OpinionMiddle East

Statements are not enough

Relations between Israel and the Gulf partners to the Abraham Accords do not hinge on the Iranian issue—but they cannot escape its specter.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid with his Bahraini counterpart, Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani, at the "The Negev Summit" in Sde Boker, southern Israel, March 27, 2022. Photo by Flash90.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid with his Bahraini counterpart, Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani, at the "The Negev Summit" in Sde Boker, southern Israel, March 27, 2022. Photo by Flash90.
Meir Ben Shabbat
Meir Ben Shabbat
Meir Ben Shabbat is head of the Misgav Institute for Zionist Strategy & National Security, in Jerusalem. He served as Israel’s national security advisor and head of the National Security Council between 2017 and 2021. Prior to that, for 25 years he held senior positions in the Israel Security Agency (Shabak).

The importance of the Negev Summit currently taking place in Israel cannot be overstated, but the festivity of these historic moments is clouded by the Biden administration’s troubling approach to urgent regional issues, chief among them Iran’s aggression and nuclear program.

Relations between Israel and the Gulf partners to the Abraham Accords did not come about because of the Iranian issue, nor would it be right to create the impression that it is the linchpin for their existence or even the main element shaping them. At the same time, given the Islamic Republic’s immense regional influence, it is unlikely that it would be absent as an agenda item from any political or diplomatic event in our region at this time.

To some extent, the fact that the Americans are taking part in the Negev summit constitutes a united front by the countries of the region vis-à-vis the United States.

Regional leaders are well aware of the fact that the old-new nuclear deal the Biden administration is about to ink with Tehran will provide the Islamic Republic with a legitimate path to a military nuclear program, afford it billions of dollars and bolster it militarily, economically and politically.

Such an agreement will change the regional order and constitute an existential threat to multiple countries; prospects such that it is impossible to maintain a political routine that separates the Iranian issue from the other issues.

Washington’s concessions to Iran, as well as the hesitant U.S. response to Iran’s demand to remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from its terrorist blacklist, and the decision to exclude the Houthi rebels—who only last week attacked vital oil supply sites in Saudi Arabia—from that list provide good reasons for the skepticism that exists regarding U.S. policy in the region.

For the summit to exceed the importance derived from its very existence, the United States must be able to convince Gulf leaders of its commitment to preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, stopping its aggression and exacting a painful price from Tehran for sponsoring global terrorism by proxy.

It is likely that the Americans understand that they are expected to show that the summit was not called simply to sugarcoat the situation or mitigate criticism of their policies.

The statements made by the Biden administration are important, but they are not enough. The images of war in Ukraine are a stark reminder of their limited power. It is expected that the United States will learn this lesson with respect to Iran.

Even with this in mind, it is still difficult not to be moved by a photo of the foreign ministers of Egypt, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, standing alongside the U.S. secretary of state and the Israeli foreign minister, near the grave of Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, in Sde Boker.

The Abraham Accords are becoming tangible before our very eyes and their vision is blending into regional norms, reflecting hope and optimism, even in the face of troubling trends.

Meir Ben Shabbat is head of the Misgav Institute for Zionist Strategy & National Security in Jerusalem. He served as Israel’s national security advisor and head of the National Security Council between 2017 and 2021. Prior to that, for 25 years he held senior positions in the Israel Security Agency (Shabak).

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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