The long read: After decades of aggression, a shared antagonism of Iran and a mutual fondness for Trump is fetching Israels secret links with Gulf kingdoms out into the open
In mid-February 2019, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, operated to Warsaw for a highly unusual powwow. Under the auspices of the US vice-president, Mike Pence, he gratified the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and two other Gulf states that have no diplomatic ties with Israel. The major items on the agenda was containing Iran. No Palestinians represented here. Most of the existing links between Israel and the Gulf have been obstructed secret- but these talks were not. In fact, Netanyahu’s office leaked a video of a executive session, embarrassing the Arab participants.
The meeting publicly showcased the impressive knowledge that Israel, as Netanyahu was so lament to advertise, is winning following of a sort from the wealthiest the nations of the Arab world- even as the prospects for resolving the longstanding Palestinian question are at an all-time low-spirited. This unprecedented rapprochement has been driven mainly by a shared animosity towards Iran, and by the disruptive new plans of Donald Trump.
Hostility to Israel has been a defining feature of the geopolitical scenery of the Middle eastern since Israel’s creation in 1948 and the ouster or flight of more than 700,000 Palestinians- which Arabs bellow the Nakba, or catastrophe- that accompanied it. Still, over its first year, pan-Arab solidarity and boycott of the “Zionist entity” are predominantly faded away. The last Arab-Israeli war was in 1973. Israel’s peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan are unpopular, but have lasted decades. The 1993 Oslo agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation( PLO) was an historic- if ultimately disappointing- achievement. And what is happening now with the Gulf territories is a hugely important shift.
Evidence is mounting of increasingly close ties between Israel and five of the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council( GCC)- nothing of which have formal its relationship with the Jewish territory. Trump highlighted this accelerating change on his firstly foreign errand as chairman– to the Saudi capital Riyadh- by piloting on directly afterwards to Tel Aviv. Hopes for Saudi help with his much-hyped” treat of the century” to discontinue the Israel-Palestine conflict have faded since then. Yet Netanyahu is seeking to normalise relations with Saudi Arabia. And there has even been surmise about a public meeting between him and Mohammed bin Salman( MBS ), the Saudi crown prince who was widely blamed for the merciless assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi last October. That would be a sensational- and highly controversial- minute, which is why Saudis are signalling frantically that it is not be happening. Still, the has met with Netanyahu in Warsaw went well beyond anything that has taken place before. The abnormal is become normal.
The original impetus for these developing relationships between Israel and the Gulf countries was a reciprocal distaste for Barack Obama. In the early years of the Arab springtime, he infuriated the Saudis and the UAE, and alarmed Israel, by abandoning Egypt’s president Hosni Mubarak, and then voiced support for the popular mutiny in Syria and called for Bashar al-Assad to resign. In 2015, when the US-led nuclear agreement was signed with Iran, it was vehemently was rejected by Israel and most Gulf positions. That September, Russia’s armed intervention in Syria marked the beginning of the end of the crisis for Assad. Tehran’s steadfast support for its ally in Damascus, and its patronage of Hezbollah in Lebanon- Iran’s” axis of opposition”- was regarded with indistinguishable abhorrence in Jerusalem, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi.
” The Obama administration was detested by Saudi Arabia and Israel because it shunned them both ,” a senior Saudi told me. A veteran Israeli official formed the same dispute:” There was a sense that we were looking at an American’ s administration that wasn’t as had undertaken to America’s traditional pals. We had to make common justification because there was a sense of being left to fend for ourselves. Unwittingly, Obama contributed very significantly to the buildup of relations between us and the UAE and the Saudis .”
Netanyahu’s game plan is to promote relations with the Gulf and beyond, and thus to marginalise and pressure the Palestinians.” What is happening with Arab countries has never happened in its own history, even though we signed peace agreements ,” is his carefully refined formula.” Cooperation in different ways and at different levels isn’t inevitably visible above the surface, but what is below the surface is far greater than at any other span .” As Dore Gold, Netanyahu’s former national insurance consultant, elaborated with a smile, these texts are” very carefully drafted to give a positive meaning without shedding the beans .”
The priority for the Saudis and their allies is repelling Iran, which in the past few years has consolidated the same position in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, where it backs the Houthi mavericks. MBS notoriously described Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, as a” brand-new Hitler “. Netanyahu equated Obama’s nuclear treat to the Munich agreement of 1938- and after Trump abandoned it last summer, Netanyahu signalled Israel’s readiness to join an” international coalition” against Tehran.” We were raised to see Israel as an antagonist that occupied Arab countries ,” insists an Emirati analyst.” The world now is that the Israelis are there whether you like it or not. We have common interests with them- and it’s about Iran, about pastimes , not spirits .”
There is also a pragmatic recognition in Gulf capitals of the benefits of security, technological and economic links with an unassailably powerful Israel- is not merely for their own sake, but also because of the US approval that accompanies. Israel sees ties with the Gulf as a significant way of expressing its own influence in Washington.” It can doubt that the scope of( US) aid to Arab countries could have been maintained without the support of Aipac( the primary pro-Israel hallway radical) and Jewish organisations ,” proposes Eran Lerman, former deputy chief of Israel’s National Security Council.
None of this means that the Palestinian question has gone away. “Normalisation”( of relations with Israel) remains a dirty word of billions of Arabs, which is why autocratic Gulf captains dread popular opposition to their brand-new cosiness with Netanyahu. Formally, every GCC state remains committed to the Arabpeaceinitiative of 2002, which provides for recognition of Israel in return for a Palestinian territory in the territories occupied in 1967, with Occupied east jerusalem as its capital. But even this is far more than Netanyahu will ever accept: he will consider simply a Palestinian “state-minus”, and openly refuses to raze the illegal settlements that partition the West Bank into disconnected enclaves. Netanyahu’s numerous Israeli commentators- indignant over the corruption fees he is facing as next month’s elections approach- have deplored that he is overdoing both the Iranian threat and the significance of his Gulf diplomacy, while completely discounting the existential crisis in Israel’s own backyard- its ongoing had failed to make peace with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu’s meeting with the Saudis and Emiratis in Warsaw was not the first spectacular public peek of this changing Middle east actuality. Last October, the Israeli prime minister held talks in Muscat, the capital of Oman, with its ruler, Sultan Qaboos bin Said. The following daylight, his Likud party colleague, different cultures and sports executive Miri Regev, was seeing Abu Dhabi in the UAE, while at the same meter Israeli contestants were competing in Doha in nearby Qatar.
News of Netanyahu’s Muscat trip included video footage of his talks in the ornate Bait al-Baraka palace. The “ministers “, in a blue clothing and tie, was ensure exchanging remarks with the sultan, in a turban and traditional lily-white dishdasha garb. The Israeli leader’s bride, Sara, was there with other members of his delegating, including an impassive middle-aged boy announced Yossi Cohen, head of the Mossad intelligence service.
During Regev’s stay in Abu Dhabi, where Israel’s top judo team was participating in a tournament, she bawled on camera as Hatikvah, Israel’s national hymn( the Hebrew statements are about hankering for Zion) was played. Later she toured the sumptuou Sheikh Zayed mosque, celebrating the UAE’s founder, a loyal backer of the Palestinian reason. These two Israeli ministerial visits to Gulf capitals afforded a powerful elevate to the impression of drastic changes in the region’s alliances.
But as word of Netanyahu’s visit to Oman rose, there was a reminder of threats to a reaction. Six Palestinians were killed and 180 disabled by Israeli army snipers on the border of the Gaza Strip, where weekly asserts now challenge the blockade imposed on the territory by Israel since 2007.