OpinionMiddle East

In the Middle East, one always dances at more than one wedding

In light of the expected U.S. abandonment, the UAE’s interest is to talk to everyone, including Iran, while also advancing and deepening its dialogue with Israel.

The UAE and Israeli flags. Credit: Leonid Altman/Shutterstock.
The UAE and Israeli flags. Credit: Leonid Altman/Shutterstock.
Eyal Zisser
Eyal Zisser is a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University.

Israel’s rather bitter experience with trying to expand and improve upon the peace agreements it has signed with Arab countries has made it suspicious and skeptical, unsure of itself.

The Abraham Accords, however, are not just another peace agreement, as evidenced by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s recent trip to the United Arab Emirates. Not only was it an official visit, but it was also, just as importantly, a public one, during which he met with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, one of the architects of the Accords.

However, warning bells have recently gone off in Israel amid creeping concerns that the UAE will not be able to shoulder the burden of peace with Israel, and could pull back until it becomes yet another cold peace, similar to those Israel has with other Arab countries.

Case in point, the crown prince’s brother and national security adviser, Tahnoun bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who was also present at the meeting with Bennett, visited Tehran the previous week to advance relations with Iran. He met with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who since being elected has sought to “embrace” Gulf states in an effort to distance them from the United States and Israel.

Because the Saudis have also begun a dialogue with Tehran and want to normalize relations between the two countries, it comes as little surprise that no one in the Gulf is talking anymore about a security alliance with Israel against Iran, but rather about dialogue and rapprochement with the Iranians. The Gulf states are not to blame, however, as this direction was signaled by the Biden administration, which wants to withdraw U.S. troops from the region and in the meantime is working to appease Tehran and reach a deal with it.

Prince Tahnoun is also behind the UAE’s efforts to bolster relations with China and Russia, which angered the Americans and hindered the sale of F-35 fighter jets to the UAE. He also spearheaded the diplomatic breakthrough with Turkey. Just a year ago, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan angrily recalled his ambassador from Abu Dhabi in protest against the Abraham Accords. Now Erdoğan is actively trying to mend relations and has even signed deals with the UAE valued at billions of dollars, which he hopes will help Turkey’s sputtering economy.

Finally, the UAE’s foreign minister, Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who also attended the meeting with Bennett, visited Damascus around a month ago in a trailblazing effort to bring Syria back into the fold of Arab nations.

The only thing one can say about all this is—welcome to the Middle East. After all, the rulers of the region always make sure to keep all their options open while dancing at more than one wedding simultaneously. And they never volunteer—nor does Israel, incidentally—to fight someone else’s battle for him. Interests trump all, and at the moment, in light of the expected American abandonment, the UAE’s interest is to talk to everyone, while advancing and deepening its dialogue with Israel.

The very fact that Iran and Turkey are willing to play the Emiratis’ game is enough to indicate that the Abraham Accords not only haven’t weakened the UAE, but have put them in a stronger position and enhanced their status as a sought-after regional player. Emirati officials are well aware of this, and it also serves as an important lesson to the other countries in the region.

Eyal Zisser is a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University.

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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