Lebanese reporter explains the reasons Arab countries are now dealing with Israel, calling the Jewish state “the Arab world’s new soft power.”
By Paul Shindman, World Israel News
In analyzing the new world order in the Middle East, Beirut-based journalist Anchal Vohra is pointing to the yin and yang of Democratic and Republican foreign policies in the past eight years as acting to drive Arab states toward Israel into a unified bloc.
In her op-ed published by Foreign Policy magazine, Vohra noted that former President Barack Obama’s signing of the nuclear deal with Iran strengthened and emboldened the Shiite nation to expand militarily in the region – especially in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq, where it funds proxy armies to serve its goals.
Iran became a clear and present danger not just to Israel, which Tehran continues to promise to annihilate, but also to Iran’s Sunni neighbors in the Gulf. Whatever Arab states might feel about Israel, they perceive the Iranian threat as greater.
When Donald Trump won election in 2016, he overturned many of Obama’s foreign policies in the region, most notably pulling out of the nuclear deal. Trump’s policies resulted in the Abraham Accords, under which Israel has signed historic peace treaties so far with four Arab nations.
“Even though the Saudis have not yet signed a treaty, they are firmly on board the anti-Iran wagon,” Vohra noted, adding that officially, the Saudi government denies it conducts any business with Israel, “but behind closed doors, cooperation between the Israelis and several Gulf nations is thriving.”
Now, with President Joe Biden working to rejoin the nuclear deal, the result Vohra says, is also to strengthen Israel-Arab state ties – “a once-unthinkable alliance” – for the same reason that Obama’s policies did. Those ties express themselves through “soft” channels, including strategic, technological, and business cooperation.
“Just last month, Israel called for the formation of a defense alliance with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain, with Iran in its sights. It signed various deals with the UAE, the second-largest economy in the Middle East after Saudi Arabia, in tourism, health, agriculture, and the water sector. According to an initial estimate, bilateral trade between Israel and the UAE is expected to increase from $300,000 to $500 million a year.”
After years of cold peace with its neighbor to the west, Israel is also enhancing ties with Egypt. A senior Egyptian minister visited Israel recently, she notes, and it was agreed to run a natural gas pipeline to Egypt from Israel’s offshore Leviathan field.
It’s not just Israel driving the change. It’s also coming as well from the Arab business sector.
“Israel is enhancing strategic cooperation by creating lobbies with a vested interest in the relationship through feel-good business ties,” Vohra noted. “Business constituencies increase the stake in peace and reduce the chances of a conflict. Israel understands that and hopes that instead of being seen as a ‘war nation,’ as has been the case, it can prove its worth as an ally — and not just against Iran.”
Vohra writes that an additional reason for cooperation is the Arab world’s “general fatigue” in dealing with the Palestinians, noting that there is resistance to being “held hostage to the Palestinian issue” while Arab countries see relations with Israel as essential to diversifying their economies.
With Biden combining his drive to restore relations with Iran together with renewed animosity towards Saudi Arabia over its human rights record and the war in Yemen, the Arabs are finding still more common cause with Israel.
“Tense relations between Washington and Riyadh are leading to a new quartet — Israel, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Bahrain. We might see them get closer whilst Biden runs the White House,” Yoel Guzansky, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv told Foreign Policy.
“Despite the challenges, Israel’s relationship with the Saudi and Emirati bloc seems to be on the up and up. And as they present a united front against Iran, Biden’s attempt to rejoin the nuclear deal will only become harder,” Vohra concluded.