UAE-Israel Deal: A New Era in Middle East Geopolitics

Middle East has always been stuck in a mire when it comes to the geopolitical hyphenations. This region has been always active ‘strategically’ from long time now. A single echo has created ripples in the arid ‘spectacles’ of the region. This time it’s the ‘historic’ normalisation process between UAE and Israel which has been making rounds in the Arab diplomatic and security establishments. Though the talks between the Emirates and Israel were going under the table for more than a year now, they have finally been ripened, officially midwifed by Trump administration, opening a new chapter of alliance and association in the areas of economy, health, defence and peace building efforts. This intriguing deal is full of ambiguities as the language of the deal seemingly punctures the highfalutin claims of the agreement. Much decibels have been wasted in the rhetoric of ‘peace deal’ which itself is contradictory given the fact that UAE has never been in ‘contentious’ relations with Israel. Not a peace but its discontents as Said would call. We are in the times when we are going back to the thesis of ‘geographical pivot of history’ direct from Halford Mackinder, one of the pioneers in the field of Geopolitics. History has given us the tragic lesson that whenever geography becomes the ‘contestation’ between the regions people usually become numbers.

Was it already there?

UAE and Israel have for some time now engaged, and working together, on many fronts from using Israeli defence systems and using ‘infamous’  precision analytics technology for surveillance purposes with the notorious example being NSO Group. This dark web of spyware technology has been used for cracking down activists, journalists and human rights lawyers in UAE. There were oblique instances of gauging the perception of the talks both the countries carried behind the scenes. The grand gesture of that strategy was landing of Emirates commercial plane at Tel Aviv airport in the first known direct flights between the two countries on the ‘pretext’ of coronavirus supplies for Palestinian people which Palestine refused. Start of this year saw participation of Israeli athletes in Dubai cycling competition. Israel was expected to be part of this year’s Dubai Expo which stands postponed owing to the pandemic. Ed Hussain, a controversial face for the British Muslims wrote an op-ed hinting for Arab-Israeli alliance in the Britain’s right-wing magazine ‘The Spectator’ which was instantly tweeted by Emirate’s Foreign Minister. The article rhymed with the kernel of this deal vis-à-vis the fake slogan of ‘Islamic Reformation’ with some of the bizarre and eccentric observations like alliance including UAE’s Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) is a sign of “religious glasnost” in the Muslim world which though ugly can turn out to be the reality now. On June 13, Emirati ambassador to the US, Yousef al-Otaiba,wrote an article in Hebrew in the Israeli daily  Yediot Aharonot. In it, he wrote directly about annexation and its repercussions on endangering relations with the Arab world. This was later revealed how Otaiba was purportedly advised by Israeli-American billionaire Haim Saban-a close contact of Jared Kushner and also helped in publishing it in the Israeli press. These facts suggest how both UAE and Israel had been enjoying fraternal relationship before the deal as well.

Iran Convergence

We are living in the times when geography is weaponised with frequent and recurrent examples of nations calling for drawing/redrawing of maps. Map is a weapon as Benedict Anderson would call it and coupled with the geo-economic configurations and the seductive lure of expansionism the hawks of neo-imperial order would not leave any opportunity to waste. UAE is flanked by the Iran on the North and Saudi Arabia by the South. The one common intersection for this deal had been the shared enemy, Iran and Muslim Brotherhood for all of the alliance partners including Saudi Arabia. With US, a reliable partner of UAE as they have supplied them cutting-edge surveillance technology, weaponry and the advanced defence arsenal made Tamara Wittes, a fellow at the Brookings Institution to write “We have created a little Frankenstein.” The efforts would be to corner Iran and isolate it regionally, with Israel opening up embassy in Persian Gulf, and there would be exchange of direct flights from UAE to Tel Aviv after signing of the deal. The presence of Israel formally in the region would determine the dynamics of power calculus as the geo-strategic moves would have to be rebalanced and re-thought now. Just like Syria was experimented by American and allied forces for breaching through the Eurasian ‘sphere’, UAE would turn out to be same for entering into the Persian Gulf and ultimately for the containment of Iran.

Political Posturing

As UAE and Israel had been in good terms with each other, it was turned out be the spectre of something ‘historic and epoch-making’ which totally runs counter to it. You cannot make peace, or normalise relations with a region you are already always at peace with. There are huge protests witnessed against the Netanyahu demanding his resignation on three counts of corruption. Netanyahu in return announced this deal, with Donald Trump too joining, deflecting mood of the pubic towards this ‘peace for peace’ moment in the Arab-Israel history. Trump has announced the grand welcoming of signing the agreement in White House  terming the deal to be the next Egypt/Jordan moment (1979,1994) as Jimmy Carter had for swaying the same spirit in United States as his ratings have shown a decrease for upcoming November elections. So in a way this deal suggests the ‘timely’ posturing from both Netanyahu and Trump in order to gain the confidence of public.

Africa Pivot

Israel has always considered UAE as an important ally for carrying out the strategic and diplomatic adventures, and for having ‘sphere of influence’ in other regions. UAE as the hub of development, and having most sophisticated weaponry to her credi,t has been actively involved in the African region from aid diplomacy to deciding the regimes therein. It has a strong hold on the political and security structures of the region. Some American officers label the United Arab Emirates as “Little Sparta.”.  Israel, with this deal would be aiming at setting their foot in African region through the support and ‘association’ of UAE. UAE’s support for Haftar and arranging Netanyahu’s meeting with Sudan Sovereign Council ominously suggests Emirates being the ‘diplomatic arm’ of Israel.

Supporting or Forsaking Palestine

This agreement has everything except Palestine in it, as deal has nowhere the mention of the state. After the deal was announced Emirate’s officials indicated the ‘peace deal’ was stamped in lieu of ending the annexation plan of West Bank which ran totally opposite the things that happened after. Netanyahu in his televised address said annexation plan was on ‘temporary hold’ and things are ‘still on the table’. Netanyahu said he had only agreed to “delay” the annexation, and that he would “never give up our rights to our land”. “There is no change to my plan to extend sovereignty, our sovereignty in Judea and Samaria, in full coordination with the United States,” Netanyahu invoking the biblical name for the occupied West Bank. Palestinians have been considering it as ‘stabbing in the back’ and an ‘aggression’ against people of Palestine and betrayal of their cause. The Associated Press reported that the Palestinian foreign ministry has recalled its ambassador to the UAE in response to the deal. Despite USA moving the embassy to Jerusalem, endorsing the annexation of Golan Heights and cutting funds to UN Palestinian Refugee Agency this was the last thing Palestine feared, an Arab Country normalising relations with Israel. The Palestinian response to the deal was eloquently put by tweet from Hanan Ashrawi, a long time Palestinian senior official, “May you never be sold out by your ‘friends’ ”.

The Future of Middle East

Dubbed as ‘Abraham Accord’ by the Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner who is considered as the architect of this deal for the fact that it would enable people to pray at Al Aqsa and can fly back to Dubai. There is an anticipation of ‘seismic shift’ in the existing scheme of the geopolitical equations as this deal would pay way for the re-imaging and re-orienting of the Middle East strategic space.  Thomas Friedman writes about the unpredictability and unevenness post this deal as “the region will never be the same again”. Emirate’s recognition of Israel redefines the ‘new era’ in the Middle East as the whole focus would be now on shared enemy ‘Iran’ and its proxies in the region with the Arab-Israel phrase getting reduced to a mere word. With more players coming into the fray for vying the ‘sphere of influence’ to their side, there would be a game of ‘divergences and convergences’ in the Middle East which was not there before. Whatever is going to happen, it surely will change the age-old perspective of Middle East geopolitics and subsequently determine the future of global order too.

Mir Sajad is a Researcher at Department of Geography and Regional Development University of Kashmir