On November 27, 2015, “Israel” opened its first diplomatic mission in the United Arab Emirates [UAE]. “Israel’s” diplomatic outreach to the UAE gained widespread international attention, as the UAE monarchy has officially refused to recognize “Israel’s” right to exist. “Israeli” citizens are forbidden to travel to the UAE, with occasional exceptions being granted to athletes in international sporting competitions.
“Israel’s” diplomatic overtures towards Abu Dhabi have been followed by other conciliatory gestures towards the Gulf Cooperation Council [GCC] states. “Israeli” officials have engaged in covert dialogues with their Saudi counterparts on containing Iran. Qatar has also tried to revive unofficial diplomatic ties with “Israel” that were severed following the 2008-09 “Israeli” airstrikes on the Gaza Strip.
The expansion of “Israel”-GCC “security” cooperation can be explained by the GCC’s declining concern about Palestine and Saudi Arabia’s desire to import sophisticated “Israeli” military technology. This growth in informal cooperation has had profound implications for “Israel’s” security and the geopolitical power balance in the Middle East.
How Declining GCC Interest in Palestine Has Strengthened “Israel”-GCC Ties
Since the 1967 Arab-“Israeli” war, “Israeli” policymakers have used pledges to compromise on Palestinian self-determination to neutralize the so-called threat Arab states pose to “Israel’s” “security”.
“Israeli” diplomats have used the 1994 normalization of relations with Jordan as a precedent for subsequent outreaches to the Arab League. The Jordanian monarchy’s recognition of “Israel” was triggered by Amman’s concern that Jordan’s interests in Palestine would be excluded during the implementation of the 1993 Oslo Accords.
The thaw in “Israel”-Jordan relations proved to be an exceptional outcome. The failure of “Israeli” policymakers to negotiate a workable “peace settlement” with the Palestinian Authority [PA] prevented a thaw in “Israel”-GCC relations.
GCC countries have also intensely criticized “Israeli” airstrikes in the Gaza Strip. In response to the 2008-09 “Israeli” War on Gaza, Saudi Arabia urged the United States to militarily intervene to stop “Israeli” aggression. Qatar suspended informal diplomatic relations with “Israel.” The UAE’s Dubai Emirate cancelled its New Year’s celebrations in a show of solidarity with Gaza.
Even though Qatar publicly sponsors Hamas, and Saudi Arabia provides extensive financial assistance to Palestinian organizations, the GCC’s support for the Palestinian cause has become palpably less enthusiastic in recent years. GCC business leaders have tacitly displayed their frustration with PA corruption.
UAE officials have become increasingly circumspect about Hamas’s Muslim Brotherhood [MB] linkages, as they view an MB government as a gateway for Iranian influence. The GCC’s continued patronage of “Israel’s” strongest Arab ally and the MB’s most strident opponent, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, indicate that the GCC consensus on Palestine has shifted dramatically in recent years.
As progress towards a “peaceful” resolution to the “Israel”-Palestine conflict has stagnated, the GCC’s assistance to Palestinian nationalist movements has become increasingly tactical in nature. Saudi Arabia has exploited the breakdown in the Hamas-Iran relationship over the Syrian conflict.
Riyadh has also reached out to Fatah to counter PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s increasingly cordial relationship with Iranian opposition factions. These aid provisions demonstrate that Saudi policymakers have made containing Iran a greater priority than creating a viable Palestinian state.
“Israel’s” soft power in the Middle East has been bolstered considerably by strains in the GCC-Palestine relationship. Even though representatives of the Kuwaiti and Bahraini monarchies expressed solidarity with Palestinian nationalists at the July 25 Arab League summit in Mauritania, the absence of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman was a striking demonstration of the declining importance of Palestine to GCC countries.
The Gulf monarchies have also tacitly encouraged Hamas to soften its militant opposition to “Israel’s” occupation of the Palestinian territories. “Israel” has encouraged supervised dialogues between Hamas officials and their GCC patrons to ensure that the Palestinian movement embraces a moderate course in the years to come. In the eyes of “Israeli” policymakers, the increased reluctance of GCC leaders to antagonize “Israel” demonstrates that the “Israel”-GCC anti-Iran axis is becoming a durable feature of the Middle Eastern geopolitical arena.
Economic and “Security” Cooperation Between “Israel” and the GCC
The declining importance of the Palestinian conflict as a wedge issue between “Israel” and the GCC has caused the Gulf monarchies to engage with “Israel” in an increasingly pragmatic way. Saudi Arabia has developed clandestine business deals with “Israeli” companies in recent years, even though Riyadh officially maintains a stringent boycott on “Israeli” goods.
To circumvent the trade boycott, “Israeli” goods have been shipped to Saudi Arabia under the purview of foreign companies. This circumvention has allowed “Israeli” IT products and irrigation technology to enter Saudi markets.
“Israel” has also made progress towards expanded economic cooperation with Qatar. Business elites in Doha have covertly expressed interest in “Israeli” high-tech products, which have typically been exported to India and Eastern Europe.
The Qatari monarchy believes that access to these products could convince Qatari engineers who study from foreign universities to return to Qatar after graduation.
Some “Israeli” business elites have embraced GCC economic overtures, as they believe that deeper informal engagement with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar will prevent “Israeli” economic isolation. The so-called “Israeli” Peace Initiative, founded by London-based “Israeli” billionaire Idan Ofer, has embraced economic deals with the GCC bloc as a gateway to lasting “peace” in the Middle East.
Even though the GCC bloc officially regards “Israel” as a security threat, the Gulf monarchies have greatly expanded their intelligence cooperation with the “Israeli” military. GCC officials have signed covert deals with the “Israeli” war contractors to gain access to the Zionist army’s prized military technology.
In 2011, “Israeli” companies sold an estimated $300 million of military technology to the UAE. The Emirati government used “Israeli” military technology to secure the UAE’s oil wells. “Israeli” media reports have also claimed that the “Israeli” army has offered Saudi Arabia Iron Dome military technology to “defend” Saudi territory from Yemeni rocket launches.
Small-scale provisions of military technology and security assistance by “Israeli” companies to the GCC bloc have provided the foundations for expanded “Israel”-GCC anti-Iran military cooperation.
In 2009, Saudi Arabia allegedly tested its air power to evaluate “Israel’s” ability to use Saudi territory for a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. During a June 2015 Council of Foreign Relations event in Washington, representatives of “Israel” and Saudi Arabia revealed covert diplomatic meetings between the two sides over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
These dialogues have surprising public support within Saudi Arabia. The Associated Press reported in 2015 that 53% of Saudis view Iran as Saudi Arabia’s primary adversary, compared to the 18% of Saudis who viewed “Israel” as Saudi Arabia’s biggest enemy. The amelioration of the Saudi public’s belligerent hostility towards “Israel” has also translated into closer diplomatic linkages.
“Israel” supported Egypt’s handover of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia in April 2016.
The “Israeli” war ministry confirmed that Riyadh had given “Israeli” policymakers written assurances of the continued safety of the Straits of Tiran. As the Saudi monarchy’s domestic legitimacy depends on continuing Riyadh’s existential struggle against Iran, King Salman is likely to make similar diplomatic compromises to “Israeli” interests in the years to come.
“Israel’s” strengthened economic and security cooperation with the GCC bloc is closely related to the GCC’s growing indifference to the situation in Palestine, and Riyadh’s single-minded desire to undercut Iranian influence in the Middle East. Even though GCC countries are unlikely to recognize “Israel’s” right to exist, informal “Jerusalem”-Riyadh cooperation is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.
As the United States continues its normalization efforts towards Iran, Washington needs to pay close attention to the scope and nature of “Israel”-Saudi Arabia collusion in the Middle East.
Source: The World Post
13-09-2016 | 13:04