27 October 2020

The Guardian: “Why Israel is quietly cosying up to Gulf monarchies”

The original impetus for these developing relationships between Israel and the Gulf states was a mutual distaste for Barack Obama. In the early years of the Arab spring, he infuriated the Saudis and the UAE, and alarmed Israel, by abandoning Egypt’s president Hosni Mubarak, and then voiced support for the popular uprising 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 opposed by Israel and most Gulf states. 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 backing of Hezbollah in Lebanon – Iran’s “axis of resistance” – was regarded with identical disgust in Jerusalem, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi.

One former UAE diplomat told me that the threat from Iran today had a unifying effect comparable to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, which led to a previously unacceptable US military presence in Saudi Arabia. If it wasn’t for the Palestinian issue, the ex-diplomat said, this relationship with Israel would be very public, and it would be very welcome, because we need their military equipment and technology.

Jamal al-Suwaidi, the founder of the government-backed Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research, put it more bluntly: The Palestinian cause is no longer at the forefront of Arabs’ interests, as it used to be for long decades; it has sharply lost priority in light of the challenges, threats and problems that face countries of the region. Similarly, he added, the question of Israel was not comparable to the threats posed … by Iran, Hezbollah and terrorist groups.

Ian Black

Fascinating changes in the dynamics of Middle East politics. It began covertly during the Obama presidency and continued under Trump, who has encouraged and embraced the authoritarian leaders in the region. With a mutual enemy in Iran, an unreliable ally in the United States, and shared tendencies towards dictatorship and neglecting the interests of the people they rule, a rapprochement between Israel and the Gulf monarchies is not the most surprising development in global politics.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu with the Sultan of Oman in Muscat in October 2018
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu with the Sultan of Oman, Qaboos bin Said Al Said, in Muscat in October 2018. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

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