The Israel-UAE Agreement: A Message to Iran, the Palestinians and Biden

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People across much of the Sunni Muslim Arab world don’t perceive Israel anymore as an enemy, but rather as an ally.

Tel Aviv Municipality lit up with the UAE flag, August 13, 2020. (photo credit: TEL AVIV MUNICIPALITY)

Tel Aviv Municipality lit up with the UAE flag, August 13, 2020.


The Israel-UAE agreement is extremely important. This is the third peace agreement between Israel and an Arab country. The other two were signed with Egypt (1979) and Jordan (1994). It will increase the prospects for peace, stability and prosperity in the Middle East. For several years Israel and several Gulf states have been closely collaborating mainly on security issues and under the table. Now, these relations are being opened and upgraded. People across much of the Sunni Muslim Arab world don’t perceive Israel anymore as an enemy, but rather as an ally. It will increase the legitimacy of Israel’s existence as a Jewish state in the Middle East.

A combination of both threats and opportunities have pushed for the agreement. The threat both countries are facing is Iran’s quest for hegemony and domination in the Middle East via violence, terrorism, military interventions, and nuclear weapons, from Iraq, Syria and Lebanon to Yemen. The Arab Gulf states are especially prone to the Iranians threats. The Israel-UAE alliance is expected to more effectively deal with Iran.

It also sends a message to Biden and the Democrats, who during the Obama years concluded a nuclear deal with Iran, viewed by Israel and the entire Sunni Arab world as weak and ineffective. Biden said he would restore the Obama approach and the Israel-UAE agreement is telling him to better consider the interests of American allies in the region.

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Opportunists exist at the fields of technology and economics. Israel is a start-up nation and leading the world in innovation and advanced technologies and artificial intelligence in the fields of medicine, agriculture, solar energy and water desalinization, areas important for the Gulf states. The UAE is also seeking breakthroughs in these and other areas. The UAE has resources while Israel has the human power to promote innovation, sustainability and entrepreneurship.

The Israel-UAE agreement prevented Israel’s plan to unilaterally annex areas in the West Bank that the Trump peace plan allocated to Israel. But it also sends the Palestinians four messages:
•    The Palestinians can no longer exercise veto power on relations between Israel and Arab states which strongly share with Israel significant security and economic interests.
•    Blocking the Iran threats is more important than the Palestinian cause.
•    Time is not on the Palestinians side. For decades, they have rejected American proposals including the most recent one proposed by Trump, assuming that eventually Israel will accept their uncompromising demands.
•    The agreement undermines the Palestinians’ strategy of conditioning peace agreements between Israel and Arab countries until there is an agreement between them and Israel.

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Other Gulf countries like Bahrain and Oman are likely to sign similar agreements. They have the same concerns that brought about the agreement with the UAE.

Trump would like to see a celebration like those on the White House lawn for the signing of the peace agreement with Egypt in 1979, the Oslo Agreement in 1993, and the agreement with Jordan in 1994.  The Deal of the Century hasn’t worked well and this agreement is a cause for celebration. Trump would hope that this will help him win the election. He has had no significant foreign policy achievements.  This deal is an achievement, but I suspect that it won’t significantly affect the vote.  American voters are more concerned with the coronavirus and the economy to place much importance on this deal.  Jimmy Carter brokered peace between Israel and Egypt in 1979 and lost the elections in 1980 because of bad economic conditions in the US.

Similarly, George H.W. Bush rid Iraq of Saddam Hussein, yet lost the following elections to Bill Clinton due to the economy. Timing may be another factor.  The selection of Kamala Harris as the US VP candidate is a big plus for Biden and strengthens his candidacy.  The agreement could somewhat offset the negative repercussions, the Gulf states are worried to death about the Democrats and Biden because of their intention to restore the nuclear deal negotiated by Obama with Iran. So the Israel-UAE agreement could be a message to Biden and the Democrats that this time they will have to take into consideration the interest of its allies in the Middle East.

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Professor Eytan Gilboa is a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University.

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