The hands were the hands of Naftali Bennett and Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, but the voice was undoubtedly the voice of United Arab Emirates Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who on Monday spearheaded the tripartite summit in Sharm el-Sheikh with the Israeli premier and Egyptian president.
The official statement issued said the leaders focused on the impact of global developments on energy supplies, economic stability and food security—but this hid more than it revealed.
Indeed, the war in Ukraine could prove catastrophic for many Arab countries, which cannot withstand the resulting sharp increase in oil prices and will struggle to provide bread to their people without wheat supplies from Ukraine.
But with all due respect to the crisis in Ukraine, the countries of the region have their own problems—and these are far more pressing. This is particularly the case now, as global powers, chief among them the United States, are all focused solely on the war in Eastern Europe and are leaving the countries in the Middle East to fend for themselves.
Hence the UAE’s move to convene a meeting with Israel and Egypt, with the backing of Saudi Arabia and Jordan. The purpose of this undertaking was to redistribute the playing cards in the regional game of poker, before the United States possibly signs a nuclear deal with Tehran and gives it, intentionally or otherwise, a tailwind for further belligerence across the Middle East.
Israel has adopted an aggressive approach to the Iranians, predicated mostly on trying to dislodge them wherever they have a foothold, especially in Syria. The Iranians are not turning the other cheek, of course, and the exchange of blows between the two countries has created a balance of deterrence.
If Israel is the bad cop, then the Emiratis have cast themselves as the good cop. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed hosted Syrian President Bashar Assad at his palace over the weekend.
Many saw the visit as legitimizing the tyrant from Damascus, but the truth is that it was Assad, a key member of the axis of evil (along with Hezbollah and Iran), who granted legitimacy to the Abraham Accords—and to the normalization between Israel and the UAE, which just recently hosted President Isaac Herzog.
Thus the Emiratis are trying to foil Iran’s machinations, not through military strikes but by removing the keystone of the structure Tehran is building in the region: Bashar Assad.
It will be difficult, and probably impossible, to sever Assad from the Iranians, but it is possible to convince him to try harder, as he has been doing regardless in recent months, to limit Iran’s activities on his soil.
This is also linked to Jordanian King Abdullah’s planned visit to the Palestinian Authority later this month, which is meant to ensure the P.A. does not disrupt the aforementioned efforts and keeps the peace. When the Abraham Accords were signed, Abdullah was acrimonious, but now appears fully on board with the regional stratagem.
This frenzy of diplomatic moves doesn’t portend the beginning of a new Middle East; their purpose is to reorganize systems and strengthen the foundations of the Abraham Accords, which have taken regional cooperation with Israel to new and previously unimaginable heights.
Eyal Zisser is a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.