Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan believe that the expansion of the Abraham Accords, the enhancement of Israel-Saudi defense and commercial cooperation and the conclusion of an Israel-Saudi Arabia peace accord are preconditioned upon major Israeli concessions to the Palestinian Authority.
Is such a belief consistent with Middle East reality?
The signing of the Abraham Accords, in which Saudi Arabia played a critical role, was driven by the national security, economic and diplomatic interests of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan.
Arab interest in peace accords with Israel was not triggered by the realization that the Jewish state was genuinely seeking peaceful coexistence, or by a departure from the fundamental tenets of Islam. It was motivated by the assessment that Israel’s advanced military, technological and diplomatic capabilities would advance critical interests of the respective Arab countries, in the face of mutual and lethal enemies, such as Iran’s ayatollahs and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Saudi Arabia and Israel’s six Arab peace partners (including Egypt and Jordan) are aware that the Middle East resembles a volcano, which occasionally erupts—domestically and/or regionally—in an unpredictable manner, as evidenced by 1,400 years of stormy intra-Arab/Muslim relations and recently by the “Arab Tsunami” that broke out in 2011 and still rages.
They wish to minimize the impact of rogue regimes, and are therefore apprehensive regarding the nature of the proposed Palestinian state, in view of the Palestinians’ rogue inter-Arab track record. Indeed, the Palestinians are a role model of intra-Arab subversion, terrorism, treachery and ingratitude.
The Arab countries are also anxious about the erosion of U.S. deterrence— the most critical component of their own national security—and alarmed by the 43-year-old U.S. policy on Iran, which has bolstered the ayatollahs’ terrorist, drug trafficking and ballistic missile capabilities. They are also concerned about the U.S. embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest Sunni terrorist entity in the world, with religious, educational, welfare and political branches in multiple countries. And they are also aware of the ineffectiveness of NATO (No Action Talk Only?), European vacillation and the vulnerability of all other Arab countries.
Saudi Arabia and Israel’s Arab peace partners feel the machetes of the ayatollahs and the Muslim Brotherhood at their throats. They consider Israel as the most reliable “life insurance agent” in the region. They view Israel as the most effective U.S. force-multiplier in the Middle East, and appreciate Israel’s proven posture of deterrence; flexing its military muscles against Iran’s ayatollahs in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Iran itself, and against Palestinian and Hezbollah terrorism. They respect Israel’s unique counter-terrorism intelligence and training capabilities, and its game-changing military and counter-terrorism battle tactics and technologies.
The Arab view of Israel as a reliable “rainy day” partner has been bolstered by Israel’s willingness to defy U.S. pressure when it comes to Israel’s most critical national security and historic credos (e.g., Iran, Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria). In addition, Saudi Arabia and Israel’s peace partners aim to leverage Israel’s good-standing among most Americans—and therefore among most senators and House Representatives—as an avenue to enhance their military, commercial and diplomatic ties with the United States.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain are also preoccupied with the challenge of economic diversification, having realized that they are overly reliant on oil and natural gas. They consider Israel’s ground-breaking technologies as a most effective vehicle to accomplish this goal, create more jobs in non-energy sectors and establish a base for alternative sources of national income, while bolstering homeland and national security.
The Abraham Accords—as well as Israel’s peace accords with Egypt and Jordan—and the unprecedented expansion of defense and commercial cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Israel, demonstrate that critical Arab national security interests may supersede fundamental tenets of Islam, such as the 1,400-year-old rejection of any “infidel” sovereignty in “the abode of Islam.” Moreover, critical national security interests may lead to a dramatic moderation of the (Arab states’) education systems, the most authentic reflection of their vision and policies.
Thus, contrary to the Palestinian Authority, the United Arab Emirates has uprooted its hate-education curriculum, replacing it with pro-Israel/Jewish curriculum.
The Abraham Accords’ durability
The success of the Abraham Accords was a result of avoiding the systematic mistakes committed in the past by the U.S. State Department. Foggy Bottom has produced a litany of failed peace proposals, centered on the Palestinian issue, while the Abraham accords bypassed the Palestinian issue, avoiding a Palestinian veto and focusing on Arab interests. Therefore, the durability of the Abraham Accords depends on the interests of the respective Arab countries, and not on the Palestinian issue, which is not a top priority for any Arab country.
The durability of the Accords thus depends on the stability of the individual Arab countries and the Middle East at large.
The Accords have yielded initial and unprecedented signs of moderation, modernity and peaceful coexistence, which requires the United States to support the respective pro-U.S. Arab regimes rather than pressuring them (e.g., Saudi Arabia and the UAE).
However, one should not ignore the grave threats to the durability of the accords posed by the volcanic nature of the highly-fragmented, unpredictable, violently intolerant, non-democratic and tenuous Middle East (as related to intra-Arab relations). These inherent threats would be dramatically alleviated by a resolute U.S. support.
A major threat to the Abraham Accords is the tenuous nature of most Arab regimes in the Middle East, which yields tenuous policies and tenuous accords. For example, in addition to the Arab Tsunami (which is still raging on the Arab street), non-ballot regime-change occurred (with a dramatic change of policy) in Egypt (2013, 2012, 1952), Iran (1979, 1953), Iraq (2003, 1968, 1963-twice, 1958), Libya (2011, 1969), Yemen (a civil war since the ’90s, 1990, 1962), etc.
Regional stability, the Abraham Accords and U.S. interests would be undermined by the proposed Palestinian state west of the Jordan River (bearing in mind the intra-Arab Palestinian track record). It would topple the pro-U.S. Hashemite regime east of the river; transforming Jordan into another platform for regional and global Islamic terrorism, similar to Libya, Syria, Iraq and Yemen; triggering a domino scenario which would threaten every pro-U.S. Arab oil-producing country in the Arabian Peninsula; yielding a robust tailwind to Iran’s ayatollahs, Russia and China, and a major headwind to the United States.
While Middle East reality defines policies and accords as variable components of national security, the topography and geography of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) and the Golan Heights are fixed components of Israel’s minimal security requirements in the reality of the non-Western Middle East. These fixed components have secured Israel’s survival, and have dramatically enhanced its posture of deterrence. They transformed the Jewish state into a unique force and dollar multiplier for the United States.
The more durable the Abraham Accords and the more robust Israel’s posture of deterrence, the more stable the pro-U.S. Arab regimes and the Middle East at large; the more deterred are anti-U.S. rogue regimes; the less potent the Middle Eastern epicenters of anti-U.S. terrorism and drug trafficking; the more bolstered is the U.S. global posture and the weaker the posture of U.S. enemies and adversaries.
Would the Arab regimes of the Abraham Accords precondition their critical ties with Israel upon Israeli concessions to the Palestinians, which they view as a rogue element? Would they sacrifice their national security and economic interests on the altar of the Palestinian issue? Would they cut off their nose to spite their face?
Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and head of Second Thought: A U.S.-Israel Initiative.
This article was originally published by The Ettinger Report.