By Aditi Shukla ’22
On Tuesday, September 15th, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain agreed to normalize relations between Israel and the pair of Gulf states. With this agreement, the UAE and Bahrain become the third and fourth nations in the region to formally recognize Israel, following Egypt in 1978 and Jordan in 1994.
The decision is monumental. When the UAE and Bahrain received their independence in 1971, they joined the Arab League policy that engaged in a cultural and economic boycott of Israel and refused to recognize Israel. The first president of the UAE went so far as to loudly lambast Israel as “the enemy” of all Arab nations.
Because the countries were British colonies, they did not engage in direct conflict with Israel. Over time, relations thawed between them and Israel.
Leaders of the three nations met with diplomats to discuss matters relating to the Israeli-Palestinian ongoing conflict, Iran and the Iranian nuclear deal, and US-China relations. The Gulf states have recently cooperated in military exercises with Israel – all while technically having no relations with them.
In fact, in the months before the agreement, the UAE cooperated with Israel to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. The head of Mossad (the Israeli CIA) traveled to the UAE frequently to discuss the situation with their government and in June 2020, the Israeli prime minister officially announced that the two countries were working together.
In many ways, the agreement is in effect a formalization and publicization of existing relations. Still, though, it is an enormously controversial thing to do in the Arab world.
The Arab League has boycotted Israel since the country was founded in 1948, and 72 later only four of the twenty-two member nations formally acknowledge Israel.
The actions of the two Gulf States suggest a number of things about the future of the Middle East. In an entirely unprecedented move, two Arab nations normalized relations with Israel within a month; this is perhaps evidence that the Palestinian cause does not loom as large in the Arab world as it once did. Coupled with Arab nations’ reluctance to condemn Trump’s perceived pro-Isreal peace plans indicate that more nations are embracing a more pro-Israel stance.
The deal is likely to anger Iran and their leadership. Iranian leadership has taken on the role of one of Israel's most staunch opponents since the 1980s. As a result, some Arab states have recently cooperated with Israel, off the books, to counter their shared enemy, Iran. As Politico put it “Those covert ties have come increasingly out into the open as Arab states work to curry favor with the decidedly pro-Israel and anti-Iran Trump administration.”
While its proponents will claim this deal is simply a victory for peace, it is undeniably a victory for the Trump administration and for American power in the region. America has long sought an end to conflict and been a firm ally to Israel for decades, granting it billions of dollars in aid every year. Simply by signing these agreements, Bahrain and the UAE have improved relations with America.
News of the agreements was not received well by the Palestinian territories. Rockets were launched into Israel from the Gaza Strip. While it has not been confirmed they are directly tied to the Accords, protests and demonstrations have been ongoing and any normalization and peace with Israel has traditionally been claimed as a betrayal.
While this agreement does not directly address the Palestinian territories in any way, President Trump indicated that they “wanted to be a part of what’s happening,” and Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and a policy adviser in the White House, said that “With regard to the Palestinians, I think with time that will come.”
President Trump heralded the day as the “dawn of a new Middle East.” While it is historic, unprecedented, and suggests a number of things about the way the Middle East is moving, claims of “a new Middle East” have historically not quite panned out as intended.