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Analysis

Israeli-Emirati Relations: From Oil Embargo To Normalization

Wednesday 19 August 2020
Israeli-Emirati Relations: From Oil Embargo To Normalization

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Alwaght- Last week, the UAE struck a deal with the Israeli regime to normalize bilateral relations. In a few weeks to come, Israeli and Emirati representatives will meet to sign agreements on investment, direct flights, security, communications, energy, technology, culture, health, environment, and embassies. 

The agreement will open a new page in the relations between Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi, making them overt. This analysis seeks to give a picture of their bilateral relations since the creation of the Israeli regime and the implications of normalization. 

Relations before Oslo agreements 

Generally, the Israeli-Emirati relations should be divided into before and after the Oslo agreements between Tel Aviv and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). 

The UAE, which gained its independence from Britain in 1971, just two years after its independence joined the Arab and Muslim 1973 oil embargo accompanying other states like Egypt and Syria. Taking a year to end, the ban was the first influential reaction by the UAE against the Israeli government. Until the Oslo agreement of 1993, the Emirati leaders practically stood within the ranks of the Arab states against Tel Aviv, supporting the Palestinian cause and pushing for the return of occupied Palestinian territories despite intra-Arab differences. 

Relations after Oslo agreements 

Since the agreements signed between the PLO and the Israeli regime in Oslo in 1993 and then 1995, which came less than two decades after the Camp David Israeli-Egyptian agreement of 1978, the taboo surrounding Arab relations with the Israelis was gradually broken. Having in mind that the PLO recognized an Israeli state under the Oslo agreements, there appeared a mentality among some Arab leaders that through dialogue and political ties with Tel Aviv, the Palestinian cause can be settled. 

Despite the failure of the Oslo accords to make achievements to the Palestinian side due to the Israeli lack of commitment to its terms, the idea of containing the Israelis through negotiations remained mastering the minds of Arab leaders and Palestinian Authority. As a result, they kept support for the Palestinian factions who favored talks to reach peace. Also dominated by this mindset, the UAE threw its weight behind the pro-compromise Palestinian side. 

This continued until about a decade ago when Benjamin Netanyahu assumed the Prime Minister post in the Israeli regime. Netanyahu took some steps to establish secret ties with some Arab countries. This arrangement, backed by the US, along with fast-moving regional developments pushed such countries as the UAE to move closer to the Israelis. The turning point was marked by the 2011 Arab uprisings in which Abu Dhabi projected common interests with Tel Aviv. Since then, their clandestine ties received a considerable boost. 

Their cooperation went to an extent that a majority of the regional intelligence agencies became aware of massive Israeli-Emirati security and intelligence cooperation. Reports about the secret exchange of visits began to come out. These developments gave rise to speculations about imminent normalization between the two sides. 

Normalization of relationship  

There are two points regarding normalization. First, the ground for this move is the goals and interests the two sides seek behind the thaw. Second, the implications and impacts normalizing the ties will have. 

UAE drivers behind normalization 

Security-political goals 

Since its foundation and due to existence in a milieu in which two powerful regional players predominantly have conflicting ideas on regional cases, the UAE tried to play a role as a balancing factor between Iran and Saudi Arabia. 

In other words, due to its vulnerability especially in emirates like Dubai whose major income comes from trade and tourism, the UAE has always tried to behave in a way to tip the scales in favor of neither. The country has old disputes with Saudi Arabia and this gives it the reason to save relations with Iran to thwart possible threats posed by Riyadh. At the same time, it keeps good ties with Saudi Arabia in line with its Arab identity. So, Abu Dhabi finds its security tied to a balance of power between Tehran and Riyadh. It put much effort into creation of this balance. 

When the Emiratis joined the Saudi war on Yemen which meant joining a camp opposite to the Islamic Republic, Dubai-based Al Maktoum family criticized Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, arguing that the country needed to save the balance to keep the vital lifelines of the Emirati economy standing. Still, bin Zayed who sought a new role in the region sent a high-ranking security delegation to Tehran in an effort to clear the Iranian concerns. By direct involvement, the UAE sent a signal to other regional actors telling them it intends to play a new role in the region. This intention is given away by the country’s push to dominate strategic regions in southern Yemen and even setting goals in contrast to those of Saudi Arabia as the leader of the anti-Yemeni campaign. 

Therefore, the continuation of the past regional security policies by the UAE seemed completely impossible. Its capacities considered, Abu Dhabi needed to diversify its play cards and move out of its confinement between the two conventional powers. 

One of the important weaknesses of the UAE is its lack of strategic depth and its geopolitical encirclement. Having these in mind and also developing ambitions to gain dominance over strategic regions, the UAE rulers went to great lengths to seize control of southern Yemen areas and islands close to the Gulf of Aden and Bab-el-Mandeb. Despite its intelligence, political, and military sway there, the UAE does not seem to be capable to lonely establish an influential presence in southern Yemen, especially that even Saudi Arabia among others disagrees with Emirati presence in this strategic part of Yemen. 

This pushes the UAE to seek a partner and the Israeli regime is one of the best options as it has a thirst for presence in these regions. Tel Aviv has the same UAE geopolitical problems and wants new spheres of influence. 

The Emirati reasons for security and even military partnership with the Israelis are not limited to those above-mentioned. After shooting down of the modern American stealth drone by Iran over the Persian Gulf and the passive reaction of the US, the UAE made sure that in the time of need Washington will take no military action in its protection and thus it needs to coalesce with another actor. The Emiratis are even more convinced to upgrade their security relationship with the Israelis as Washington is adopting “pivot to East” policy to contain China and will gradually decrease its presence in West Asia. 

At the same time, the UAE understands that before full exit from the region the US needs to make new security arrangements in the region. One of the most important segments of this arrangement is the Israeli-Arab relations. This persuaded Abu Dhabi rulers to take the first step towards this aim and so be the frontrunner in establishing a security-political partnership with the Israelis. 

The need for this thaw is run by the fact that despite the normalization deal of the Israeli regime with Egypt and Jordan, the peace with these two Arab states is cold and delicate. The UAE wants to overtake others in playing as the key piece in the security order of the future eyed by the Americans. The UAE wants the leadership in the normalization process and this is observable in the comments of Abdulkhaleq Abdullah, a close friend of Abdu Dhabi Crown Prince bin Zayed. He said that sooner or later Arab states will normalize ties with Tel Aviv. 

Another goal behind the thaw accord is the UAE’s projection of cooperation with the Israeli regime to confront what they consider as common threats. Since 2011, the Emirati leaders showed that they do not tolerate political Islam, especially when it comes to the political activism of groups affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. At the same time, the country runs counter to the agenda of the Axis of Resistance. The UAE thinks that closeness to the Israeli regime will help it confront future threats it will face. 

Also, the Emirati side counts specifically on the Zionist lobbies in the US and intends to give privileges to the Israelis and in return involve the Americans in some regional cases in which Abu Dhabi is involved all to gain the status of leadership in the Arab world. 

Economic objectives behind the thaw 

Aside from the security and political goals as drivers behind the normalization, the UAE has economic objectives that make it move close to Tel Aviv with more enthusiasm. Generally, the Emirati economic goals can be marked in three categories:

1. The UAE's need for Israeli regime's technology in some areas of science: The Emiratis want to use the Israeli technologies in water, modern sciences, and some areas with dual economic-military applications.

2. UAE wants to attract the huge Jewish investment capital: The Jewish communities are super-wealthy as they are engaged in massive economic and trade activities globally. Abu Dhabi projects to bring big Zionist businesses and companies to the UAE. At the same time, the UAE strives to become a window for Israeli access to the Persian Gulf Arab market. This will help it in addition to the transit revenues involve in Israeli production for more benefits.

3. The UAE is well aware of the dangers Iran’s Chabahar port and Pakistan’s Gwadar port pose to the future of the Dubai status as a hub of regional trade. So it seeks to get access to ocean ports to save its position in marine trade as a defense to the risks Dubai port will face. The country desperately needs access to ports and islands in southern Yemen that have an appropriate position. To tighten its grasp, the UAE especially banks on Israeli assistance.

Israeli expectations from the normalization

Despite the peace deals with Egypt and Jordan, the Israeli regime remains isolated as it is restricted in the Muslim and Arab atmosphere. Tel Aviv holds an agenda to move out of this isolation and normalization with the UAE is a long step towards this aim. The thaw with the UAE comes as the two were not at war just unlike the deal with Egypt and Jordan. In addition to pulling it out of regional isolation, the deal can grant the occupying Israeli regime a kind of legitimacy. That is why the Israelis strongly welcomed the normalization decision. 

For years, Tel Aviv has been struggling to push the Arab countries to a path in which they distinguish between their relationship with Tel Aviv and their sympathy with the Palestinian cause. Upon the thaw statement, the UAE said that the move does not mean that it will forget the Palestinian cause. This statement brought the Israelis closer their goal.  

The Israeli regime has always tried to fuel the division among the Arab and Muslim countries in a bid to push forward its goals in the Palestinian negotiations and save its security. The Israeli regime knows that intra-Arab divisions can cut their power to influence the Palestinian cause in favor of the Palestinians and at the same time, the Arab threats against Tel Aviv erode. 

Besides, Tel Aviv is zealous for presence in the Persian Gulf region and normalization will facilitate this. In addition to presence in this strategic region, the presence in the Persian Gulf gets the Israeli regime to the southern borders of Iran as the central nucleus of the Axis of Resistance and then helps it establish a balance of terror as it is aware of the vital significance of the Persian Gulf for Tehran. Although the Israeli regime has security and even military presence in some of the northern neighbors of Iran, the crucial position of the Persian Gulf in security and economic terms for Iran is of substantial significance for Tel Aviv. 

The US role in the normalization 

Another factor facilitating the Thursday agreement is the American role and pressure on both sides to speed up the normalization process. Severely frustrated with the implementation of the “deal of the century” in Washington’s favorable fashion, the US is seeking routes to pave the way for the plan implementation from another way. The US, which expected a final solution to the Arab-Israeli disputes under a comprehensive deal, ran into big obstacles in the way of its plans. As a replacement solution, it decided to put strains on the Israeli and Arab sides to publicize their behind-the-scenes relations, something that will unleash a domino effect of developments to prepare the ground for the deal of the century. 

The proximity of the US elections and also the empty hand of President Donald Trump in the foreign policy push him to pressure the two sides to normalize their ties. This and also the pressures on the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at home brought forward the normalization announcement. 

Influences on the Palestinian cause and Arab-Israeli relations 

Although the Emiratis insist that the normalization does not mean forgetting the Palestinian cause by Abu Dhabi and the latter even claimed to have managed to press Netanyahu to suspend the West Bank annexation, this move by the UAE is, in fact, nothing but a betrayal of the Palestinian struggle against the occupation. Although the Israelis insist that it is possible to draw a distinction between the relations with Tel Aviv and the Palestinian cause, the normalization will certainly mean that the UAE will bury the Palestinian cause by engaging in open relations with the Israeli regime. 

While the Palestinian case is in its tough and decisive stage and such conspiracies as the deal of the century and the expansionist policies like West Bank annexation are threatening the Palestinian liberation push and Islamic and Palestinian unity is crucial more than any other time to foil these plots, the UAE establishing official ties not only will not serve the Palestinian cause but also will consist of major treason against the Palestinians and Al-Quds (Jerusalem) dispute. 

From another aspect, the accord will cause differences among the Arab states and this introduces a new phase in the Arab-Israeli relations. The countries will official open ties with the Israeli regime and those with secret ties and wishing to publicize them in the future will support Abu Dhabi's decision. Some other members, due to some considerations will take passive stances and remain silent and so the Arab world will grow polarized. Polarization will cut their power to impact the Palestinian cause and their support to liberation efforts. This will give rise to the Muslim debate and very likely some Muslim sides will hold the betrayal instrumentally against backers of the UAE. 

From now on, a new front will emerge in the region in which the pro-normalization countries will maximally use the security-economic camp they have created to put utmost pressure on the incompliant states until giving in to pressures and join them in return for settling their majorly economic hardship. Actually, such conditions existed in the region but the course of regional developments give them further publicity. 

Impacts on Iranian interests and security environment 

Potentially, the Emirati-Israeli normalization will bring impacts on Iranian interests and security. Here what is important is the dissection of the goals the Israelis seek and the type of strategy the UAE will adopt as it goes ahead with the normalization process. This is the basis that determines if the Israeli goals behind presence in the Persian Gulf will be realized or not. Aware of the importance of the Persian Gulf region for Tehran, Tel Aviv intends to in the long run force its place in the region’s security arrangements and order and present itself as a replacement to Washington in the protection of the Arab countries as the US gradually scales down its presence and operations in the region. 

This policy, followed to overshadow the Iranian security and increase the security and military relations with the Persian Gulf Arab states with the final aim of making these countries dependent on Tel Aviv, is designed as a final goal.

The realization of this goal takes other grounds. Towards this goal, the Israelis will seek broader military and intelligence role in the UAE. This requires upgrading the Emirati-Israeli relations which have been followed for years clandestinely. Tel Aviv will likely seek to establish a military base on the Emirati soil. The military presence is the first stage towards the final goal of making a place in the Persian Gulf security structure. 

But the realization of goals the Israelis have in mind is a function of the Emirati strategy in relation to Tehran and Tel Aviv after normalization. In fact, it is the UAE that would decide if it should ignore the Iranian red lines and allow an Israeli military base on its soil at the cost of escalating tensions with Iran. 

The Emirati government is very well aware of Iran’s red lines as well as its vulnerabilities and it seems that with some simple benefit-cost calculations it can take important decisions. The Emiratis know it perfectly that allowing the Israeli regime to build a military base will greatly compromise their security and in fact the Israeli presence instead of providing security guarantees to the UAE will bring it existential threats. 

So, the strategy adopted by the UAE in dealing with Iran and the Israeli regime is a key matter. Likely, it will in the short run respect the Iranian red lines and even give behind-the-scenes assurances to Tehran, though these assurances do not block secretly facilitating the Israeli military presence in the Persian Gulf in pursuit of its long-term plans along with broadening economic and intelligence partnership. 

However, in the Emirati rulers’ calculations certainly saving the largely fragile security of the country will be an essential factor and they look not to want to sacrifice their relations with Iran and their national security to the ties with Tel Aviv despite their ambitious objectives. After all, they know that they would be the biggest losers of any escalation of military tensions or military conflict in the region. Very likely, they at least in midterm will limit their relations with the Israelis to intelligence cooperation and military purchases and regard the Iranian red lines that are clearly outlined by Tehran for Abu Dhabi. 

Still, the type of security partnership between them will direct threats to Iranian national security. Having a common take of the regional developments, Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv will want to widen their joint work in this area. This will be the most serious short-term threat to Iran and will intensify the already-ongoing intelligence war between Tehran and Tel Aviv. 

Apparent enough, the Israelis have always lost the intelligence wars to the Iranians and this can carry a message to the UAE: If it becomes a base for the Israeli intelligence officers, it should expect security consequences. In the case of the Iranian response to the origin of some counter-security actions by the Israelis, (cyberwar is top on the list), it is the UAE that would sustain damage at the end of the road.

Tags :

UAE Israeli Regime Normalization Palestinian Cause Iran

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