The long speak: After decades of hostility, a shared hatred of Iran and a mutual fondness for Trump is making Israels secret links with Gulf territories out into the open
In mid-February 2019, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, flew to Warsaw for a highly unusual conference. Under the auspices of the US vice-president, Mike Pence, he convened the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and two other Gulf states that have no diplomatic relations with Israel. The main item on the orders of the day was containing Iran. No Palestinians were present. Most of the existing links between Israel and the Gulf have been maintained secret- but these talks were not. In fact, Netanyahu’s office leaked a video of a executive session, humiliating the Arab participants.
The meeting publicly showcased the impressive happening that Israel, as Netanyahu was so keen to advertise, is prevailing following of a sorting from the wealthiest a number of countries in the Arab world- even as the prospects for resolving the longstanding Palestinian issue are at an all-time low-grade. This unprecedented rapprochement has been driven chiefly by a shared rancour 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 Countries of the middle east since Israel’s creation in 1948 and the removal or flight of more than 700,000 Palestinians- which Arabs call the Nakba, or catastrophe- that accompanied it. Still, over the years, pan-Arab solidarity and boycotts of the “Zionist entity” have largely faded away. The last-place Arab-Israeli war was in 1973. Israel’s armistice treaties 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 states is a hugely important shift.
Evidence is mounting of increasingly close ties between Israel and five members of the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council( GCC)- none of which have formal relations with the Jewish state. Trump spotlit this accelerating change on his first foreign trip as chairperson– to the Saudi capital Riyadh- by flying on directly afterwards to Tel Aviv. Hopes for Saudi assist with his much-hyped” spate of the century” to end 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 satisfy between him and Mohammed bin Salman( MBS ), the Saudi crown prince who was widely blamed for the merciless murder of columnist Jamal Khashoggi last October. That would be a sensational- and highly controversial- instant, which is why Saudis are signalling frantically that it is not going to happen. Still, the meeting with Netanyahu in Warsaw croaked far beyond anything that has just taken place before. The abnormal is becoming normal.
The original impetus for these developing relationships between Israel and the Gulf states was a mutual dislike for Barack Obama. In the early years of the Arab spring, he riled the Saudis and the UAE, and horrified Israel, by abandoning Egypt’s president Hosni Mubarak, and then singer is supportive of the popular insurgency in Syria and called for Bashar al-Assad to quit. In 2015, when the US-led nuclear agreement was signed with Iran, it was vehemently opposed by Israel and most Gulf districts. That September, Russia’s military 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 endorsement of Hezbollah in Lebanon- Iran’s “axis of resistance”- was regarded with identical outrage in Jerusalem, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi.
” The Obama administration was hated by Saudi Arabia and Israel because it shunned them both ,” a senior Saudi told me. A veteran Israeli official represented the same argument:” There was a sense that we were looking at an American’ s administration that wasn’t as committed to America’s traditional friends. We must be given to form common induce because there was a sense of being left to fend for ourselves. Unwittingly, Obama lent 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 push the Palestinians.” What is happening with Arab states has never happened in our 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 period .” As Dore Gold, Netanyahu’s former national insurance adviser, elaborated with a smile, these words are” very carefully drafted to give a positive word without spilling the beans .”
The priority for the Saudis and their allies is refusing Iran, which in the past few years has consolidated its own position in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, where it backs the Houthi rebels. MBS notoriously described Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme ruler, as a” new Hitler “. Netanyahu compared Obama’s nuclear deal to the Munich agreement of 1938- and after Trump abandoned it last summertime, Netanyahu signalled Israel’s readiness to join an” international coalition” against Tehran.” We were raised to see Israel as an foe that occupied Arab regions ,” insists an Emirati analyst.” The reality 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 excitements .”
There is also a pragmatic identification in Gulf capitals of the benefits of security, technological and economic links with an unassailably potent Israel- is not merely for their own sake, but likewise because of the US approval that introduces. Israel ascertains ties with the Gulf as an important way of demonstrating its own influence in Washington.” It is doubtful whether its scope of application of( US) aid to Arab districts could have been maintained without the support of Aipac( the prime pro-Israel lobby group) and Jewish organisations ,” advocates Eran Lerman, former deputy chief of Israel’s National Security Council.
None of this means that the Palestinian question has gone away. “Normalisation”( of its relationship with Israel) remains a dirty word of billions of Arabs, which is why autocratic Gulf rulers dread favourite opposition to their brand-new cosiness with Netanyahu. Formally, every GCC state remains committed to the Arabpeaceinitiative of 2002, which offers recognition of Israel in return for a Palestinian country in their respective territories occupied in 1967, with East Jerusalem as its capital. But even this is far more than Netanyahu will ever accept: he will be discussing simply a Palestinian “state-minus”, and openly refuses to dismantle the illegal villages that divide the West Bank into disconnected districts. Netanyahu’s numerous Israeli commentators- furious over the corruption bills he is facing as next month’s elections approach- have complained that he is exaggerating both the Iranian threat and the significance of his Gulf diplomacy, while entirely neglecting the existential crisis in Israel’s own backyard- its ongoing failure 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 Eastern reality. Last-place October, the Israeli prime minister held talks in Muscat, the capital of Oman, with its ruler, Sultan Qaboos bin Said. The complying daylight, his Likud party colleague, the culture and boasts priest Miri Regev, was inspecting Abu Dhabi in the UAE, while at the same time Israeli players were vying 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 prime minister, in a off-color dres and tie, was received exchanging jokes with the sultan, in a turban and traditional lily-white dishdasha gown. The Israeli leader’s wife, Sara, was there with other members of his delegating, including an impassive middle-aged man announced Yossi Cohen, head of the Mossad intelligence service.
During Regev’s remaining in Abu Dhabi, where Israel’s top judo squad was participating in a tournament, she sobbed on camera as Hatikvah, Israel’s national hymn( the Hebrew statements are about yearning for Zion) was played. Later she toured the princely Sheikh Zayed mosque, commemorating the UAE’s founder, a loyal booster of the Palestinian cause. These two Israeli ministerial visits to Gulf capitals established a powerful elevate to the impression of spectacular changes in the region’s alliances.
But as information of Netanyahu’s trip to Oman developed, there was a reminder of the dangers of a reaction. Six Palestinians were killed and 180 disabled by Israeli army snipers on the border of the Gaza Strip, where weekly declarations now challenge the blockade imposed on the territory by Israel since 2007.