Abu Dhabi (GPA) – The United Arab Emirates and Israel signed what President Trump called a “breakthrough” comprehensive diplomatic agreement last week. Abu Dhabi has whitewashed the deal as a net positive for Palestinians. A deeper look, however, shows that the agreement is another move in Washington’s strategy to isolate Iran.
The United States, Israel, and United Arab Emirates released a joint statement announcing the UAE-Israel deal to normalize relations on Thursday.
Under the deal, the United Arab Emirates became the third Arab state and first Gulf country to normalize relations with Israel and formally acknowledge its existence.
Jordan signed a similar deal with Tel Aviv in 1994 after the Oslo Accords. Meanwhile, Egypt’s cooperation with Israel dates back to 1979 under Gamal Abdel Nasser’s successor, Anwar Sadat, following the Camp David Accords.
- Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi made their long-term relationship official last week with the historic Abraham Accords.
- The UAE-Israel deal is a stab in the back for Palestinians at home and abroad.
- The deal is also part of Washington’s 40-year strategy to politically and economically isolate Iran from its neighbors.
What does the UAE-Israel deal entail?
To comprehend the gravity of the Abraham Accords, it’s important to understand how typical relations between the Israeli entity and Arab or majority Islamic countries work.
An estimated 35 countries do not have official relations with Israel like an embassy, consulate, or ambassador. 15 countries — such as Algeria, Lebanon, and Pakistan — do not accept visitors holding Israeli passports. Some even refuse entry to anyone with an Israeli stamp in their passport.
While many of these countries have backdoor relations or trade with Tel Aviv, signing an open peace agreement with Israel like this one is a big deal.
It’s no secret the Gulf monarchies have maintained unofficial relations with Israel for trade and military cooperation for decades. However, the highly public agreement aims to set a new standard for recognizing Israel and putting Palestinian liberation to rest.
The Abraham Accords come after several years of negotiations and discussion. Here’s a snapshot of how things will change under the UAE-Israel deal:
- Establishing formal embassies
- Bilateral trade and investments
- Encouraging tourism
- Healthcare cooperation
- Cultural sharing
- Environmental cooperation
- Opening telecommunication: UAE will unblock Israeli numbers
- COVID-19 research
- Security cooperation
Abu Dhabi whitewashes the UAE-Israel deal as a net positive for Palestinians
Those in support of the deal have praised the UAE for pushing Israel to suspend its planned annexation of the West Bank.
Unfortunately, this is nothing more than a ploy to portray the UAE-Israel deal in a positive light. Patting himself on the back for betraying Palestinians, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash, claimed he had stopped a “ticking time bomb” by taking a “very bold step.”
Gargash also downplayed the agreement as “badly needed realism:”
“While the peace decision remains basically a Palestinian-Israeli one, the bold initiative of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed has allowed, by banishing the spectre of annexing Palestinian lands, more time for peace opportunities through the two-state solution,”
While it’s true that Tel Aviv has delayed its planned annexation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says plans to claim Israeli sovereignty over huge swaths of the West Bank is still very much on the table.
Palestinians have called the Abraham Accords a stab in the back and total betrayal.
Mahmoud Abbas’s senior advisor said Palestinian leadership “rejects and denounces the UAE, Israeli, and US trilateral surprising announcement.” Speaking to French President Emanual Macron, Abbas said the UAE has no right to speak on behalf of the Palestinian people.
Hanan Ashwrai, a vocal member of the PLO executive committee said she felt sold out by a friend.
May you never experience the agony of having your country stolen; may you never feel the pain of living in captivity under occupation; may you never witness the demolition of your home or murder of your loved ones. May you never be sold out by your "friends." https://t.co/CBaNl1QQqx
— Hanan Ashrawi (@DrHananAshrawi) August 13, 2020
Tel Aviv has also used the COVID-19 pandemic to tighten its grip around Palestinian necks by shutting down improvised testing centers, restricting medical supply shipments, and continuing arrests. For reference, most countries released hundreds or thousands of prisoners to prevent the spread of COVID-19 including Iran and the United States.
Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said the UAE-Israel deal only encourages occupation and human rights violations against Palestinians. Qassem points out the absurdity of claiming to support the Palestinian cause while signing cooperation accords with its occupier:
“What is required is to support the legitimate struggle of our people against the occupation and not to establish agreements with this occupier, and any annexation we will face by a Palestinian confrontation that is supported by the Arabs and internationally, and not by signing normalisation agreements with them [Israel].”
In 2010, Mossad agents assassinated Hamas operative Mahmoud al Mabhouh. The UAE responded by banning Hamas affiliates from entering the country.
Regardless, the Abraham Accords make it clear that both the UAE and Israel have reduced the West Bank to a bargaining chip in current and future negotiations.
What are people saying about the UAE-Israel deal?
Unsurprisingly, most world leaders, pundits, and diplomats have lauded the deal.
Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi — a longstanding ally of both the UAE and Israel — celebrated the joint statement between the UAE-Israel and United States.
تابعت بإهتمام و تقدير بالغ البيان المشترك الثلاثي بين الولايات المتحدة الامريكية و دولة الامارات العربية الشقيقة وإسرائيل حول الاتفاق علي ايقاف ضم إسرائيل للاراضي الفلسطينية ..١/٢
— Abdelfattah Elsisi (@AlsisiOfficial) August 13, 2020
A former US ambassador to Israel and esteemed warhawk at the Council for Foreign Relations, Martin Indyk, couldn’t contain his excitement. Indyk cheered on the UAE for what he somehow believes is a strike against Israel’s dominant right-wing political bloc. Talk about hot takes!
Three cheers for @MohamedBinZayed and his ambo in Washington Yousef al-Otaiba for a courageous and creative move to normalize relations with Israel, take its annexation of Palestinian land off the table and strike a blow to Israel’s right wing annexationist bloc.
— Martin Indyk (@Martin_Indyk) August 13, 2020
Infamous friend to Palestine in public and ally to Israel behind closed doors, Turkey lambasted the UAE-Israel deal quite dramatically:
“History and the conscience of the region’s peoples will not forget and never forgive this hypocritical behavior of the UAE, betraying the Palestinian cause for the sake of its narrow interests.”
Turkey hosts both an Israeli consulate and embassy, accepts Israeli passports, and has bilateral trade agreements with Israel.
Iran flatly condemned the agreement and plans to take “dramatic” steps to rework its current relationship with the UAE in response.
Tehran’s highest-ranking military commander, Major General Mohammad Baqeri, said it’s not acceptable for the UAE to establish relations with a regime that violates the rights of Muslims.
Baqeri urged Abu Dhabi to rethink the normalization plan, explaining that such a plan could be detrimental to the UAE’s national security.
“Under the circumstances that all free-thniking nations in the world express their hatred toward and avoid establishing friendly relations with the Zionist regime, one of the Islamic Republic’s neighbors is brazen enough to announce the establishment of ties with this child-killing regime, which is a cause for great regret” Baqeri said.
Iranian businesses and firms operating in the United Arab Emirates control roughly $300 billion in assets. Previous rounds of sanctions slashed the Emirates’ trade with Iran in half, amounting to about $10 billion lost each year. An estimated 600,000 Iranians live or own property in the UAE.
Yemen’s Ansarullah spokesman, Mohammed Abdulsalam, criticized the Arab League and Organization of Islamic Cooperation for their silence on the UAE-Israel deal. Abdulsalam pointed out that these organizations managed to draft a harsh response after Yemen launched defensive strikes on Riyadh yet now remains silent.
The UAE-Israel deal as a US strategy to further isolate Iran and the pro-Palestine bloc
Since the Trump regime took office, it has worked to build a regional coalition against Iran.
Iran is no doubt the strongest and most genuine voice for Palestine on the world stage. It’s no secret, however, that the idea of a free Palestinian state is off the table for most of the international community. This is evidenced in the lack of a Palestinian voice in US politics, AIPAC lobbying efforts, and failure to enforce dozens of UN resolutions against Israel’s war crimes.
The long-term goals of the Abraham Accords are to eliminate the voice for a free Palestine from the international stage, making Iran the pariah state stuck in the past.
Washington is hoping the dominos will start to fall. As Trump told reporters in the Oval Office:
“Now that the ice has been broken I expect more Arab and Muslim countries will follow the United Arab Emirates.”
Israel’s Intelligence Minister, Eli Cohen, voiced his expectations for other Gulf and African countries such as Bahrain and Oman to follow the UAE’s lead and begin their own normalization plans:
“I think that Bahrain and Oman are definitely on the agenda. In addition, in my assessment, there is a chance that already in the coming year there will be a peace deal with additional countries in Africa, chief among them, Sudan.”
Cohen’s statement regarding Sudan is ironic considering Saudi Arabia and the UAE played an active role in shaping Sudan’s political future following last year’s toppling of Omar al-Bashir.
They no doubt have the same strategy in mind for Lebanon: wiping out Hezbollah’s political influence and installing a completely Israeli-friendly government.
It’s no coincidence that the UAE chose to announce this deal just a week after the Beirut explosion as Lebanon’s government collapses and the Lebanese nation faces a political turning point. Anyone would be foolish to assume the Saudis, UAE, and Israelis aren’t salivating at the thought of capitalizing on Lebanon’s turmoil.
In another coincidence, the deal was revealed just days before the anniversary of Lebanon’s victory over Israel in 2006.
The central-African country of Chad also recently normalized relations with Israel in December of 2019.
Chadian President Idriss Déby and his Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu signed a series of bilateral agreements regarding trade and security cooperation.
In 2018, during a visit from Saudi King Salman, Washington set up a “supreme committee” consisting of the US, Saudi Arabia, and UAE. Part of this involves continuing the Saudi coalition war against Yemen to wipe out Ansarullah, which Washington wrongfully considers a proxy of Iran.
The UAE has already started expanding its foreign presence across the horn of African through military bases.
However, the UAE-Israel deal aims to politically and economically isolate Iran.
The United Arab Emirates is one of the wealthiest countries in the region and the world. Together, Saudi Arabia and the UAE can use their oil-backed capital to sway politics across the world — including the United States.
The long-term goal isn’t necessarily to eliminate Iran’s current government. Of course, that’s Washington’s pipedream. However, the United States would be content with an Iran that doesn’t throw its power behind oppressed groups around the world — specifically, Palestine, Yemen, and Lebanon.
Some governments might be ready to recognize Israel, but they’ll no doubt face blowback at home. Take Saudi Arabia for example. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has a long history of cooperating with Israel — recently even openly.
However, Riyadh has yet to sign a formal agreement. Yemeni missiles and drones certainly pose a hurdle should Mohammed bin Salman sign a similar agreement with Tel Aviv. However, Saudi Arabia is also home to religious fanatics: a catastrophe of Riyadh’s own making.
Expect to see more tectonic political shifts in Africa and the Gulf region.
Owner and editor of Geopolitics Alert, Randi Nord is a US-based geopolitical analyst and content strategist. She covers US imperialism with a special focus on Yemen, Iran, and Lebanon. She has participated in the UNHRC as a guest of NGOs and speaks at anti-war events.