are “losing the Arab world as it grows tired of their rejectionism and intransigence, and which refuses to be held hostage by a cause that has taken a backseat to their greater strategic priorities.”
‘Closer Israel-Arab ties a priority’
Like Dubowitz, some Mideast experts remarked that the normalization deals create an opportunity that some countries may take advantage of, and others may not.
“The wall of Arab rejection of Israel has been crumbling for years. In the 1970s, [Egyptian President] Anwar Sadat was alone among his neighbors, and he paid the ultimate price for a cold peace with Israel,” said Jewish Policy Center senior director Shoshana Bryen. (He was assassinated in Cairo on Oct. 6, 1981, two years after the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty.) “Now, the UAE and Bahrain recognize Israel as a legitimate, permanent part of the region and find themselves in the middle of a broad Arab/Muslim consensus.”
“Everyone keeps asking, ‘Who will be next?’ ” she continued. “And everyone knows other countries are in the pipeline, leaving the Palestinian Authority, Iran and Turkey on the outside of the economic, social and political changes that will benefit the people of the region.”
Michael Makovsky, president and CEO of the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA), said although “there are many immediate issues at play behind the tremendous historic signing of peace accords between Israel and UAE, and Israel and Bahrain, including UAE obtaining F-35s, ensuring no Israeli extension of sovereignty in the West Bank for a few years, etc., perhaps among the least appreciated is the Trump administration’s role in creating a conducive environment for it.”
“By standing closely with Israel, the administration communicated that Arab states that embrace closer ties with Israel will also achieve closer relations with the United States,” he stated. “The administration also made closer Israel-Arab ties a priority and made clear that it need not wait for an Israeli-Palestinian settlement.”
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