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Abraham Accords: Romancing A New Middle East – Analysis

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The United States has emerged as a major architect of the new map of the Middle East while continuing its military disengagement. This aims to extricate itself from a military quagmire as much as to recover forces and concentrate them towards a new objective: The Indo-Pacific zone and China. Washington intends to leave the keys of regional security exclusively to local actors.

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The arrival of Joe Biden in power should not cause a setback in the progress made. In fact, the talks that have begun may continue. But the new president promises to be less soft on Saudi Arabia and Israel than his predecessor. The resolution of the Iranian nuclear issue is also expected to become a large part of his diplomatic agenda. Even if it means offending his Israeli partners.

In addition to promising an era of Arab-Israeli collaboration for the good of the region, the Abraham Accords are extremely important both in delineating alliances and battle lines in the region and in reversing the failed modes of conflict management, mediation and negotiation that have long stifled prospects for peace. (1)

In this regard, Alex Ryvchin (2) argues in the European Eye on Radicalization: (3)

“Aside from promising an era of Israeli-Arab collaboration for the good of the region, the Accords are highly significant both for delineating alliances and battle lines in the region and for upending failed modes of mediation and negotiation that have long stifled the prospects of peace. “

The myth of Abraham

Abraham, whose name literally means “father of a multitude“, (4) is seen as a fundamental figure in the sacred texts of the three monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The patriarch is said to have been born in 1948 after the creation of the world according to Jewish tradition, around 1812 BC. He is said to have originated from Ur in Chaldea, a region located between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, today in Iraq.

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There are no archaeological traces of the man. Nevertheless, it is likely that the traditions relating to Abraham, his son Isaac and his grandson Jacob were originally independent of each other before being assembled into a common genealogical narrative at a much later time, probably in the XVIIth century BC.

Abraham is a central figure in all three monotheistic religions. Jews, Christians and Muslims recognize a common ancestor: Abraham, the founding figure of these three confessions. (5) The Midrash (traditional Jewish commentary on the Bible) tells us in great detail about the life of the patriarch: we see him breaking the idols of his father Terah, resisting the tyranny of Nimrod, being miraculously saved from the fiery furnace where he was thrown down at the latter’s behest; we see him always fighting and preaching for his faith. This faith is the exclusive and ardent love for one eminently righteous God – “Far be it from you to do such a thing–to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis, 18:25)(6) God is also eminently good, who makes Abraham a blessing for all the peoples of the earth. This immense love makes Abraham all the more aware of his smallness: “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes“. (7) But he dares to speak with God, to insist on obtaining forgiveness from others, for he himself wants justice above all: he makes war to free his captive nephew Lot, but refuses any share of the spoils or even any retribution for himself. Finally, in both Jewish and Arab tradition, Abraham is the very image of loyalty (Genesis, 23-24 (8); Genesis 23, 11-16) (9, 10) and the finest example of absolute respect for the rules of hospitality (Genesis 18). (11)

Ibrâhîm (Arabic: إبراهيم) is a character from the Qur’ân. In Islam, he corresponds to the character of Abraham in Genesis. He has the nickname Hanif, and is commonly referred to as Khalîl Allah (God’s close friend) and Sayyiduna Ibrâhîm (our father/master Ibrahim). Ibrâhîm is one of the prophets of Islam, and he plays an essential role in the Muslim faith, as Islam sees itself as the continuity of Abraham’s faith. Ibrâhîm is generally presented to Muslims as the model of the believer, through his submission to Allah, and is commemorated annually by ‘Eid al-Adha (Feast of Sacrifice). Muslims also owe him the institution of circumcision and the construction of the Ka’ba Temple.

Like Judaism and Christianity, Islam claims Abraham (Ibrâhîm) as the model of the true believer. (12) The figure of the patriarch appears gradually as Koranic preaching comes up against resistance from the surrounding poly and monotheistic religions. (13) In Islam, Abraham is an exemplary figure of the believer, the witness of God’s original will for man. Abraham would have been the restorer of the Adamic monotheistic cult in Mecca. But after him, pilgrims turned away from the true faith and became pagans.

The Qur’ân gives an important place to Abraham, the father of believers and the friend (khalîl) of Allah. He is one of the four great messengers, along with Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad. In fact, biologically speaking, he is the father of these last three prophets, hence his crucial importance in the history of revelation. In particular, it is the verses revealed in the second period of the prophet’s life, after his emigration from Mecca to Madinah, that evoke his role in the prophetic tradition and the foundation of the belief in one God. These Medina verses also speak of his son Isma’îl, who restored the Ka’ba by his side.

Ibrâhîm is mentioned many times in the Qur’an. He appears in 25 suras. In sura 4, he is nicknamed Khalîl Allah (the intimate friend of God), which evokes a name found in Talmudic writings. In the Qur’an, he is the son of Azar (although biblical genealogy is known to post-Qur’anic commentators), a “fervent idolater”. A number of Qur’anic narratives related to Abraham come from inter-testamentary or haggadic tradition. (14)

A new peace dynamic

The “Abraham Accords” generated a peace dynamic that goes far beyond the two small Middle Eastern monarchies (UAE and Bahrain) that initiated it and their 11 million inhabitants. Thus, at the end of October 2020 Israel, in parallel with the signing of economic cooperation agreements, established diplomatic relations with Sudan, an immense Arab country with a population of 45 million inhabitants, whose surface area is three times that of France and a hundred times that of Israel. As a result, the United States granted a billion-dollar loan to Sudan and removed it from the list of states supporting terrorism on which it had been on since 1993, a sanction that hindered its relations with many countries. Unlike the two confetti states in the Gulf, Sudan, although far from the front lines, has participated in several of the Arab wars aimed at destroying Israel. Its capital, Khartoum, hosted the famous 1967 Arab League summit where the three “Nos” were decreed: No to peace. No to recognition. No to negotiation with the “Zionist enemy”.

Sudan, is back in line, having signed on Wednesday, January 6, 2021 the Abraham agreements normalizing its relations with Israel after receiving from the Americans a billion-dollar aid to repay its debt to the World Bank (WB). A month earlier, the United States had already removed the country from its blacklist of states accused of financing terrorism.

Already, the wind of peace is moving the lines unexpectedly to the land of the Cedar, whose territory at the gates of Israel is home to Hezbollah and its missiles, which, pointed at Haifa and Tel Aviv, represent the most dangerous threat to Israeli civilians. To everyone’s surprise, Israeli and Lebanese delegations met last fall, under the aegis of the UN, to discuss the delimitation of territorial waters on which the exploitation of recently discovered hydrocarbon deposits in the Mediterranean depends.

These contacts, described as “technical”, come at a time when within Lebanon a growing part of the population and the political class wishes to marginalize Hezbollah, whose pro-Iranian activism would endanger the entire country in the event of war with Israel. Eminent voices have been raised recently in favor of peace with Israel: that of Christian Claudine Aoun, daughter of the Lebanese president, and that of Sunni Bahaa Hariri, brother of the Prime Minister, who was long considered a hawk.

On this particular issue, Orna Mizrahi writes in INSS of October 15, 2020: (16)

“The start of negotiations between Israel and Lebanon on marking the maritime border is a milestone in the history of the relations between the two countries. It invites the question whether agreement on this issue might bring about a strategic change in relations between Israel and Lebanon, following the Abraham Accords and given the dire situation in Lebanon, which desperately needs external aid from the United States and other Western countries. An analysis of the internal balance of power in Lebanon, however, suggests that the prospects for such a change are at best slim at the present time, especially as long as Hezbollah maintains its special status as an independent military power in Lebanon and wields decisive influence in decision-making processes. Nevertheless, Israel should try to take advantage of the opportunity created by the change in Lebanon by urging that a roadmap for solving the dispute between Lebanon and Israel be a condition for Western aid, in order to create security stability in the region. In addition, a dialogue with all sectors of Lebanon’s population should be initiated, over the head of Hezbollah. “

Led initially by Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, the campaign to normalize relations with Israel is expected to continue with Oman, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia. Riyadh is a choice piece for the U.S. However, King Salmane is historically very attached to the Palestinian question and considers himself accountable for the Abdallah plan of 2002 known as “Arab Peace Initiatice”, (17) which provided for normalization after the recognition of a Palestinian state. Dealing with Israel always represents a red line that Crown Prince Mohammed Ben Salmane (MBS) should not cross. At least for the time being. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has gradually given way to another common enemy: Iran.

The Sultanate of Oman, for its part, quickly welcomed the Israeli-Emirati agreement. But at the same time, it reaffirmed its attachment to the “rights” of the Palestinians to a “state with East Jerusalem as its capital“. The map of neutrality therefore coupled with mediation, Muscat also practicing balanced relations with both the United States and Iran. It should be noted, however, that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu had paid a visit to Oman at the invitation of the late Sultan Qaboos. Today, would his successor, Sultan Haitham, be in the same state of mind? 

Kristian Coates Ulrichsen and Giorgio Cafiero argue in the The Middle East Institute that though Oman does not reject the normalization with Israel yet it wants to play it safe in quite a balancing act: (18)

“Omani diplomats constantly work to help actors around the Middle East find peaceful solutions to regional crises. The sultanate’s position as the volatile region’s “island of neutrality” has long made Muscat a credible diplomatic bridge between Israelis and Palestinians, the U.S. and Iran, and Arab states and Iran. Ultimately, in order to continue playing this constructive peacemaker role, Oman must strike a delicate balance and signing an accord with Israel could throw this off in various ways — chiefly by burning bridges with certain Palestinian factions. While Oman contends with several regional and domestic challenges, Muscat will likely wait longer before formalizing relations with the Jewish state. “

As for the emirate of Qatar, for the time being, no reaction yet, but it should be remembered that from 1996 to 2000 it hosted a trade office with the Hebrew state. Moreover, Doha has great proximity to the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip. It is involved in the Palestinian question, but as it stands, as long as the peace process is blocked, it seems unlikely to expect a normalization with Tel Aviv. (19) As for Kuwait, although it is an ally of the United States, it has always opposed normalization. The agreement between the Emirates and Israel has been debated, denounced by some, but defended by others. However, hostility to Israel remains in the majority. (20)

It is widely accepted that other countries, particularly in the Gulf, could follow the path set out by Abu Dhabi and Manama. What will Riyadh decide? Saudi Arabia authorized, at the end of August 2020, a Boeing 737 of the Israeli company El Al to cross its airspace to head towards the U.A.E. What next? King Salmane recently reaffirmed “the Kingdom’s desire to achieve a lasting and just solution for the Palestinian cause in order to achieve peace“. But isn’t he, in fact, in his role? The country is home to the Holy Places of Islam and has 34 million inhabitants, the impact of a normalization with Tel Aviv would have caused a great electroshock. However, the U.A.E. had the best “profile”, so to speak, to be the first to dare to take the step. With a population of 11 million, the country is ruled in an authoritarian manner and locked by Sheikh Mohamed Ben Zayed al Nahyane. Finally, it is a modern country, open to globalization and somehow modernity.

On the Maghrebi side, the question is posed in different terms with regard to Mauritania. This country welcomed the normalization with Israel and said it was “convinced that the Emirates take into account the interests of the Arab nation and the Palestinian people“. Nouakchott had already established diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv in 1999, which were broken off in 2010. Will the new president, Mohamed Ould-El Ghazouani, in office since August 1, 2019, finally fit into this gradual process of normalization? He will then have to face a double pressure: that of the street and that of the Islamists under the leadership of the Tewassoul party. (21)

Peace with Morocco

After Sudan came the turn of Morocco, another great Arab country whose king, amîr al-mu’minînCommander of the Faithful,” is not an outsider in Islam. The resumption of diplomatic relations with Israel was announced by Donald Trump himself on December 10, 2020. In exchange, the former U.S. president offered the Sherifian kingdom a major gift: the recognition of its sovereignty over Western Sahara. (22) Away from the Middle Eastern front, Rabat had never cut bridges with Tel Aviv. Liaison offices between the two countries had even existed in their respective capitals between 1994 and 2002. Contested by Moroccan Islamists, the current reconciliation rests on a strong human ground: the presence in Israel of nearly a million citizens of Moroccan origin and the maintenance in this country of a community of a few thousand Jews, which has always been protected by the monarchy. Unique in the Arab world, one of the members of this community, André Azoulay, has been the principal advisor for three decades to successive monarchs: Hassan II and then his son Mohammed VI. (23)

On the other hand, the fact that Morocco is normalizing its relations with the Hebrew state is important. For France and Europe, it would be impossible to ignore the strategic situation of this country, at the crossroads of the Maghreb, the Sahara and West Africa. In return, Morocco obtains from the United States the recognition of its sovereignty over the “Southern Provinces”, i.e. Western Sahara (December 10, 2020), a major diplomatic breakthrough and political development warmly welcomed by all Moroccan citizens. Indeed, Rabat does not lack solid arguments to justify its position, whether it is the long history of the Sherifian monarchy with sub-Saharan Africa, the enormous investments made there or the autonomy program proposed to its southern provinces.

Relations between the two countries are not totally watertight: far from it. First, the human dimension with some 800,000 Israelis of Moroccan origin. (24) This community today is very attached to Morocco where it had its roots. The photo of Sultan Mohammed V, yellowed by time, and that of King Hassan II are presen;t in most Moroccan Jewish homes. Mohammed VI is greeted and considered in a special way, not only because he is on the throne of his father and grandfather, but because he has consecrated in the Moroccan identity and culture, the part of the Hebrew heritage in the Constitution of July 2011. On the economic level, for the years 2014-2017, the trade flow was in the order of 150 million dollars. Today, it is around $50 million per year. At the forefront, for more than 20 years, has been the agricultural technology sector of the Israeli giant NEFATIM, which created a Moroccan subsidiary, REGAFIM, in 1994. Trade flows use complex channels that do not allow precise traceability of exchanges.

It is necessary to add cultural cooperation with the participation of artists and orchestras (Festival of Atlantic Andalusia, etc.) and even sports in international meetings. On the military level, there are media reports of some strictly confidential cooperation. The Israeli site Israel Valley, referring to the Israeli Center for Statistics, revealed in 2018 arms sales, in particular the Tavor X95 9 mm, an assault rifle equipping the IDF infantry forces of Tsahal. Recently, some specialized media have also reported that Israeli drones have been delivered. To this, we must add a tourist flow of 50,000 Israelis, not only for religious reasons. 

Finally, on the diplomatic level, Morocco acts as a kind of interface between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, but on the basis of fundamentals: As Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita said, “we must not be more Palestinian than the Palestinians” about the “Agreement of the Century”. Morocco did not agree with this, while declaring that the American plan contains principles – including the two-state solution – that are in line with Rabat’s position. Moreover, it should be recalled that the Kingdom has always mobilized in the concert of nations to explicitly reject the transfer of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. A strong message was sent on this occasion, in December 2017, by the King to President Trump, stressing that the legal status of Al-Quds was at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In November 2019, the Sovereign reiterated this principled position in a message to the Chairman of the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. The voice of King Mohammed VI is international, especially since he is chairman of the Al-Quds Committee and he is vigilant and challenging to ensure that the integrity of the Holy City, as well as its civilizational character are preserved.

A rapprochement justified by the looming Iranian threat

More than twenty years after its foundation by Ayatollah Khomeini, the Islamic Republic of Iran still remains an unparalleled political construction, a singular case, an object of curiosity for political science. Admittedly, a number of states in the Muslim world, such as Pakistan, Comoros or Mauritania, also use the label “Islamic Republic”, but these republics, from the point of view of power structures, the nature of the constitutional regime, the origin of the ruling elites and even the ideology of the state, bear almost no resemblance to the Iranian political system. (26)

The withdrawal of American troops from Iraq in 2011 has allowed Iran to be an even more important player than it was in the geopolitical dynamics of the Middle East. President Barack Obama’s decision to withdraw the bulk of U.S. troops from Iraq has left the way open for the Iranians to intervene in Iraq even more strongly. Let us recall that the Shiites are in the majority there and that the most important places of Shiite pilgrimage (Kerbala and Najaf) are located there, as well. (27)

Many observers have stressed the central role of the perception of the Iranian threat by the various parties in justifying this rapprochement. Indeed, Israel has not stopped repeating since the Islamic revolution of 1979 that Iran represented a threat to the Jewish state, which became existential since the revelation in 2002 that Iran was carrying out a clandestine nuclear program. (28)

Besides, the United Arab Emirates is in conflict with Iran over islands in the Persian Gulf, whose Iranian sovereignty is disputed by Abu Dhabi. The Kingdom of Bahrain, for its part, does not cease to see the hand of Iran in the recurrent uprisings of a part of its population, mostly Shiite, against the government in power. The rapprochement between the Emirates, Bahrain and Israel thus makes it possible to constitute a new anti-Iran axis in the Middle East, in response to the Shiite Arc which has been denounced many times by Gulf states and which extends from Tehran to Beirut. (29)

But even if the common opposition in Tehran is certainly one of the determinants of these rapprochements, it is certainly not the only one. The opportunities hoped for by the United Arab Emirates, particularly in the context of an extended collaboration with the Jewish State are also to be taken into account. Israeli companies are already active in the Emirates, providing the Emirati authorities with large-scale surveillance systems. Standardization could thus enable further deepening of bilateral collaboration. Moreover, Abu Dhabi must also capitalize on this rapprochement in order to strengthen American support for the Federation, which is no longer considered a potential enemy of Israel.

The Palestinian cause has become secondary for the petro-monarchies confronted with the Iranian Shiite rival. Hence the rapprochement that intersects animosity and common hostility with Israel against Iran. This process is political, but also geostrategic. Regional actors are practically playing their own scores, in agreement with Israel and the American administration. The fact is that three of the most powerful countries in the region (Israel, Iran and Turkey) are non-Arab. On this basis, can the hypothesis of a consistent and more inclusive regional dialogue eventually take shape and content? Could the Emirates take advantage of this new conjuncture to push more strongly for Syria’s reintegration into the region? The idea that increasingly prevails in this regard is this: in Syria, the civil war is over; it is time to move on to “something else.

A new paradigm

The Abraham Accords are peace agreements in the Middle East and North Africa: a new political initiative after peace with Egypt (Camp David Accord of 1978,) Jordan (1994) and the Oslo I Accord, signed in Washington, D.C., in 1993; and the Oslo II Accord, signed in Taba, Egypt, in 1995. 

But why choose the name “Abraham Accord”? The patriarch Abraham is a central figure in the biblical narratives of the Old Testament and the Qur’ân. According to the scriptures, he is said to be married to a barren woman named Sarah. Sarah, aware of her barrenness, asked a servant named Hagar to give Abraham a child. This was the birth of the patriarch’s first son, Ishmael/Isma’îl. 

When Abraham reached his hundredth year, God came to him and instructed him to make a covenant with his descendants and announced the birth of his second son Isaac. Isaac would be, according to the scriptures, the ancestor of the Jewish people of which Moses would be a part, while Ishmael/Isma’îl would be the ancestor of the Prophet Muhammad and the Arab peoples of the peninsula. This reflects the symbolism behind the symbolic name Abraham. Abraham is the figure that unites Arab and Hebrew peoples.    

The historical rivalry between Persia and Arabia, which today takes the form of a struggle between Sunni and Shia Muslims, poses an existential threat to the Sunni Gulf states. For example, as a result of centuries of Persian domination and influence, 60% of Bahrain’s population is Shia Muslim. This represents a threat to the absolute Sunni monarchy that rules the country with an iron fist. During the popular protests in 2011, in the wake of the Arab Spring, Bahrain saw the hand of Iran behind the mobilization. (30)

The country of the ayatollahs has gradually strengthened its influence in the region. In Iraq, after the fall of Saddam Hussein, the Shia majority in the country took power and Iraq is moving closer to Iran. Bashar al-Assad’s Syria drew closer to Iran during the civil war. Iran has become “an unavoidable interlocutor” for international negotiations on this civil war and a privileged ally for Russia in its will to support the Syrian regime. Hezbollah has even sent men to Syria to support the regime in its struggle against the Islamic state. (31)

A true state within the state, Hezbollah is the Shiite party of Lebanon. It has seats in the Lebanese parliament and an army of its own. Iran’s stranglehold on this movement is indisputable. In Yemen, Iran supports and arms the Houthi rebels positioned on the border with Saudi Arabia. In the zero-sum game in the Middle East, where a strategic victory for one player constitutes a loss of influence for the other, Iran’s rise to power is a threat to the interests of the Sunni petro-monarchies of the Gulf, which justifies the objective alliance with Israel.

The Abraham Accords, however, showed unequivocally that the Palestinian question, while deserving a solution for itself, has been cut off from global and regional affairs. The inability of the Palestinians to extract even lukewarm verbal condemnation of the Abraham Accords from the Arab League is further evidence of the Arab world’s withdrawal from the conflict, which is now taking on the most manageable proportions of a clash of nationalisms in the former Palestinian mandate, rather than being a much more problematic Arab-Israeli confrontation covering the region.

By removing the Palestinian question from broader regional considerations and projecting Israel as a legitimate part of the Middle East, these agreements have effectively eliminated a powerful source of incitement and radicalization in the Arab world. It has also sharpened the delineation between regional forces of moderation and extremism.

Jeffrey Goldberg, tongue-in-cheek, writes in The Atlantic: (32)

“The agreement is a victory for Mohammed bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and the de facto ruler of the Emirates; Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia; Benjamin Netanyahu, the forever prime minister of Israel; and President Donald Trump. Each of these men needed this agreement rather urgently:

(A) Bin Zayed, because he realizes that the U.A.E. is deeply unpopular with Democrats (the U.A.E. leadership put itself on President Barack Obama’s bad side and was a bit too ostentatiously relieved when Trump came into office), and so understands that he needs to make his country look helpful and constructive to Joe Biden, just in case.

(B) Bin Salman, without whom these Gulf states, Bahrain in particular, would not dare make such a bold and public move, needs this agreement for much the same reason: He has to prove to Democrats (and to Europeans) that he is a constructive and moderate leader, and not merely a murderer of dissidents.

(C) Netanyahu benefits in at least three ways: First, he diverts attention from his miserable handling of the coronavirus pandemic (Israel is moving into a new, three-week lockdown on Friday). Second, he manages to make “peace” with Arabs who are not Palestinians, the particular group of Arabs he’d most like to avoid. And third, he buttresses his reputation among Israeli voters as a statesman on the world stage.

d) Donald Trump, because he can tell his followers, particularly his more gullible followers, that he has brought peace to the Middle East. (Not that American voters reward presidents who bring peace to the Middle East; just ask Jimmy Carter.) “

Another paradigm seems to be taking shape. In the past, normalization with Israel was linked to the peace process with the Palestinians: it was to serve as a bridge to relations with the first Arab world and the Muslim world in general. This is no longer the case today. What prevails now, from the point of view of Tel Aviv and Washington, is rather the normalization with the Arab countries that will eventually push the Palestinians to a peace agreement with Israel.

Nature of the Accords

These agreements, the fruit of long tripartite negotiations, represent in themselves a major geopolitical break in the Mena region. They were hailed as the beginning of a “new era” by the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and of “victory” by Abu Dhabi.

These agreements, negotiated largely under the aegis of the U.S. administration, allow the Hebrew state to alleviate its regional diplomatic isolation linked to the Palestinian question and to open up significant economic prospects in the Persian Gulf. For the UAE, this agreement allows it to reaffirm its position at the center of the regional geopolitical chessboard, especially vis-à-vis Iran and Saudi Arabia. As for Bahrain, which was only able to sign such a declaration with the endorsement of Saudi Arabia, its adherence to the Abraham Accords must certainly be understood as a “signal” given by Riyadh to the United States as to the “feasibility” of a later normalization between the kingdom and the Jewish State.

Over the past decade or so, several Gulf monarchies (mainly UAE and Bahrain) have discreetly developed their cooperation with Israel, including in the security domain. This policy has been particularly energized in recent years by the Israeli Prime Minister who has always believed that an alliance with the Gulf States would be the best defense against Iran and that these countries also constitute formidable opportunities for Israeli high-tech industry. For the Hebrew State, an alliance with the Gulf States is also a formidable means of making the Palestinian question forgotten by the various Arab nations. 

Evidence of this diplomatic warming, two Israeli ministers (Minister of Telecommunications and Minister of Culture) made a trip to Abu Dhabi in late 2018. In May 2020, two aircraft of the Emirati company Etihad made a first direct flight between the UAE and Israel as part of medical aid related to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the same context, Israeli laboratories have partnered with UAE laboratories to try to find technical solutions to improve the speed of detection of COVID-19 cases.

The Abraham Accords between Israel and the UAE thus seem to represent a break with the existing diplomatic and strategic status quo. First of all, they reinforce a certain political realism on the part of Arab countries that have chosen to decouple, for their own interests, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from relations between the Hebrew state and its regional neighbors. They also consecrate the constitution of a political axis that is at once anti-Iranian and anti-Turkish that “binds” the most militarized US allies in the region and undoubtedly considered in Washington as the best bulwarks against Iranian and Turkish “imperialism”. 

These agreements could thus eventually strengthen the American will to subcontract regional issues to its most loyal allies, which paradoxically probably runs counter to the final objective sought by Israel and the UAE. Finally, the abandonment of the Palestinian question by the Arab countries could tip it into the radicalism represented by the two non-Arab powers of political Islam, This Israeli-Arab normalization has therefore probably not revealed all its secrets and further geopolitical bursts are certainly to be expected in its wake.

Finally, it is a significant diplomatic victory for the American administration, since these accords are both a significant step for peace in the Middle East and a nightmare for Iran. On the other hand, they have fueled the anger of Palestinians, Iran and Turkey, who believe that a political axis unfavorable to them is now being established in the region.

The UN, however, has been out of touch for ages, Antonio Guterres says the normalization agreement could create an opportunity to resume substantive negotiations leading to a two-state solution in accordance with UN resolutions. His Special Coordinator for the region, Nickolay Mladenov, explained that this was “a new chance for peace between Israelis and Palestinians” and that Israel’s suspension of its annexation plans “removes an immediate threat that could disrupt the peace process… ”It remains to convince the Palestinians of this!

The loss of centrality of the Palestinian question in the Arab world

How long ago was the time when the Arab summit in Khartoum proclaimed its three “Nos” to Israel, in the aftermath of the 1967 defeat: “No to peace, no to recognition, no to negotiation“. Ten years later, when Egyptian President Anwar Sadat visited Jerusalem and signed the Camp David Peace Accords, the League of Arab States excluded Egypt and moved its headquarters to Tunis. Today, this same League rejected the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) request to convene an Arab summit to condemn the announced peace between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The Arab regimes’ abandonment of the Palestinian cause began in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. The Arab states that had championed this cause brutally sacrificed it to defend their own regimes, accused by Washington of collusion or weakness with regard to Islamic terrorism. This trend became more pronounced after the Arab tsunamis (Arab Spring) and the arrival of ISIS (Daech), which supplanted al-Qaeda, as did the worsening Iranian threat.

For Shahrzadah Rahim (33) this abandonment is the beginning of a new regional process:

“In contrast, the recent tremendous changes in the foreign policy orientation towards Israel across the Arab world indicates the beginning of new regional peace process. As a matter fact, Israel as a nation state is a living reality, which cannot be ignored and the continuing Arab confrontation with Israel is not in the best interest of Palestinians. The recent diplomatic step taken by United Arab Emirates to normalize relationship with the state of Israel is a positive step towards new regional peace and security architecture.”

The first observation following these normalizations is the now apparent lack of interest of Arab political leaders in the Palestinian cause. By normalizing relations with the Hebrew state while the prospect of a viable and independent Palestinian state is fading away, the Arab leaders confirm the relegation of the situation in Palestine to the background of the regional agenda. Indeed, the Palestinian question has not been at the heart of the Arab political agenda for several years now. 

Since the Arab Spring started at the end of 2010, the Arab world has been divided by the yardstick of popular revolutions, focusing in particular on the crises in Egypt, Syria, Libya etc. In fact, the colonization of the territories, the status of Jerusalem and the situation of Palestinians in Gaza no longer have the same centrality for Arab leaders as was the case in the early 2000s during the second Intifada. The Arab autocrats are more willing to protect their regimes and to counter Iranian influences deemed threatening. Iran’s support for Palestinian groups, as well as the links between Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, may be among the main determinants of these ruptures.

It should also be noted the lack of large-scale reactions in the Arab street following these normalizations: no more major demonstrations, no more portraits of burned leaders in all Arab capitals. (34) Only a few hundred protesters here and there, in Rabat and elsewhere, to denounce this historic geopolitical rupture. Although the pandemic may partly justify the absence of such demonstrations, it seems to indicate a decrease in the interest of Arab crowds in the Palestinian cause, as the people have probably adopted a form of fatalism.

Obsessed by the threat posed by Iran, economically weakened but militarily very powerful, the Arab countries believe that the alliance with Israel prevails over the Palestinian question. (35) In recent months in the Gulf media, several Arab intellectuals denounced the intransigence of the Palestinians and their parasitism vis-à-vis the oil monarchies. The announcement of the agreement of Gulf states With Israel did not require any concessions on the part of the Jewish state except the suspension of a process of annexation of the West Bank that had not yet begun. “An agreement has been reached to put an end to any further annexation,” said Crown Prince Mohammed ben Zayed Al-Nahyane. Except that the Israeli Prime Minister hammered home the opposite, saying that Israel had “postponed” but “not given up“. “I brought peace, I will achieve annexation,” he summarized.

Yes, solidarity with Palestine is sincere, authentic and mobilizing, but it is not the people who are in charge. Leaders do not have much freedom of decision because the “Arab streets” – as they say so well in the West – are eruptive and if necessary telluric if “red lines” are crossed. Isn’t it the case today, however? After all, didn’t Egypt in 1979, in the wake of the Camp David agreements, and then Jordan in 1994, sign diplomatic normalization agreements with Israel? To this, to be complete, we must add another agreement between Lebanon and Israel, during the Israeli invasion in 1983. This put an end, on May 17, 1983, to the state of belligerence of the two countries involved in the war in Lebanon. It was adopted by the Parliament and then cancelled by the Government on March 5, 1984. 

In the case of Egypt and Jordan, a state of war was ended by treaty. In the case of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain today, we find ourselves in a different configuration. The Gulf countries, one after the other, seem to have been assuming a fact that has been implicit for years: marginalization and even a certain lack of interest in the Palestinian question. This state of mind is equally prevalent among Mohamed Ben Salmane (MBS), Saudi Crown Prince, who no longer believes so much in the two-state solution. 

According to some analyses, MBS is now counting on a fait accompli on the ground with a balance of power that is unquestionably in favor of Israel and a future in which the Palestinians would be dispersed throughout the countries of the Middle East. An approach that is a complete break with the “Arab Peace Initiative” of 2002 defended at the time by King Abdullah, and which had been rejected by the Israelis. This plan was agreed upon at the Arab Summit held in Beirut and is based on the following principles:

  1. Total withdrawal from the territories occupied since June 1967;
  2. Formation of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem (Quds Ash-Sharif) as its capital; and
  3. A viable and just solution for Palestinian refugees.

This plan was again validated and readjusted at the Arab Summit in Riyadh at the end of March 2007 by all the member states of the Arab League, except for the absent Libya.

A Palestinian State: what remains of the dream?

Abraham’s agreement sets out a suspension of annexations in the West Bank, not a final halt. Israel with its settlements in the West Bank placed on strategic axes cuts off Palestinian territorial continuities. In addition, there are today practically two Palestinian political entities that everything separates: on one side, the Islamist Gaza Strip, very hostile to Israel, and on the other, a West Bank that is opening up more and more to the outside world.

With the normalization agreements, Donald Trump assured that the Palestinians will want to join the peace dynamic because all their friends are there. However, on the contrary, they bitterly feel mostly abandoned by their Arab brothers, as Ahmed Majdalani, member of the PLO executive committee, said.

The Palestinian Authority obviously called an emergency meeting of the Palestinian leadership, at the end of which it denounced the “betrayal of Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa and the Palestinian cause” by the UAE and other Arab countries due to the resolute decoupling of the Israeli-Palestinian issue from the issue of Israeli-Arab relations. This “abandonment” of the Palestinian question could eventually precipitate its recovery by the two other non-Arab Muslim powers in the region, Iran and Turkey. Iran has thus described the Abraham Accords as “strategic stupidity” which “will strengthen the axis of resistance” in the region, since normalization of relations with the State of Israel cannot be “forgiven“. (36)

For Turkey, the UAE is “betraying the Palestinian cause for its own interests,” which is “unforgivable hypocrisy. “  (37) The reactions of the two representative powers (Sunni and Shiite) of political Islam are thus very close, since they now appear to be the last regional supporters of the Palestinian cause. The latter could therefore become a new fault line in the geopolitical struggle between the regional Muslim powers and favor a radicalization, or even an alignment of Palestinian resistance with the political positions long defended by the supporters of political Islam.

For the Palestinians, the conclusion is irrevocable: their fate is no longer central to the powers of the Arabian Peninsula that defend their own interests. Even the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed ben Salmane, is closer to the Emirati line than to the line embodied by his father. The new deal further undermines the credibility of the Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas. There is a potential risk of an exacerbated division between the Palestinian leaders who favor a return to the hard line and the people who want relief from the multitude of social hardships they have to bear on end. Indeed, it should be noted that a growing part of Palestinian public opinion is weary, demoralized and simply demands an improvement in the economic situation.

On the Palestinian plight, Ann M. Callahan argues in Global Affairs Strategic Studies: (38)

“In addition, there has been a growing frustration and fatigue with the Palestinian Cause, one which could seem interminable. A certain amount of patience has been lost and Arab nations that had previously held to the Palestinian cause have begun to follow their own national interests.  Looking back to late 2017, when the Trump administration officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, had it been a decade earlier there would have been widespread protests and resulting backlash from the regional leaders in response, however it was not the case. Indeed, there was minimal criticism. This may indicate that, at least for the regional leaders, that adherence to the Palestinian cause is lessening in general. “

In any case, normalization is a failure – a new failure even – for the Palestinians. At the Arab League meeting in Cairo on September 9, 2020 they failed to get the Arab nations to condemn normalization with Israel. (39) This is a strategic shift at the expense of the Palestinians. The Gulf monarchies share a common goal: the fear of American disengagement. They consider that the two non-Arab powers, Turkey and Iran, threaten their interests. How to counter them? In their view, this can only be done through a rapprochement with the Hebrew state, the other dominant military power in the Middle East.

Israel and The Gulf states

Concerning the Gulf States, the rapprochement with Israel began gradually in the years 1990-2000 (after the establishment of the Oslo process) in an informal way, Qatar established for example economic relations with Israel and some visits of Israeli diplomats are made in the area, such as Yitzhak Rabin in Oman in 1994. Kuwait, on the other hand, has remained in the background because it maintains a close relationship with the Palestinians, particularly through the Palestine Liberation Organization -PLO-.

The Gulf States have always taken a more measured stance towards Israel than other Arab countries. (40) Geographically and historically, the Gulf is far from the Levant, so the Palestinian issue is not as sensitive, epidermal and mobilizing as in countries like Lebanon or Syria. They have never been the spearheads of an anti-Israeli axis, unlike the Syrians, the Iraqis, or even the Algerians, who have constantly defended a firm position against Israel within the Arab League. Admittedly, the Palestinian cause has always been defended by the Gulf States, it remains a traditional leitmotif in public opinion, but the ruling families of these countries have not endorsed a virulent anti-Israeli stance. Moreover, the first outline of “regional peace”, commonly called the “Arab Peace Initiative“, was proposed by the Saudis in 2002.

In the mid-2000s, Israel and the United Arab Emirates initiated a rapprochement based on economic interests. The new generation of leaders and the business community saw an interest in exchanging with the Israeli “start-up nation”. Cooperation began to be established with Israeli companies, particularly in the security and high technology sectors, through their European or American branches. The Israelis managed to sell their technology through intermediaries, since trade with the Jewish State was then officially prohibited with the Gulf countries.

On the rationale of these accords, Ann M. Callahan argues in Global Affairs Strategic Studies: (41)

“The accords are seen as a product of a long-term trajectory and a regional reality where over the course of the last decade Arab states, particularly around the Gulf, have begun to shift their priorities. The UAE, Bahrain and Israel had found themselves on the same side of more than one major fissure in the Middle East. These states have also sided with Israel regarding Iran. Saudi Arabia, too, sees Shiite Iran as a major threat, and while, as of now, it has not formalized relations with Israel, it does have ties with the Hebrew state. This opposition to Tehran is shifting alliances in the region and bringing about a strategic realignment of Middle Eastern powers.

Furthermore, opposition to the Sunni Islamic extremist groups presents a major threat to all parties involved. The newly aligned states all object to Turkey’s destabilizing support of the Muslim Brotherhood and its proxies in the regional conflicts in Gaza, Libya and Syria. Indeed, the signatories’ combined fear of transnational jihadi movements, such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS derivatives, has aligned their interests closer to each other. “

This rapprochement is also based on strategic interests. (42) From the mid-2000s, with the election of Ahmadinejad in Iran in 2005, the Iranian nuclear issue returned to the forefront. It is considered a threat both by the Israelis and by the Arab leaders of the Gulf. Contacts have been established between diplomats and Israeli and Gulf intelligence services. Concerning Bahrain, the rapprochement with Israel is more recent, it takes place from the years 2010. When the Iranian nuclear issue became an international problem, a real convergence of views takes place between the Israelis and Bahrainis vis-à-vis Iran. At the same time, the Arab Spring breaks out in 2011, all the regimes in the region are struck by the protest and the Israelis, as much as the Gulf states, are worried about the seizure of power by the Muslim Brotherhood in the region. The resumption of power by Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi after the presidency of Mohammed Morsi (from the Muslim Brotherhood) was experienced as a relief both in Israel and in the Gulf.

The United Arab Emirates wants to become a “Singapore of the Middle East“. Signing economic partnerships with Israel, which has real technological know-how, could accelerate such ambitions. For the Israelis, it is more of an image issue since they have technology and capital. Now they can claim to the world that they are an economic partner like any other. The opening of the borders between the two countries will also allow the Hebrew State to take advantage of Dubai’s airport infrastructures, a real gateway to Asia and China.

The election of Donald Trump at the end of 2017 has reinforced this dynamic, it has cemented relations hitherto limited and very discreet. The fundamental part of the “Deal of the Century” proposed by the Americans is based on a rapprochement between the Israelis and the Gulf countries. Since the beginning of his mandate, Donald Trump, and especially his advisers, including Jared Kushner, have sought to sponsor the normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab countries “friends” of Washington.

On the progressive rapprochement between the Gulf States and Israel, Omar R. Rahman points out: (43)

“For several years, backchannel ties between Israel and some Gulf Arab states have been developing in the shadows. While Israel is not shy about the relationship, the Gulf states have hoped to keep their rapprochement with Israel under wraps for obvious reasons pertaining to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yet increasing diplomatic exposure has brought the relationship out into the open and signaled possible momentum toward the establishment of formal relations for the first time. “

The peace agreements with the Egyptians and Jordanians are very pragmatic. These neighboring countries have been at war with Israel. The peace treaties allow them to secure their borders and establish peaceful relations.

Because of this distance, Russia, Turkey (44) and, more discreetly, the People’s Republic of China are advancing their pawns in the Middle East. Consequently, the United States intends to subcontract regional security to Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. It is therefore not a geopolitical “gift” to Jerusalem. On the one hand, the Arab signatories of the Abraham Accords reiterate their positions in favor of a two-state solution. On the other hand, the Hebrew State is committed to the security of the Persian Gulf, thus entering into demanding diplomatic-military obligations. It will have to prepare for possible operations in the region, even though Israeli territory would be directly and immediately threatened.

It should also be noted that Saudi Arabia, despite the inclinations of the Crown Prince, Muhammed Ben Salman, (45) has not yet joined this initiative. As “Protector of the holy places of Islam“, King Salman is cautious. Perhaps he intends to keep this option to negotiate with the Biden Administration. In any case, the Israel-Saudi convergences are effective, with discreet cooperation in matters of intelligence and security. For several years now, a geostrategic axis between Israel and the Gulf States has been taking shape endlessly. (46)

With the UAE on the other hand, there is not the same urgency to sign a peace agreement. I would even say that there is no need to normalize relations. Here we are witnessing a sort of “coming-out”, the formalization of relations that already existed and that needed to become official for very political and strategic reasons. In recent years, several trial balloons had been launched, notably through the participation of Israelis and Saudis in conferences organized by American think tanks, or the interview of Muhammed Ben Salman given to the newspaper The Atlantic in 2018. (47) The Saudi Crown Prince was then publicly considering the possibility of a peace agreement with Israel: 

“I believe the Palestinians and the Israelis have the right to have their own land. But we have to have a peace agreement to assure the stability for everyone and to have normal relations.”

And went on to say:

“There are a lot of interests we share with Israel and if there is peace, there would be a lot of interest between Israel and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries”

To justify his recognition of Israel’s existence he points out:

“Our country doesn’t have a problem with Jews. Our Prophet Muhammad married a Jewish woman. Not just a friend—he married her. Our prophet, his neighbors were Jewish. You will find a lot of Jews in Saudi Arabia coming from America, coming from Europe. There are no problems between Christian and Muslims and Jews. We have problems like you would find anywhere in the world, among some people. But the normal sort of problems. “

However, he claimed that in return, progress on the Palestinian question was needed. Over the past two years, there has undeniably been an intensification and increased visibility of these relations.

Could Saudi Arabia take the plunge? Some signals seem to be going in that direction: much more tolerant preaching towards Israel in the country’s mosques, as well as, the acceptance by Riyadh that its airspace can be flown over by Israeli civilian aircraft. But the internal configuration remains complicated: the old King Salmane hesitates to undo what was done by his predecessor Abdullah in 2002, the famous “Arab Peace Initiative”, making recognition of Israel conditional on the creation of a Palestinian state. His young and bubbling son MBS would be, however, more inclined to cross the Rubicon in spite of internal resistance to the idea. Indeed, irritated by Iranian policies and actions in the Middle East MBS has openly declared on hearing the news that “Saudi intelligence agency reportedly brought weapons into Iran” (48) : (49) “We will move the fight to Iran سننقلالمعركةإلىالداخلالإيراني.”  

What happens with Biden?

Will the new American president try to systematically undo everything that was accomplished by his predecessor? With Joe Biden now in power, here’s how the balance in the region could shift.

Economic opportunities and more: For the Emiratis, who make no secret of their ambitions, the Abraham Accords represent an economic windfall: 60,000 Israelis went on vacation to Dubai this winter – on a national scale, this is not insignificant – and high-tech exchanges are also planned. And that’s without counting the military and strategic aspect. The Emirates are in the process of obtaining powerful weapons from the United States, which until now have been denied to the Gulf States: F-35 stealth fighters, surveillance drones, EA-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft. Emiratis and Israelis also have a common enemy: Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood. This is also the case of Bahrain. Until the end of the 1960s, the Persian state still considered this small Gulf kingdom as the 14th province of Iran. Netanyahu, for his part, believes that Iran is Israel’s number one adversary; the time-old adage that says: “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” is once again proving true in the Middle East.

Israel is no more an isolated “Zionist entity”: The normalization of relations with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco represents a real achievement for the Israelis. Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has clung to the strategy of the “iron wall“, according to which the power of the Hebrew state will eventually persuade its neighbors that they have no choice but to recognize its existence.

Donald Trump, after all, is a peacemaker: When the American president was still on the campaign trail, he prided himself on being the best dealmaker in the world. With the Abraham Accords, Donald Trump saw his popularity rise among evangelical Christians, an important part of his electoral base. On the other hand, his so-called “Deal of the Century”, proclaimed in January 2020, to make peace between Israelis and Palestinians, proved to be a failure. The U.S. Embassy, which moved to Jerusalem at his instigation, upsetting the line observed for decades by his predecessors, should remain there for the time being. Nor will the United States reverse its controversial decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, said Anthony Blinken, President Biden’s State Department secretary, during his Senate hearing.

Palestinians feel it is a sellout: It is interesting to note that the Palestinian cause no longer constitutes an impediment to the rapprochement between Israel and the Arab world, to the great displeasure of this people. The Palestinian Authority has condemned the Abraham Accords, evoking a betrayal qualified as “despicable“.

The priority of the the US president will probably not be to propose a new peace agreement, just to renew the dialogue with Ramallah. Joe Biden believes, however, that the only viable outcome to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is “the two-state solution,” a statement made by his State Department Secretary Antony Blinken, during a hearing in the Senate. Indeed, Biden would continue the normalization initiatives of Arab countries with Israel but he would also work to ensure that these new relations become a source of momentum and progress towards the two-state solution between Israel and Palestine.

The Palestinians, from the Islamists of Hamas, in power in the Gaza Strip, to the secular Fatah of President Mahmoud Abbas, which sits in the occupied West Bank, never cease to denounce these agreements, believing that normalization between Israel and the Arab world should be considered only after, and not before, a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In Gaza, Hamas called on Joe Biden to “stop attempts to liquidate the Palestinian question,” starting with the status of Jerusalem, said its spokesman, Fawzi Barhoum.

Is Iran, the big winner?

In the end, these normalizations could have the opposite effect to that expected and thus benefit Iranian soft power in the Middle East. The Islamic Republic could indeed appear as the last active support to the Palestinians, in an environment marked by the successive abandonments of the Palestinians by Arab leaders in the Gulf and the Maghreb. Let us recall that in 2006 the Lebanese Hezbollah had already restored “pride” to the “Arab street” by putting up fierce resistance to the Hebrew State, which had to withdraw from Lebanon without having achieved its objectives. Thus, Iran could now position itself as a pillar of resistance and support for the Palestinians in a context of widespread “betrayal,” even more so if Saudi Arabia followed in the footsteps of its neighbors. (51)

But whatever the position of other Arab states thereafter, it is already certain that the Palestinian cause can no longer count on the support of Arab allies. The Arab League, already inoperative on the question of Palestine, appears divided on the issue, with a petition circulating even to transform its headquarters into a wedding hall. While the Trump Plan provides for the creation of a Palestinian state under permanent Israeli tutelage, the fate of the Palestinians seems more than ever dependent on potential political alternatives within the state of Israel, with Arab leaders limiting themselves to the role of passive observers. (52)

Conclusion: What next?

Led by Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, the campaign to normalize relations with Israel is expected to continue under Biden with Oman, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia. Riyadh is a choice piece for the United States that the Democrats could take home as a new trophy if they choose to continue with the initiative, already a country from outside the region i.e. Kosovo is duly joining the accord. (53)

So what are the geopolitical consequences of these agreements? Is this really a new regional “alignment” to contain Iran or does it mean a simple return to realpolitik? What are the possible “hidden” sides of this normalization and what could be the future of the Palestinian question?

In short, the Abraham Accords and their extensions constitute an unexpected diplomatic success in view of the uncertain, even erratic nature of the efforts made by Donald Trump in other fields. In this regard, it must be admitted that the “maximum pressure” exerted on Iran was not totally convincing, as the American President gave up acting at the right time. Will Joe Biden and his European allies, complacent towards Tehran, be able to postpone the showdown? The very recent execution of an Iranian dissident, a refugee in France then kidnapped in Iraq, is a reminder of the political reality of the regime in place.

Finally, it is true that the Abraham Accords do not guarantee a definitive US outcome in the Middle East; but still they prepare the ground for a broader geopolitical reconfiguration. It is therefore to be hoped that the Biden Administration will build on this foundation to conduct a major Middle East strategy that will combine the consolidation of acquired positions and “burden-sharing”, with a view to clear and circumscribe political objectives, defined and shared with the allies of the United States. There can be no question of writing off this highly strategic region.

The motif of Abraham’s sacrifice is one of the points of convergence of the three great monotheistic Middle Eastern religions, but it also presents significant variations in these religions with respect to the canonical text of the Genesis. (54) Isaac is the son destined for sacrifice among the Jews, Ismâ’il among the Muslims. Isaac prefigures Jesus in Christianity, but he is also a son of the Divinity destined for a redemptive sacrifice that he claims. The actors of the stories, always the same, combine male and female figures, relations of filiation and alliance, but they are inscribed in different spatial and temporal sequences.

American policy, in its major international and strategic options, is being outlined from the depths of the State, Pentagon and State Department. Therefore, no significant change is to be expected. The discourse will be different with Joe Biden at the helm. At this point, one realizes that Donald Trump’s speeches did not really represent America’s long-term politics, but choices designed to satisfy his electoral base, and the ideological options that go with it.

In the Middle East, America’s broad options will continue, from proximity to Israel to the Saudi partnership to a broader relationship with the United Arab Emirates. Thus, the objectives of the last 20 years are expected to continue. These are as follows:

  1. A non-nuclear Iran;
  2. A new stability in the Middle East (reduction of Iranian regional influence);
  3. A privileged alliance with Israel;
  4. Maintaining the partnership with Saudi Arabia, accompanying sales of military equipment;
  5. A strategic relationship with the United Arab Emirates and Morocco; and
  6. Crafting a new Middle East by encouraging more normalization with Israel to create a solid front to counter both Iranian and Turkish hegemonic designs in the region.

Amen.

You can follow Professor Mohamed Chtatou on Twitter: @Ayurinu

Endnotes:

  1.  Maria Abi-Habib. “U.S., Middle East Allies Explore Arab Military Coalition.” Wall Street Journal dated February 15, 2017. https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-middle-east-allies-explore-arab-military-coalition-1487154600
  2.  Alex Ryvchin, author of Zionism: The Concise History and the Co-Chief Executive Officer of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.
  3.  Alex Ryvchin. “Abraham Accords Reframe Conflict and Isolate Regional Extremists. “European Eye on Radicalization dated October 12, 2020. https://eeradicalization.com/abraham-accords-reframe-conflict-and-isolate-regional-extremists/
  4.  Jeremy Breland. “Abram to Abraham? Why did He do it? / Faith. “Walterboro Live dated June 28, 2020. https://walterborolive.com/stories/abram-to-abraham-why-did-he-do-it-faith,32425#:~:text=In%20the%20original%20Hebrew%20language,of%20a%20multitude.%E2%80%9D%20Most%20modern
  5.  David Vauclaire. Les religions d’Abraham : Judaïsme, christianisme, islam. Paris: Editions Eyrolles, 2010.
  6. https://biblehub.com/genesis/18-25.htm
  7. https://biblehub.com/genesis/18-27.htm
  8. https://biblehub.com/genesis/21-23.htm
  9. https://biblehub.com/genesis/23-11.htm
  10. https://biblehub.com/genesis/23-16.htm
  11. https://biblehub.com/genesis/18-1.htm
  12.  Kaltner John. “Abraham’s Sons: how the Bible and the Qur’an see the same story differently. “Bible Review, 45-46, 18-2, 2002: 16-23.
  13.  The Book of Jubilees, writes Millar, “retells the story of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar and Ishmael, the Covenant and the circumcision of Isaac. It also records that Ishmael was then circumcised too […]. But it continues by proclaiming with great emphasis that the Covenant was to be solely for those circumcised at eight days, and categorically excludes Ishmael and his descendants “(Millar Fergus, 1993, “Hagar, Ishmael, Josephus and the Origins of Islam. “Journal of Jewish Studies, 44-1, pp. 23-45. 1993: 37).
  14.  Pierre Lory. “Abraham. “ In Dictionnaire du Coran, Mohammed Ali Amir-Moezzi (Direction). Paris : Bouquins, Robert Laffon, 2007 : 9-14. 
  15. Yehudit Ronen. “Israel’s Clandestine Diplomacy with Sudan: Two Rounds of Extraordinary Collaboration “ in Clive Jones et Tore T. Petersen, Israel’s Clandestine Diplomacies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013: 153-168
  16.  Orna Mizrahi. “Is a Strategic Change in Lebanon-Israel Relations Possible at the Present Time? “INSS Insight No. 1390 dated October 15, 2020. https://www.inss.org.il/publication/israel-lebanon-normalization/
  17.  Arab Peace Initiative. https://www.kas.de/wf/doc/kas_3659-1442-2-30.pdf?110513133418
  18.  Kristian Coates Ulrichsen & Giorgio Cafiero. “Oman plays it safe on Israel. “Middle East institute dated October 27, 2020. https://www.mei.edu/publications/oman-plays-it-safe-israel
  19.  The Economic Times. “Qatar rules out normalisation of Israel ties for now. “The Economic Times dated December 4, 2020. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/international/uae/qatar-rules-out-normalisation-of-israel-ties-for-now/articleshow/79568573.cms
  20.  Tyler B. Parker. “Why Kuwait Rejects Normalization With Israel. “Fair Observer dated August 18, 2020. https://www.fairobserver.com/region/middle_east_north_africa/tyler-parker-kuwait-news-israel-relations-uae-gulf-arab-news-international-media-news-79163/
  21.  Middle East Monitor. “Mauritania MPs call for criminalising normalisation with Israel. “Middle East Monitor dated January 6, 2020. https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20210106-mauritania-mps-call-for-criminalising-normalisation-with-israel/
  22.  Mohamed Chtatou. “Triangular Friendship: USA, Morocco and Israel. “Jewish Website dated January 4, 2021. https://jewishwebsite.com/opinion/triangular-friendship-usa-morocco-and-israel/64686/
  23.  Mohamed Chtatou. “Understanding Moroccan “Normalization” with Israel. “Washington Institute dated January 5, 2021. https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/understanding-moroccan-normalization-israel
  24.  Mohamed Chtatou. “Emigration Of Jews Of Morocco To Israel In 20th Century – Analysis. “Eurasia Review dated March 5, 2018. https://www.eurasiareview.com/05032018-emigration-of-jews-of-morocco-to-israel-in-20th-century-analysis/
  25.  Moroccan Constitution of 2011. https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Morocco_2011.pdf
  26.  Frederick W. Kagan. “Islamic Republic of Iran. “Critical Threats dated March 1, 2009. https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/political-structures-of-iran
  27.  Tim Arango. “Iran Dominates in Iraq After U.S. ‘Handed the Country Over’. “The New York Times dated July 15, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/15/world/middleeast/iran-iraq-iranian-power.html
  28.  Full text: Netanyahu’s Speech on Iran in Munich (Munich Security Conference) addressing global leaders, Netanyahu compares Iran to Nazi Germany and threatens action if it continues to build a military presence in Syria. Haaretz, dated February 18, 2018. https://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/full-text-netanyahu-s-speech-on-iran-in-munich-1.5826934
  29.  Martin Chulov. “From Tehran to Beirut: Shia militias aim to firm up Iran’s arc of influence. “The Guardian dated June 16, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/16/from-tehran-to-beirut-shia-militias-aim-to-firm-up-irans-arc-of-influence
  30.  Scott Peterson. “How Iran, the Mideast’s new superpower, is expanding its footprint across the region – and what it means. “Christian Science Monitor dated December 17, 2017. https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2017/1217/How-Iran-the-Mideast-s-new-superpower-is-expanding-its-footprint-across-the-region-and-what-it-means.
  31.  Saudi political officials have blamed Iran’s 1979 revolution for triggering the rise in Sunni extremist ideologies. See Patrice Taddonio. “Saudi Official Makes Rare Reflection on Kingdom’s Role in Rise of Extremism. ”Frontline dated  February 20, 2018. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/saudi-official-makes-rare-reflection-on-kingdoms-role-in-rise-of-extremism.
  32.  Jeffrey Goldberg. “Iran and the Palestinians Lose Out in the Abraham Accords: From authoritarian leaders to White House aides to the Palestinians, tallying the winners and losers. “The Atlantic dated September 16, 2020. https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/09/winners-losers/616364/
  33.  Shahzada Rahim. “Arabs have abandoned Palestine longtime ago. “Modern Diplomacy dated September 14, 2020. https://moderndiplomacy.eu/2020/09/14/arabs-have-abandoned-palestine-longtime-ago/
  34.  Aaron David Miller. “How Israel and the Arab World Are Making Peace Without a Peace Deal. “Carnegie Endowment dated May 27, 2020. https://carnegieendowment.org/2020/05/27/how-israel-and-arab-world-are-making-peace-without-peace-deal-pub-81918
  35.  Shahzada Rahim. “Arabs have abandoned Palestine longtime ago. “Op. cit.
  36.  Israa Khater. “Are we Palestinians waiting for Godot? “Open Democracy dated August 19, 2020. https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/north-africa-west-asia/are-we-palestinians-waiting-godot/
  37.  Merve Aydoğan. “Turkey slams UAE over recent deal with Israel. “AA dated August 14, 2020. https://www.aa.com.tr/en/middle-east/turkey-slams-uae-over-recent-deal-with-israel/1941509
  38.  Ann M. Callahan. “The Abraham Accords and future prospects. “Global Affairs Strategic Studies dated December 22, 2020. https://www.unav.edu/web/global-affairs/detalle/-/blogs/the-abraham-accords-and-future-prospects
  39.  Amira Hass. “Analysis: Israel-UAE Normalization Deal Reveals Failure of Palestinian Diplomacy. “Haaretz dated August 14, 2020. https://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/palestinians/.premium-israel-uae-normalization-deal-reveals-failure-of-palestinian-diplomacy-1.9076411
  40.  Ray Takeyh. “Are Gulf Arab States Aligning Toward Israel? “CFR dated August 17, 2020. https://www.cfr.org/in-brief/are-gulf-arab-states-aligning-toward-israel
  41. Ibid.
  42.  Omar R. Rahman. “Order from Chaos: What’s behind the relationship between Israel and Arab Gulf states? “Brookings dated January 28, 2019. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2019/01/28/whats-behind-the-relationship-between-israel-and-arab-gulf-states/
  43. Ibid.
  44.  Crown Prince Mohammed Ben Salman’s reported comments reflect Saudi Arabia’s deep suspicion of President Tayyip Erdogan. “Saudi Prince Says Turkey Part of ‘Triangle of Evil,’ Egyptian Media Reports. “Reutersdated March 7, 2018. https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-saudi-turkey-idUKKCN1GJ1WG
  45.  A secret meeting between Prince Mohammed Ben Salmane (MBS) and Benjamin Netanyahu was revealed by the press on November 24, 2020, reviving rumors of a possible normalization between the two countries. The latter is however hampered by the opposition of the Saudi king and by a public opinion very hostile to any recognition of Israel. (Noa Landau & Jack Khoury. “After Saudi Adviser Confirms MBS-Netanyahu Met, Saudi Foreign Minister Denies. “Haaretz dated November 23, 2020. https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-saudis-confirm-mbs-netanyahu-meeting-discussed-iran-and-normalization-1.9324260).
  46.  Yasser Okbi & Maariv HaShavua. “Did the Saudi Crown Prince make a covert visit to Israel?” Jerusalem Post dated September 11, 2017. http://www.jpost.com/Arab-Israeli-Conflict/Did-the-Saudi-Crown-Prince-make-a-covert-visit-to-Israel-504777
  47.  Jeffrey Goldberg. “Saudi Crown Prince: Iran’s Supreme Leader ‘Makes Hitler Look Good’. “The Atlantic dated April 2, 2018. https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/04/mohammed-bin-salman-iran-israel/557036/
  48.  Times of Israel dated January 25, 2018. https://www.timesofisrael.com/liveblog_entry/saudi-intelligence-agency-reportedly-brought-weapons-into-iran/
  49.  Ben Salman: “We will move the fight to Iran. ”al-Mayadeen dated May 2, 2017. http://mdn.tv/1MoT.
  50. CFR.  “A Conversation with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif of Iran. “CFR dated September 21, 2020. https://www.cfr.org/event/conversation-foreign-minister-mohammad-javad-zarif-iran
  51.  The Atlantic . “Iranian Foreign Minister: ‘Arab Affairs Are Iran’s Business’.” The Atlantic dated 9 October 2017. www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/10/iran-persian-gulf-jcpoa/542421.
  52.  CFR. “A conversation with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on current developments in the Middle East. “CFR, July 17, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r7nh2m9xiFA
  53.  Middle East Eye. “Kosovo to establish diplomatic relations with Israel on 1 February. “Middle East Eye dated January 30, 2021. https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/kosovo-set-establish-diplomatic-relations-israel

Dr. Mohamed Chtatou

Dr. Mohamed Chtatou is a Professor of education science at the university in Rabat. He is currently a political analyst with Moroccan, Gulf, French, Italian and British media on politics and culture in the Middle East, Islam and Islamism as well as terrorism. He is, also, a specialist on political Islam in the MENA region with interest in the roots of terrorism and religious extremism.

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