The inevitable emergence of an Israeli-Arab alliance is in the offing
By Alon Ben-Meir
The peace agreement between Israel and the UAE lays the foundation for a future Israeli-Arab alliance, which has been quietly developing behind the scenes over the past several years. I believe that over a relatively short period of time, such an alliance will emerge, eventually including nine Arab States: the UAE, Bahrain, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and at a later date, Kuwait, Qatar, and the Palestinians, creating a crescent of land extending from the Gulf to the Mediterranean. Such a new alliance will more than likely also include Sudan, Morocco, and other Arab states, and will decisively change the geostrategic dynamic in the Middle East.
It has been long since the Arab states ruled out military confrontation with Israel, not only because Israel is militarily formidable and is an unshakable reality with whom they have no direct conflict. To the contrary, they view Israel as a regional nuclear power that can face off against Iran, their common enemy, which will serve their mutual national security interests. In addition, the Arab states and Israel have become wary of Turkey’s President Erdogan meddling in the region to promote his neo-Ottoman agenda.
Finally, the Arab states have concluded that they can no longer sacrifice their national interests on the altar of Palestinian intransigence to reach a peace agreement with Israel. The fact that the Arab states have come to appreciate Israel’s extraordinary advances in just about every field of science and the benefits from that which they have already been gaining during the last decade, also played an important role in the transformational process that will give birth to the alliance.
The impact on Iran’s future regional design
I believe that Iran’s decade-long threats against Israel and the Gulf states was the main cause behind the Israel-UAE deal, which will likely lead to the establishment of an alliance in the near future. An alliance’s implications for Iran would be of historic proportion. Iran has for many years been trying to consolidate its own ‘crescent’ from the Gulf to the Mediterranean, through Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.
Iran will soon face an impenetrable parallel crescent of an Israeli-Arab alliance with a formidable military power that includes nuclear weapons in the hands of the Israelis. Unlike the emerging alliance in which every country will have a high stake and will be resolute to maintain and strengthen it, conversely Iran’s presence in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon is tenuous at best. In Iraq there is a growing movement that wants Iran out of the country, and the Iraqi government does not seem to be inclined to suppress it.
In Syria, Iran is under a constant Israeli assault while Russia does not want Tehran to deeply entrench itself in the country. Lebanon is in turmoil; although Hezbollah exerts immense political influence in the country, the group does not want to confront Israel militarily and remains at the mercy of Iran, whose economy is battered and supply chain of military hardware is regularly attacked by Israel.
All the same, the Lebanese government has no quarrel with Israel and given the likely emergence of the Israeli-Arab alliance, Lebanon, including Hezbollah, will have to recalibrate their political standing in the face of this likely new emerging reality.
Iran understands the implications of the Israeli-UAE peace deal and all Rouhani musters to state is that “They [the UAE] better be mindful. They have committed a huge mistake, a treacherous act. We hope they will realize this and abandon this wrong path.”
Iran will face two choices: a) continue its aggressive policies by supporting extremist radical groups, and maintain its efforts to subvert the Gulf states while pursuing the development of nuclear weapons and suffering from the continuing sanctions and an Israeli military and cyber onslaught; or b) accept the new developing reality, curb its nuclear ambitions and agree to enter into new negotiations with the US, salvage its economy, and prevent a regime change, which is front and center in their concerns.
Iran will certainly test the grounds first before it changes its posture to ascertain the extent of and speed with which the new emerging alliance will blossom, what will be its military components, and the degree to which the US will be involved. Tehran may well show more restraint in the coming months and will likely opt for the second option to save its economy from a total collapse and preserve the regime, especially since the alliance, once in place, will severely impede its hegemonial ambitions and force it to abandon its strategy of confrontation.
A game changer for the Palestinians
As a new alliance emerges, it will have serious implications on the Palestinians. From the time the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty was signed in 1979, through the 1993 Oslo Accords and the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty in 1995, to the introduction of the Arab Peace Initiative in 2002, the Palestinians missed every opportunity to reach a peace agreement with Israel based on a two-state solution. The Arab states’ decades-long backing of the Palestinians began to gradually erode as they realized that they have become hostage to the Palestinians’ recalcitrance, and were no longer willing to sacrifice their national interests by supporting a ‘lost’ cause.
Regardless of the fact that the Palestinians have intensely criticized the UAE-Israeli peace agreement – with Senior Advisor Nabil Abu Rudeineh saying “the Palestinian leadership rejects and denounces the UAE, Israeli and US trilateral, surprising announcement” and that the deal is a “betrayal of Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa and the Palestinian cause” – they see the writing on the wall. The longer they wait to resume peace negotiations with Israel, the less support and backing they will receive from the Arab states and the weaker their position will become, especially since further annexation of Palestinian land has not been permanently removed from the table, from the perspective of the powerful Israeli extreme right constituency.
President Abbas will now be under increasing pressure from the EU and the Arab states not to miss yet another critical opening to engage the Israelis. He must seize the opportunity to reopen negotiations with Israel while they have paused annexation as part of their agreement with the UAE. Especially considering the fact that Bahrain and Sudan are in the process of negotiating a similar deal with Israel, which must likewise freeze further annexation, this is the opportune time for Abbas. Otherwise, he stands to lose further grounds and scuttle, perhaps permanently, the prospect of establishing a Palestinian state.
Hamas too will have to rethink its position, as the significant mounting loss of the Arab states’ backing will become increasingly more acute over time. The sooner it enters into a new peace negotiation with a long-term Hudna (ceasefire) as an interlude to reaching a permanent peace agreement separately or together with the PA, the better off it will be. Hamas will also realize that they will no longer be able to rely on either Iran or Turkey for financial and political support once the alliance is in place.
The effect on Turkey’s expansionist ambition
The third significant implication of the prospective Israeli-Arab alliance is that it will serve to obstruct Turkish President Erdogan’s drive to revive elements of the Ottoman Empire and usurp Saudi Arabia’s leadership of Sunni Islam worldwide. In direct opposition to and contrary to the interest of the Gulf and other Arab states and Israel, Erdogan staunchly supports Islamist extremist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and even ISIS, to advance his menacing agenda which directly threatens the mainstream Arab states. A future Arab-Israeli alliance will create an impenetrable wall that will prevent Erdogan from further meddling in Middle Eastern affairs.
Erdogan also opposes the UAE-Israeli peace agreement because he knows that over time a broad Arab-Israeli alliance will include Qatar (where Turkey has a military presence), which wants to return to the fold of Gulf states where its ultimate national interests lie. The alliance, once in place, will also weaken Turkey’s ties with Sudan, which is eager to establish peace with Israel. It is likely that Sudan will cancel its agreement with Turkey to lease Suakin Island in the Red Sea, which Erdogan wants to restore as a tourist destination (although it is quite clear to me that he is planning to station Turkish troops with proximity to the Arabian Peninsula) as part of his overall scheme to establish a neo-Ottoman era.
All that Turkey can say is that “History and the conscience of the region’s people will not forget and never forgive this hypocritical behavior. It is extremely worrying that the UAE should, with a unilateral action, try and do away with the Arab Peace Plan developed by the Arab League.” However, it is wrong on both counts: the Israeli-UAE peace agreement has immensely positive regional implications, and it is still consistent with the API because none of the Arab states are reneging on the need to establish a Palestinian state, except that they have to change strategy to achieve the same result.
Notwithstanding the fact that Trump and Netanyahu played an important role in putting the deal together, the foundation of this peace agreement was laid several years ago. Trump pushed hard to get it done now, as he is desperate for a win of sorts just before the election. Netanyahu, just like Trump, badly needs to demonstrate his statesmanship at this time, not only because of the prospect that his government could collapse any day and he wants a strong record to run on, but also because the clock is running out just before he stands trial on three criminal charges.
In the next few months, we will witness how the Israeli-Arab alliance is shaping up. Thanks to Iran, one thing is clear—the alliance will become an irreversible reality because under any circumstances, it will serve not only the Arab states’ collective national security interest, which is first and foremost in their mind, but the promise of security, prosperity, and peace.
Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.