Iran has been the target of anti-Islamic and Arab nations for quite some time, though their objectives vary considerably in content, but the nuclear deal with the Western powers has made its position relatively tension free as Israeli agenda of destabilizing the Islamic nation has ended in futility. Let us review the issue in prospective.
Issue: Targeting Iran’s economy and security
Today, imperialism threatens Islamic world, especially the oil rich West Asia, causing economic and security problems for each Muslim country in the region, including Saudi Arabia – a major Muslim ally of US in capitalism and anti-Islamic wars. Arab world has been made an enemy of Iran – a Shiite nation.
Sunni-Shiite divide, which is becoming wide and dangerous, is being exploited by anti-Islamic nations led by USA and Israel. Since Iraq has been destabilized by the NATO and allies, now Saudi kingdom seeks Iranian fall as well while Israel gladly supports the Arab sick mind.
In July 2015 between Iran and the P5+1 group of world powers – the US, UK, France, China and Russia plus Germany signed the historic nuclear deal seeking to bring peace to West Asia. The reason for the deal was to deny Iran any chance for making atomic bombs to make Israel, the regional nuke power, irrelevant.
Iranian economy and security has been the target of USA and its allies for a long time. Since Iran’s nuclear program became public in 2002, the UN, EU and several individual countries have imposed sanctions in an attempt to prevent it from developing military nuclear capability. Iran insists its nuclear activities are exclusively peaceful, but the world’s nuclear watchdog has been unable to verify this.
Sanctions and relief are a routine strategy of USA towards Iran. Iran and world powers agreed an interim deal in 2013 which saw it gain around $7bn in sanctions relief in return for curbing uranium enrichment and giving UN inspectors better access to its facilities. World powers also committed to facilitate Iran’s access to $4.2bn in restricted funds. Several rounds of sanctions in recent years have targeted Iran’s key energy and financial sectors, crippling its economy.
The US sanctions prohibit almost all trade with Iran, making some exceptions only for activity “intended to benefit the Iranian people”, including the export of medical and agricultural equipment, humanitarian assistance and trade in “informational” materials such as films. A ban on the supply of heavy weaponry and nuclear-related technology to Iran; A block on arms exports; an asset freeze on key individuals and companies, etc., Japan and South Korea have also imposed sanctions similar to those of the EU.
As well as more recent sanctions aimed at Iran’s financial, oil and petrochemical sectors, the US has imposed successive rounds of sanctions since the 1979 Tehran hostage crisis, citing what it says is Iran’s support for international terrorism, human rights violations and refusal to co-operate with the IAEA.
As a result of the EU embargo and the US sanctions targeting other major importers, Iran’s oil exports had fallen to 700,000 barrels per day (bpd) by May 2013, compared with an average 2.2 million bpd in 2011. In January 2013, Iran’s oil minister acknowledged for the first time that the fall in exports was costing the country between $4bn and $8bn (£2.5bn-£5bn) each month. Iran is believed to have suffered a loss of about $26bn (£16bn) in oil revenue in 2012 from a total of $95bn (£59m) in 2011.
The loss of oil revenue, which accounted for a half of government expenditure, and isolation from the international banking system, had caused Iran’s currency, the rial, to lose two-thirds of its value against the US dollar and caused inflation to rise to more than 40%, with prices of basic foodstuffs and fuel soaring. Iran wanted the UN sanctions suspended soon after any agreement is reached but sanctions stayed. .
Today, officially Israel alone has the nuclear facility and illegally obtained nukes in West Asia and obviously USA-Israel duo does not want any other nation in the region to go nuclear, threatening the military superiority of Israel. Iran’s legal effort to become a nuclear power to protect Muslim nations of the region is opposed by both USA and Israel. The White House says the nuclear deal with Iran aimed at preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
USA has not asked Israel to disarm itself so that the region is nuclear free. Israel does not say it wants peace in the region and hence doesn’t want to go denuclearized. Iran says it has the right to nuclear energy – and stresses that its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes only.
Iran has been building a heavy-water nuclear facility near the town of Arak. Spent fuel from a heavy-water reactor contains plutonium suitable for a nuclear bomb. World powers had originally wanted Arak dismantled because of the proliferation risk. Under an interim nuclear deal agreed in November 2013, Iran agreed not to commission or fuel the reactor. Iran has agreed to redesign the reactor so it cannot produce any weapons-grade plutonium. All spent fuel will be sent out of the country as long as the modified reactor exists.
There are two uranium enrichment facilities in Iran – Natanz and Fordo – where uranium hexafluoride gas is fed into centrifuges to separate out the most fissile isotope U-235. Low-enriched uranium, which has a 3%-4% concentration of U-235, can be used to produce fuel for nuclear power plants. But it can also be enriched to the 90% needed to produce nuclear weapons. In July 2015, Iran had almost 20,000 centrifuges. However, under this statement of intent Iran will reduce its installed enrichment centrifuges to 6,000, only 5,000 of which will be spinning.
Iran’s uranium stockpile will also be reduced by 98% to 300kg (660lbs) for 15 years. It must also keep its level of enrichment at 3.67%. By January 2016, Iran had drastically reduced the number of centrifuges installed at Natanz and Fordo, and shipped tonnes of low-enriched uranium to Russia. In addition, research and development will take place only at Natanz and be limited for eight years. No enrichment will be permitted at Fordo for 15 years
As per the deal, Iran has agreed not to engage in activities, including research and development, which could contribute to the development of a nuclear bomb. In December 2015, the IAEA’s board of governors voted to end its decade-long investigation into the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program.
Now the Western powers and allies plus UN as international community are implementing the landmark nuclear deal in March last year between Iran and the P5+1 group of world powers – the USA, UK, France, China and Russia plus Germany.
Crippling economic sanctions on Iran have been lifted now that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has certified that it has restricted its sensitive nuclear activities.
The nuclear deal signed by Iran and western powers is not a peace treaty but just a mechanism to avoid unnecessary war envisaged by Neocons to appease Israel and provoke Arab world. The deal somehow ended a possible civilizational clash and clipped Israeli wings in West Asia, targeting Iran.
The US government has said that the world powers that negotiated the accord — the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany — made no secret arrangements. But the draft report said the joint commission also agreed to allow Iran to keep operating 19 radiation containment chambers larger than the accord set. These so-called “hot cells” are used for handling radioactive material but can be “misused for secret, mostly small-scale plutonium separation efforts,” said the report. Plutonium is another nuclear weapons fuel.
The deal allowed Iran to meet a 130-tonne limit on heavy water produced at its Arak facility by selling its excess stock on the open market. But with no buyer available, the joint commission helped Tehran meet the sanctions relief deadline by allowing it to send 50 tonnes of the material — which can be used in nuclear weapons production — to Oman, where it was stored under Iranian control
The 159-page accord is a study in unmet high expectations for change, as hard-liners in both Iran and the US Congress fight to undermine the deal to ensure as little political benefit as possible for the chief architect of the accord – Rouhani. It was Iran’s shriveling economy – Iranians voting their pocketbooks, as well as promises of greater social freedoms – that helped Rouhani win election in June 2013. He vowed to engineer a nuclear deal, and resurrect an economy hurt by mismanagement and sanctions.
Almost every powerful group had a say in the accord, which reflected a national, strategic decision to turn the page on the nuclear crisis even as concern remains over the world powers’ commitment. The establishment appeared as determined to implement the deal as it was to seeing the negotiations through – and largely for the same reason: to resuscitate the economy by removing sanctions, either as envisioned in the accord or by showing that Iran is not to blame for failure.
With the nuclear accord between Tehran and world powers in force, a chief question is what it means for Iran. The clash between competing visions of the country’s future has heightened since the deal which many believe it could rebalance domestic politics. It not only has boosted the profile of those who promoted it, but, more fundamentally, it has opened space for new debates in a domestic sphere that was dominated by the nuclear issue for more than a decade.
However, according to a think tank report, the USA and its negotiating partners agreed “in secret” to allow Iran to evade some restrictions in last year’s landmark nuclear agreement in order to meet the deadline for it to start getting relief from economic sanctions. Among the exemptions outlined in the think tank’s report were two that allowed Iran to exceed the deal’s limits on how much low-enriched uranium (LEU) it can keep in its nuclear facilities, the report said. LEU can be purified into highly enriched, weapons-grade uranium.
Israel and Saudi Arabia found this attitude of USA unacceptable. One senior “knowledgeable” official, however, was cited by the report as saying that if the joint commission had not acted to create these exemptions, some of Iran’s nuclear facilities would not have been in compliance with the deal by Jan. 16, the deadline for the beginning of the lifting of sanctions. The US government has said that the world powers that negotiated the accord made no secret arrangements.
The United States and its negotiating partners apparently agreed “in secret” to allow Iran to evade some restrictions in last year’s landmark nuclear agreement in order to meet the deadline for it to start getting relief from economic sanctions, according to a recent think tank report.
The exemptions were approved by the joint commission the deal created to oversee implementation of the accord. The commission is comprised of the United States and its negotiating partners — called the P5+1 — and Iran.
The report, which was released by the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, is based on information provided by several officials of governments involved in the negotiations. The group’s president David Albright, a former U.N. weapons inspector and co-author of the report, said the exemptions or loopholes are happening in secret, and it appears that they favor Iran.
The report ignited a chorus of Republican criticism, including from the campaign of presidential nominee Donald Trump. His campaign sought to link the findings to Trump’s Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, who was secretary of state when secret talks were held with Iran but had left office before formal negotiations began. “The deeply flawed nuclear deal Hillary Clinton secretly spearheaded with Iran looks worse and worse by the day,” said a statement issued by retired Army General Michael Flynn, a top Trump adviser. “It’s now clear President Obama gave away the store to secure a weak agreement that is full of loopholes.”
The Clinton campaign did not immediately comment on the report. The White House said it took “significant exception” to some of the report’s findings, saying that the easing of sanctions was always dependent upon Iran’s adherence to the agreement. “The implementation date was driven by the ability of the International Atomic Energy Agency to verify that Iran had completed the steps that they promised to take,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters at a briefing. “That is what precipitated implementation day. Since then Iran has been in compliance with the agreement,” Earnest said.
Among the exemptions outlined in the think tank’s report were two that allowed Iran to exceed the deal’s limits on how much low-enriched uranium (LEU) it can keep in its nuclear facilities, the report said. LEU can be purified into highly enriched, weapons-grade uranium.
One senior “knowledgeable” official was cited by the report as saying that if the joint commission had not acted to create these exemptions, some of Iran’s nuclear facilities would not have been in compliance with the deal by Jan. 16, the deadline for the beginning of the lifting of sanctions.
The nuclear talks and agreement between Iran and Western powers have averted a possible deadly war situation that was being promoted by most anti-Islamic nations, particularly Israel that still seeks to attack all nuclear sites of Islamic power in West Asia. Also, the deal enabled to set the tone for a peaceful situation in a region which is torn with terror wars launched by the Pentagon led NATO terror organization supported by all colonialist powers led by Israel. While Israel sought to destabilize Iran, the latter warned Jewish terror nation of dreadful consequences for the Zionist regime, Israel and Zionism.
At the outset, the nuclear deal has not fundamentally changed Iran’s ties with the USA. American companies are still generally prohibited from trading with Iran because of other sanctions for human rights violations, support of terrorism, and ballistic missile programs.
The Obama government signed agreements with Iran including sale of Boeing to Tehran. Boeing was required to receive permission from the US Treasury before even negotiating with Iran Air. Republican lawmakers quickly criticized the Boeing sale agreement with Iran, arguing it could hurt US national security interests. On July 7, the Republican-led House of Representatives passed a spending bill intended to block to the Boeing deal.
Having achieved the deal, joy erupted on the streets of Tehran a year ago, when Iran signed a landmark nuclear deal with six world powers hailed as a victory of diplomacy over war. As jubilant Iranians waved flags and heralded an easing of Iran’s isolation, President Hassan Rouhani promised that a page has turned in the history of Iran. The deal was marketed by both sides as a “win-win”: Iran would dismantle the most controversial aspects of its nuclear program – minimizing the chance of acquiring a nuclear weapon for at least a decade – in exchange for the lifting of sanctions that crippled its economy.
Expectations had been high in Iran, fanned by supporters of the deal, that its benefits would be palpable and immediate. Yet Iran has received back only a fraction of the $150 billion of its own funds that it expected, and financing new deals is a major issue because of the Western banks’ concerns. Iranians’ hopes for the benefits, however, have not yet dissipated.
However, things have not improved, there is no real tangible impact on people’s lives, but there is still a glimmer of hope for better things to come. One year later, the post deal situation does not suggest any great achievement. The deal has not ushered in a new significant era. Steady warnings from Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, about “infiltration” and “soft war” from the USA and the West reveals the deceptive nature of the deal with USA. USA and European banks also are proving reluctant to engage with Iran, fearful that non-nuclear US sanctions might bite, thereby depriving Iran of the full hoped-for benefits of the deal.
Iran has dramatically reduced the scale of its nuclear infrastructure – reconfiguring a heavy water nuclear reactor and a deeply buried uranium enrichment facility, for example – while keeping a limited capacity to produce fuel for nuclear energy. And non-nuclear sanctions have been lifted, partially ushering Iran back into the global economy.
Iran’s economy has slowly but measurably rebounded in the year since Tehran signed a historic nuclear deal with the world’s six major powers. Iran is still progressing as the region’s first power. Still, sanctions relief has already brought “significant benefit” to Iran, notes Vaez, such as oil production returning to pre-sanctions levels; a boost of trade with the EU by 22 percent; and $3.5 billion of a foreign direct investment in Iran in the first quarter of 2016 – breaking a decade-long record. Washington’s behavior has also been closely watched in Tehran.
The nuclear deal, by lifting many of the sanctions, is reopening the doors to those foreign companies. Iran has hosted dozens of foreign delegations, many of whom had visited Iran even before the deal was signed. More than 140 economic delegations from 48 countries traveled to Iran between March and December 2015, according to Mir-Abutorab Badri, an official with the Trade Promotion Organization of Iran. Around half of them were from Europe and North America.
Sanctions relief also allowed Iran to export millions more barrels of oil monthly. In February, Iran exported its first shipment of oil to Europe since the deal was implemented. Oil exports to China, India, Japan, and South Korea increased 50% in March 2016 compared to the same period in 2015. By May 2016, oil exports had climbed to 2.3 million barrels per day, double the amount exported before sanctions relief.
Iran has made gains in the recovery of the oil market. Iran’s crude exports have soared after the lifting of UN sanctions. Exports have doubled and old customers in Asia and Europe are returning. The country’s market share of global crude exports has returned to pre-sanctions levels. However, lower oil prices have not done much to increase Iran’s capital to a booming level. Neither could oil earnings alone do this.
The relatively moderate government of President Hassan Rouhani is trying to nudge aside the conservative Revolutionary Guards in some areas to make way for what it hopes will be a “flood” of Western money from energy sales. While the deal lifted EU and UN sanctions on Iran’s banking and energy sector, most of the unilateral US sanctions relating to non-nuclear issues remain.
In January, Rouhani praised the nuclear deal for opening “new windows for engagement with the world.” Foreign governments and firms quickly began finalizing agreements once sanctions were lifted. Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Iran on January 22, 2016 and signed 17 agreements. Two days later, Rouhani embarked on his first trip to Europe, where he inked deals worth $43 billion with French and Italian companies. In January, Iran also finalized a deal with European aircraft manufacturer Airbus to deliver more than 100 commercial jets to Iran. Even some US companies have explored trade deals with Iran. In June, U.S. aircraft manufacturer Boeing signed a preliminary $17.6 billion deal to sell Iran Air 80 aircraft between 2017 and 2025. General Electric has also reportedly scoped out opportunities in Iran’s oil and gas industry.
Iran turned to its North to broker one of the most surprising barter deals — the “goods-for-gas” deal between Iran and Turkmenistan, comprising a $-30 billion deal over ten years. The purpose was to supply energy to Iran’s north-eastern provinces that are far from its domestic gas fields. This saves Iran from diverting capital into major new pipeline projects
The nuclear deal has helped raise GDP, boost oil production, and expand trade. But as Rouhani prepares for a reelection bid in 2017, many Iranians expected to see more from the nuclear deal than they experienced in its first year.
Foreign companies are also still restricted from trading with more than 200 Iranian entities sanctioned by the United States for non-nuclear reasons. Despite enthusiasm for Iran’s economic potential, foreign companies still face serious risks that have not been alleviated by the nuclear deal. Corruption, lack of transparency, poor transportation infrastructure, and other issues with Iran’s business environment etc have deterred investors. Iran ranks 118th out of 189 countries in the World Bank’s 2016 ease of doing business index, and 136th out of 175 countries in Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index.
One year after the deal, lingering economic questions and pressure from hardliners still created challenges for Rouhani. Unemployment rose from 10.6% in March 2015 to 11% in March 2016. Some Iranian businessmen complained that foreign investment was primarily channeled to large state-run enterprises rather than small businesses in the private sector. According to the World Bank, Iran still needed to improve its business environment, reduce government influence in the economy, and reform its financial sector in order to see tangible benefits in job creation.
Tensions within the Islamic Republic stem in no small part from its blend of popular sovereignty and religious authority. Theocratic forces seek to maintain the dominance of the supreme leader and other tutelary bodies, while republican forces advocate more clout for popularly-elected institutions. Each camp is further split between pragmatists who seek incremental political evolution and radicals who either resist any change or promote revolutionary transformation. The supreme leader – powerful but not omnipotent – maintains stability by accommodating both theocratic and republican trends.
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had endorsed bilateral negotiations with the USA before Rouhani ran for office. He then supported the new president’s diplomatic push and kept his opponents at bay. But given the leader’s aversion to risk, his support was qualified and did not obviate Rouhani’s need for a coalition with other power centres.
Supreme Leader announced that the theme of the upcoming year would be “The Resistance Economy.” Focusing on domestic production, Khamenei argued, will be Iran’s best defense against sanctions. “With the Resistance Economy, it is possible to fight unemployment and recession and to curb inflation; it is possible to stand up to the enemies’ threats,” he said. Rouhani has insisted that his policies are not at odds with Khamenei’s vision for the economy—and public opinion polls support him. Citing remaining financial restrictions, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused the USA of not fulfilling its pledges under the nuclear deal. “In Western countries and places which are under US influence, our banking transactions and the repatriation of our funds from their banks face problems … because banks fear the Americans,” he said in March.
Hardliners allege that Rouhani’s policies will make the Islamic Republic too economically dependent and open Iran to Western cultural influence. On Jan. 30, Iranian students protested outside the Iranian Oil Ministry against the new Iran Petroleum Contract (IPC), chanting that the contracts would lead to the “plundering of national wealth.”
Economy boost and challenges
After sanctions were lifted, the Islamic Republic aggressively ramped up oil and gas output. Oil production climbed from 2.9 million barrels per day in January to 3.8 million barrels per day in late May. Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh predicted that output could top 4 million barrels per day by March 2017.
Sanctions relief has led to higher oil production, restored access to billions of dollars of assets, and easier trade and financial transactions. The two most tangible changes have been the increase in oil exports–which have nearly doubled since sanctions were lifted on Jan. 16–and the dozens of foreign trade and investment deals Iran has negotiated. In June, Iran even reached a tentative $17.6 billion deal with Boeing, the world’s largest aircraft manufacturer, to purchase passenger planes. But one year after the deal, some international firms are still hesitant to do business in the Middle East’s second largest economy.
Foreign direct investment could total $8 billion by March 2017, according to Seyed Hossein Salimi of the Iranian National Committee of the International Chamber of Commerce. In 2015, foreign direct investment only reached around $2 billion.
Overall, Iran’s economic outlook has improved since the deal. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts between 4% and 5.5% growth in 2016 – up from the 1.3% growth it had predicted for 2016 before the deal was signed. Iran has moved up from number 12 position among 14 Mid-East countries in Foreign Direct investment (FDI) and it is just behind Saudi Arabia and the UAE. However, Iranian banks and foreign banks that are to play an anchor role in processing this FDI are not allowed to deal in US dollars — the global reserve currency
Natural gas production has also increased by 23 billion cubic meters in the past year, after Iran completed development projects in the South Pars field, the largest gas field in the world. European companies estimated that Iran – which holds the world’s second largest natural gas reserves, after Russia – could potentially supply Europe with up to 35 billion cubic meters of gas per year by 2030.
Low oil prices, however, have limited Iran’s revenue from these production increases. In January, oil prices fell below $30 a barrel for the first time in 12 years. Prices have rebounded slightly since then, reaching $46 a barrel in June 2016.
However, low prices have also pushed Iran to diversify its economy. Only around 25%of the state budget relies on oil revenues, compared to 60% in past years. In the last Iranian year, which ended on March 19, Iran had a non-oil trade surplus for the first time since the 1979 revolution.
Iran’s increasing oil output–despite low prices–has put it at odds with other oil producers. In February, Russia and OPEC members Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Venezuela called for a production freeze to stabilize prices. Iran would only entertain the idea of a freeze after production reaches 4 million barrels per day, which was about its pre-sanctions output.
Even if prices increase, Iran may have trouble increasing its oil production beyond that target without significant foreign investment. The Islamic Republic plans to fund and implement oil and gas projects worth a lofty $185 billion by 2020 to boost its crude oil output and refining capabilities.
The Islamic Republic hopes to entice foreign oil companies by offering more favorable contract terms. On June 27, Zanganeh announced that Iran was finalizing the Iran Petroleum Contract (IPC). Unlike the “buy-back” contracts unpopular with foreign firms, the IPC allows companies to participate in all the stages of an oil or gas field’s lifecycle.
Domestically, the deal has yet to yield significant benefits for the average Iranian. Corruption, a lack of transparency, and other issues make Iran’s business environment challenging for investors. Foreign companies also risk incurring penalties from remaining US sanctions on Iran for terrorism and human rights violations. Unemployment increased slightly in 2016. Only 46% of Iranians believe the country’s economic situation is good as of March 2016, compared to 54% in May 2015. Hardliners question President Hassan Rouhani’s focus on foreign investment over domestic production.
Iran still has to overcome more US sanctions to resume trade with European nations. European and Asian conglomerates that would otherwise want to invest in the Iranian market do not know how to bypass many US sanctions which continue to extend to organizations and individuals having ties with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRG) which is aspiring to play a “bigger role” in the country’s economy, by some estimates, directly or indirectly control over 40% of Iran’s economy.
Since the 1979 Revolution, the rulers of the Islamic Republic of Iran have sought to lead Islamic world along with Saudi Arabia, dominate the West Asia region where Saudi Arabia is considered to be the leader. Since the Iran deal was signed by USA, peace has remained remarkably elusive as Iran considers the nuclear deal with western powers is an endorsement against Sunni nations while Saudi Arabia looks at it as promotion of Shiite nations by its ally USA. Not only Riyadh rejected Iran as an ally to pursue Islamic goals worldwide but treats as its enemy. So much so, today Saudi leadership considers Iran an enemy worse than Israel.
US officials, however, have insisted that Washington has complied with the nuclear deal. The Obama administration has reportedly sought to encourage Iran’s reintegration into global markets, hoping to solidify the deal and prevent it from unraveling under future administrations. On May 10, Secretary of State John Kerry told European businesses that they “should not use the USA as an excuse” for not doing business in Iran.
In the coming year, Rouhani may face even more pressure to prove that the deal has yielded the economic benefits that many Iranians anticipated. The IMF predicts that average inflation will drop from 15.1% in the 2015-2016 Iranian fiscal year to 11.5% in the 2016-2017 fiscal year.
Rouhani has courted foreign trade and investment, but Iran’s political factions have debated whether Iran should pursue greater foreign engagement at all. Others in the regime are more skeptical. Two thirds of Iranians surveyed in March supported greater economic engagement with the West, and reformists fared well in the spring 2016 parliamentary elections.
Saudi led GCC joins Israel against Iran
Israel and its cruel sponsors in the West believe occupational atrocities make history interesting. USA and Israel, as well as other colonialist nations are keen to retain their occupational posts held abroad. NATO terror wars in Afghanistan and Arab world have helped Israel prolong the occupational crimes in Palestine thus far, making its expansionist drives smooth as USA continues to back all crimes against humanity
Interestingly, Arab leaders now think anomalies make history interesting and thus they try to find a common non-vegetarian language. Saudi Arabs seems to be leading the anti-Islamic nations against Islamic faith. Interestingly, they also think they are doing the right thing. Maybe they hope all anti-Islamic nations become Islamic in due course. Millions of Muslims have been slaughtered by these anti-Islamic forces globally in their war on Islam and they relish the taste of Islamic blood.
Saudi for some mysterious reasons considers Iran its arch foe and opposes it and frames policies keeping in view Iran’s sidelining as its objective. Anti-Iranism has become too strong that Saudi government indeed treats Iran worse enemy than Israel and tries for a common platform to disgrace Iran. So much so anti-Islamic Israel emerges as Islamic Saudi’s strategic partner against Islamic Iran.
Funny Islamic leaders!
A simmer Sunni-Shiite cold war is on for quite some time and western world and Israel seeks to take full advantage of the clash of their common enemies in island. Arab world says that today Iran is posing a serious challenge to Saudi led Arab nations, as its proxy groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Sadrist militias in Iraq have taken the fight beyond the capacity of Iranian government forces. In Yemen and Bahrain, groups funded from Tehran have been armed, funded and trained to challenge the Arab governments.
True, unlike Israel or even Saudi Arabia, Iran does not seek wars and, knowing the intricacies of regional crises, being accelerated by the US intervention, always goes for diplomatic resolution of crises and succeeded n averting all war situations. Iran has not changed its position on Palestine nation as it continues to support the Palestinians and their struggle for sovereignty.
Iran will have a presidential poll in June 2017. With elections due next year, the pressure on Rouhani’s government is likely to increase if the next US president follows in the footsteps of his predecessor to continue to play the “sanctions game.” Incumbent President Hassan Rouhani’s competitors are concerned that he and his allies will parlay their foreign policy achievements into electoral victories.
Iranian success in the nuclear deal depends on many factors. Nothing unusual in the flowery language coming from Western capitals about a new era of relations with Iran has some reality and justification because Iran and USA have begun viewing each other not as prime enemies as they had done for years now especially after the fall of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, even during prolonged talks, notwithstanding all negative rhetoric emanating from Israel and elsewhere against the deal and new alignments.
The deal obviously weakened Israeli position and hold over US strategic lots. Having been isolated internationally already on genocides in Gaza and its regular threats of terror attacks on Iran, Israel will not be able to keep ignoring such a broad international engagement.
Now Zionists in Israel and USA understand that it must cope with a process of Palestine statehood that has started rolling and won’t be easily stopped. It must now position itself differently after the repeatedly failed US mediation and ahead of the practical part of the French initiative, as the French distributed in June the tasks to different working groups.
The UN Quartet report on the obstacles ahead of a two-state solution and the main themes to be tackled should be published without further delay and used as a main tool of work for the French initiative.
The debate on whether or not Iran gained from the nuclear deal with western powers is inconclusive but one is clear: Iran hasn’t lost the spot by signing the deal with US led powers. The deal appeared to be the only option for the time being as Israel is pushing for a terror attack on Iran and sought the US approval. The president, Many Iranian strategists believe, has been duped into accepting the deal and his failure to boost economy even after a year is an clear proof of the “West’s treachery”.
Iran’s expectation of a big boom in economy through “economic recovery” after the lifting of UN sanctions has not been realized yet. Iranians, although upset by this, still believe this deal is by far the best way for Tehran to end global isolation, recapture lost markets, diversify its foreign relations and win “the ideological war” Iran’s enemies in the Gulf have waged against it.
The situation for Iran’s moderate leadership is tricky. Not only does it have to deal with the still imposed US sanctions and mounting domestic pressure against the nuke-deal, but also the IRG, its own business interests and political hardliners in Iran.
Today, USA and Russia compete for arms sale in energy-cash rich West Asia. The West should recognize that any change in Iran will be gradual, best supported by implementing the nuclear accord, resuming trade, and diplomacy that balances Iranian and Arab interests in the Middle East. As its guardians try to quell the deal’s reverberations and preserve the balance of power, any attempt by Western countries to play politics within the Iranian system could well backfire. If world powers hope to progress on areas of concern and common interest, they must engage Iran as it is, not the Iran they wish to see.
The best option for Western states and Iran is to continue reversing the negative narratives from decades of suspicion and hostility by fully implementing the nuclear accord; creating discrete and non-politicized channels to address other issues of concern or common interest; and, eventually, pushing for regional security architecture that takes account of both Iranian and Arab interests. In the end, Iran and the West may not be able to agree on a range of issues, but trying to game the Iranian system will ensure that they will not.
Saudi Arabia needs to come to sense- earlier the better for it and Islam, though it might feel Islam should not have been born there so that their variety of capitalism and anti-Islamism can go on without any sense of shame or guilt. Because of Saudi attitude even ordinary Muslims, for their own reasons, are scared of criticizing anti-Islamism while badly suffering from Islamophobia.
Israel and its Image After the 1967 War
The war of 1967, or the Six Day War as it has come to be known, was a war which came with immense, geo-strategic and political consequences. The Middle East, was the arena where it played out and fifty years later the reverberations continue to be felt in the region and beyond. This is reflected in the words of, the then Israeli Prime Minister, Levi Eshkol, who said, “Nothing will be settled by a military victory. The Arabs will still be here” (Colonel Stephen S. Evans, 2008 ). His words have proved to be prophetic, for Israel has metamorphosed in this timespan, and the Arabs are still there though they are a house divided and peace is still elusive. The conflict between, Arab and Jewish identities over Palestinian land now has a regional as well as an international dimension. In this rite of passage, Israel’s relations with many nation-states have matured from nascency to maturity and much of this finds its origins in the aftermath of the 1967 war between Israel and the three states of Egypt, Syria and Jordan. It is this transformation in Israel’s stature in International Relations, that is to be examined.
In the run up to the war of 1967, the events were moving in a manner that can best be described as fast and furious. With the Syrians being routed by the Israelis in April 1967, Nasser was under pressure to restore Arab prestige, when he was warned by the Soviets in May, that Israel was planning to invade Syria. In spite of having half his forces entrenched in a conflict with Yemen, Nasser reacted by asking UN peacekeepers to leave the Sinai Peninsula, and began massing troops in to the Sinai Desert. With no Israeli reaction forthcoming, Nasser then closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, on May 22, and challenged Israel to engage in conflict. The Iraqi President Abdel Rahman joined this tirade of threats against Israel and it was under these extenuating circumstances, Israel launched a pre-emptive strike on the morning of June 5, 1967, with ‘Operation Focus’. It simply had no choice but to do so.
Six days later, Israel emerged victorious, against the defence forces of Egypt, Jordan and Syria, and surprisingly enough, its territorial gains included, the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank of the Jordan River (including East Jerusalem) and the Golan Heights. Clearly, this was not an act of pre-meditation as this operation was supposed to be have been a “48-hour surgical strike” to neutralise Egypt and nothing more(Oren, 2005). Israel’s geographic spread now, was three times what it was before the war. Both Israel and Egypt were quick to approach the UN in quick succession, at the outbreak of the war and UN Resolution 242 resulted many weeks after the war, in November. In the aftermath of the war, it is really not possible to analyse Israel’s international relations in a linear manner as events and relationships tend to dovetail, converge and diverge at the same time. Clearly, Israel as a country went through a transformative experience from within and without after this war. It transcended the stage from where it was struggling to maintain it its territorial integrity in 1948, to a stage where it had won a decisive victory, albeit with American aid and French armaments. With control over the Sinai Peninsula, which overlooked the Suez Canal, and the Soviets stepping in reinforce their support to the Egyptians, Israel, now unwittingly became a player in the Cold War. In this context, from being in a situation where it was viewed as a burden by the U.S., Israel had now became an “imperative significant asset”(Kardo Karim Rached Mohammad, The Six-Day War and Its Impact on Arab and Israeli Conflict, 2017). Having proven its military might, U.S.-Israeli relations underwent a sea change, for now this relationship was of potential benefit. This was a far cry from 1956 when America had called Israel an aggressor when it had attacked Egypt as part of a secret pact with Britain and France.
The symbiotic relationship between the U.S. and Israel, consequently assumed an overall upward trajectory with some periods of lull. Even the retributive oil embargo against the west, by the Arab world after the Yom Kippur war, did not derail this relationship and Reagan named Israel as a strategic asset, in 1979. Israel was now the beneficiary of considerable military supplies and treated as a proxy for the U.S. in the region. After the end of the Cold War, Israel was no longer a U.S. proxy but a strategic partner nevertheless and a “democratic anchor”. Since then, starting with the Clinton Administration, support for Israel has been unequivocal, with Trump’s presidency going beyond mere re-affirmation. One noteworthy, pattern till now, is the implicit understanding of faith between the two countries, that Israel’s nuclear armament cache would never be a subject of discussion and there would not be any talk of signing the Non- Proliferation Treaty(Entous, 2018).
Another key relationship affecting Israel’s very existence, in the same time frame, was one of extreme challenges and continues to be so, till now. At the time of the 1967 war, sponsored by the Arab League, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation was already in existence, and destruction of Israel, was one of its goals. After the war, Yasser Arafat and the Fatah, gained dominance within the PLO and led attacks against Israel which were to turn more and more violent over the years. It was only in1993, with the Oslo Accord, that PLO recognized Israel’s right to exist and accepted, UN resolutions 242 and 338, Israel in turn was to withdraw from key territories and PLO was to govern parts of Gaza, Jericho and the West Bank. The fragility of this peace process gave rise to the Second Intifada and Hamas now came to control the Gaza strip in 2007, leaving Fatah with the West Bank. Though the Fatah and Hamas have since reconciled, Israel views Hamas as a “hostile entity” for its acts of terror (Encyclopedia Britannica , n.d.). As a corollary, there is the issue of continuing build-up of Israeli settlements on the West bank which have been deemed illegal by the United Nations (UNSC 446). This notion of “creeping annexation” in the West Bank, is in defiance of all international laws and opinion (Cohen, 2019). Clearly, this was a manner of securing Israel’s boundaries, leaving the Palestinians, subjects, of an occupying force. There are an estimated,141 Jewish settlements, in the West Bank and upwards of 300,000 Palestinians are said to have been displaced. President Rivlin, in this context, even said belligerently, “it was their land that they were building” (Remnick, 2014).Undoubtedly, Palestine’s inability to eschew violence and its inability to embrace the two state solution, have repeatedly made peace elusive. Matters have now come to a head and the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, has rendered all agreements with the U.S. and Israel, void, in view of the threatened West Bank annexation, by Israel. Clearly, this may be another chapter in this uneasy relationship (Holmes, 2020).
In this entire flow of events, the paradoxical endurance of UNSC 242, as a “pivotal point of reference”, at first looks, is puzzling and intriguing at the same time (Mazur, 2012). Israel was seen to accept the resolution because it called upon the Arab states to acknowledge Israel’s right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force. Egypt, Jordan (from the outset) and the other Arab states (eventually) accepted it because it had a clause which called upon Israel to withdraw from territories occupied in the recent conflict. With this UN resolution, the equation had changed overnight, Israel became an ‘occupying force’, with the burden of withdrawal subject to its being able to attain “secure and recognized boundaries” (United Nations , 1967). Deliberately incorporated phraseology, by Lord Caradon, meant that Israel would not be required to vacate all territories. Palestinians were just a refugee problem to be resolved, with no status of nationality or nationhood being discussed, they were left to be ‘generic’ refugees.
With the passing of years after UN 242, Israel and the Arabs, clashed repeatedly, including the War of Attrition and the Yom Kippur War, but it was as if the Arabs were coming off weaker, each time. Egypt was the first to make peace with Israel in 1979 under the land for peace initiative, and the return of the Sinai Peninsula was the key deal maker. This was followed long after with the Jordan peace settlement in 1994, wherein, the international boundary was delimited and waters from Jordan River and Yarmouk River were now to be allocated between the two countries. Thereafter, the Arab League has been rendered increasingly ineffectual due its own internal contradictions and issues like the Hamas are no more than a thorn in Israel’s flesh, while its engagements with Syria have been no more than border skirmishes. Palestine, the biggest loser in this development, stands marginalised by both.
Interestingly enough, in this changed Arab-Israeli equation, as a first responder, Israel under Netanyahu is now moving bilaterally within the Arab states, in a bid to find “peace out of strength” (TOI STAFF, The Times of Israel ). Clearly this strikes a common chord with the Arab states whose needs for Israel’s offerings of security and surveillance platforms align with the overriding need for security in the region due to America’s fading hegemony. So much so, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the recent past has been quoted as saying, “Palestinians and the Israelis have the right to have their own land” (Goldberg, 2018). Until now this is one threshold, which had not been crossed by Saudi Arabia, the second largest Arab nation. The reason is not far to seek, as the Crown Prince and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have a common enemy in Iran and of just as much importance, are the common security interests that are shared by the trio of, Israel, U.S. and the Arab States. In fact, recently Bahrain’s Foreign Minister, admittedly said, “We do believe that Israel is a country to stay, and we want better relations with it, and we want peace with it” (Ragson, 2019). On the other hand, the opening of new synagogues in Dubai and Abu Dhabi is another indicator of this ‘Arab Thaw’, if one were to invent a phrase. Interestingly, an added dimension to these initiatives, is the pursuit of public diplomacy by Israel, where the Foreign Ministry is using digital platforms to connect with Arabs, the goal being to showcase the shared common values and similarities, of two ancient cultures (Eglash, 2019 ).
Moving back to matters of nation states, Israel has all along been moving ahead in affairs of political economy and knitting ties, which are strategic, political, military and economic. With its expertise in high technology extending even beyond conventional areas to armaments, Israel is globally the eighth largest exporter of armaments and its ties with India have deepened measurably, as it has contributed to India’s military modernisation needs, especially in times of conflict. On the other hand, Israel’s ties with its largest trading partner, EU, are a mixed bag, as Europe is wary of its Palestine policies. With Anti -Semitism rearing its head in Europe, EU is trying to ensure that its funds do not reach the ‘settlement areas’ and has threatened to escalate diplomatic initiatives if Israel goes ahead with its West Bank takeover initiatives. In parallel, Israel is constantly exploring new relationships, and recently it has tied up an energy partnership with Greece and Cyprus, for the ‘Energy Triangle’, in a bid for ensuring Energy Security. From the kibbutz configured economy in 1967, Israel is now avowedly, a technological powerhouse for the world, where GDP per capita is twice that of the Saudi Arabia. Even with China, Israel enjoys a significantly strong economic relationship, though differences have started to surface off late.
In conclusion, it may be said that, many have spoken of this briefest of wars as a pivot or a turning point but it might be more correct and accurate to term it as a fulcrum, for it is Israel which now forms the lever that turns the geo-politics of the region that it inhabits. Even as Israel preserves the geo-strategic strengths of its gains from the Six Day War, the Arabs are disempowered in this Arab-Israeli conflict and the Palestinians are dis-enfranchised, like never before. As a nation it has worked like a true realist, giving credence to the realist credo that, “it is important not only to have a substantial amount of power, but also to make sure that no other state sharply shifts the balance of power in its favour”(Mearsheimer, 2013). Clearly, Israel has succeeded, in this objective.
UAE and Israel: Nothing to See Here
Across the world, the August agreement between the UAE and Israel, signed in September in Washington, to normalize their bilateral relations has been hailed as revolutionary. Certainly, it is a diplomatic triumph for the administration of US President Donald Trump which, in the face of criticism, continued with its “Deal of a Century” settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict despite its absolute rejection by all Palestinian parties. Then, Trump’s son-in-law and special advisor on Middle Eastern affairs Jared Kushner continued to claim that like-minded Arab states would seek to cooperate with the Israelis, support the administration’s proposal, and ultimately normalize their relations with Israel.
Now, that the UAE has agreed to just that, Kushner has certainly been vindicated. Already the UAE’s decision has precipitated Bahrain’s normalization of relations with Israel with Oman likely to follow. But was this as decisive a decision as Abu Dhabi has led many to believe? Supposedly, the UAE finally agreed to normalize its bilateral relations with Israel as the first Arab country to do so since the Oslo Accords in order to halt Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to annex the West Bank and specifically the western banks of the Jordan Valley. However, that later claim that the UAE somehow prevented annexation seems unlikely to have been a real motivation, and rather a means of justifying the UAE’s decision as acting on the behalf of the Palestinians. In fact, Netanyahu quickly responded to criticism by Israeli settler groups of the deal declaring that annexation remains on the table, clearly negating this as a possible justification by the UAE for normalization. In fact, recent reporting suggests the US only promised the UAE it would not support unilateral annexation until 2024, only long enough for the UAE to save face.
There are better theories that explain the UAE’s normalization than the looming West Bank annexation. Over the past few weeks many have argued that this is just the next logical step by the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) an organization of six oil-rich Sunni Arab monarchies, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), to ally with Israel and deter the mutual threat of Iran. Indeed, the United States has openly supported the creation of an “Arab NATO” that would align the Sunni Arab states and Israel against Iran’s “Shia Crescent” of allied militias and states across the Levant. Iran and its ally in the Lebanese Hezbollah are staunch advocates of the Palestinian cause and military and financial allies of the Gaza based Hamas. Yet, the UAE in particular has always taken a more conciliatory stance towards Iranian expansionism, as demonstrated by its overtures to Tehran as tensions heated up in the Persian Gulf region over the safe passage of oil tankers in the summer of 2019.
Others have pointed out (more convincingly) that this is about deterring Turkey. Both the UAE and Israel now feel threatened by Turkey’s projection of power across the Middle East’s maritime environs. Since the 2011 Arab Spring, Turkey has become a close ally of the UAE’s arch-nemesis Qatar, and deployed thousands of troops to defend the microstate after Saudi Arabia and the UAE blockaded it in 2017. Recently, Turkey is now facing off against a coalition of Greece, (Greek) Cyprus, Israel, Egypt and France in the Eastern Mediterranean as it looks to secure its own zone of military and economic influence in the region. It has also intervened directly in the Libyan Civil War, saving the Tripoli based government from the warlord General Khalifa Haftar and his Russian, French, Egyptian, and UAE backed forces. Moreover, Turkey is now fast becoming the leading advocate for the Palestinian cause in the Sunni Muslim world, a role that has worried Israeli policymakers for some time.
Yet, the UAE’s security collaboration with Israel (let alone Saudi Arabia’s) is well documented to have been occurring covertly for some time now. Israel’s intelligence services have cooperated with the UAE in Syria, Libya, and now Sudan. Infamously, the UAE hired ex-Israeli and American special forces operatives to assassinate its opponents in the Yemeni Islah Party, an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood and the two states may have a joint intelligence base on the Yemeni island of Socotra. Emirati diplomats are in close collaboration with pro-Israel think tanks and lobbyists in Washington, and the UAE (along with Saudi Arabia)personally pressured Palestinian factions to support the US “Deal of a Century” –and that is only what is public. So, is this decision so surprising or shocking?
A simple metaphor is useful. If two lovers sneak off together every night for months, is anyone surprised when they announce their engagement? Not especially. The UAE and many other Arab-Muslim nations have flirted with recognizing Israel for years, if not decades. Initially, support for the Palestinian cause was an enticing prospect to unite Arab countries morally and politically in the quest for Palestinian liberation and resistance to the West. But the power and prestige invested in any country that could lead the Arab World by taking upon itself the mantle of defender of Palestine quickly evaporated with the end of the Arab Cold War and the beginning of the Oslo Peace process. Now, the mantle of “peacemaker” is more profitable and more powerful for any country in the Arab World seeking to lead the reshaped post-Arab Spring Middle East.
A Cause Abandoned Long Ago
Frankly, it is the Egyptian decision to normalize relations with Israel that began this inevitable trend in the Arab World. After watching its military destroyed in detail and the Sinai Peninsula occupied by Israel during the 1967 war, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat rebuilt his nation’s armed forces and fought the Israelis to the negotiating table in 1973. Once Egypt agreed to the Camp David Accords, that year the most capable advocate for the Palestinian cause was removed from the game. The Palestinians were also expelled from Jordan in 1971 during the events of Black September into Lebanon, where they were received not with open arms. Internationally, without Egypt, the only possible defenders of Palestine left were Iraq and Syria.
Iraq under Saddam Hussein took upon this role with relish, but instead of using Palestine to rally the other Arab states, its invasion of Kuwait left Iraq devastated and isolated by American bombings and sanctions. The fall of Saddam in 2003 and the collapse of the country into civil war ended its role as a patron of the Palestinians. Finally, Syria under the then youthful President Bashar al-Assad was the only major supporter of the Palestinians left standing, and it soon became the external location for the Hamas political bureau, that is, until the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War in 2011.The explosion of Syria into a sectarian conflict split both the nation and the Palestinians between pro-Assad nationalists and leftists in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and pro-opposition Islamists in Hamas. With Syria devastated and now an international pariah, Palestinians were left without a leading Arab state to take on their cause.
With the Iraq and the Levant in ruin, the Palestinians turned towards the GCC. The GCC has always offered an economic lifeline to Palestinian parties and militant organizations, both overtly and covertly, in their resistance struggle against the Israelis. This is not to mention the millions in remittances sent back to Palestine by diaspora workers in Kuwait, Riyadh, Doha, and Dubai sent back home to those living in Gaza and the West Bank. In the 1970’s Saudi Arabia in particular rallied the Islamic World to support the Palestinian cause after the al-Aqsa mosque fire, when a Jewish extremist attempted to burn down the Muslim holy site in Jerusalem. Then, the inveterate anti-communist King Fahad led Muslim countries from across the world to form the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in 1978, dedicated firstly to the support of the Palestinians and the preservation of the al-Aqsa Mosque, and other Islamic causes more broadly.
But despite this support, the GCC states have always been a natural partner of Israel. A collection of small states, if not micro-states, threatened by larger powers on every side, the impetus for normalization with Israel has always existed. Just consider the entire citizen population of the GCC (thus not including foreign guest-workers) is on par with that of pre-civil war Yemen at approximately 26 million people. Since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the kingdoms of the Persian Gulf have relied heavily on external powers, like the United States, Great Britain, the Shah’s Iran, and even Pakistan, in order to provide for their national defense and the protection of their oil and gas reserves. The list of threats is long, and includes at various times, the Soviet Union, Egypt, Iraq, South Yemen, Syria, and since 1979 the Islamic Republic of Iran, whose regional power and ambition to dominate would lead to the creation of the GCC in 1981.
Moreover, the economic impetus for normalization remains strong, especially as the world faces the possibility of permanently low oil prices. As such, all of the GCC states are facing the difficult question of how to diversify their oil and gas economies. Although GCC states like Kuwait, Qatar, and the UAE now rely more on the income generated from investing their oil and gas revenues abroad rather than the extraction of natural resources itself, the GCC nations’ best hope for diversification lies in the development of high technology sectors. Such industries can utilize their small affluent societies and provide employment for a well-educated youth population. Israel, as a technology leader and with a robust financial sector, offers to be a strong economic partner of the GCC states, that is if they commit to normalization, and abandon the Palestinians.
A Battle for Prestige
Hence the practical rationale of current political normalization has been building up since the 1970’s, but why has the UAE in particular chosen this path? The answer is not in Abu Dhabi but Doha. In the 1990’s a new phenomenon emerged in the Middle East with the rise of Qatar. In 1991 Hamid bin Khalifa al-Thani overthrew his father to become the county’s emir. Al-Thani looked to assert Qatar as the first of the smaller GCC states with a foreign policy in the region independent of its larger neighbor Saudi Arabia. With a population of little more than a quarter-of-a-million citizens, Qatar could not deploy the military implements of its national power to gain influence and prestige.
Instead, Qatar used its financial wealth to raise its stature as a regional peacemaker. It mediated conflicts between local actors and nation states in Lebanon, Yemen, Sudan, Eritrea, and Libya, and famously offered the Taliban an “embassy” in Doha, at America’s request, to begin peace talks in 2014. Most of all, Qatar quickly provided US Central Command the al-Udeid airbase in 1996 to maintain thousands of forces in the region after the post-Gulf War withdrawal from Saudi Arabia. Notably, Qatar was also the first Arab Gulf state to begin normalizing its relationship with Israel when it opened a trade office in Doha in 1994, although it was soon closed with the al-Aqsa Intifada. Instead, it captured the 1990’s explosion in Arab media with the state-supported Aljazeera network, and later the political tsunami of the Arab Spring by allying and supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and associated Islamist political forces across the region.
In this sense, the UAE is really playing catch up to its regional competitor Qatar. In the 1990’s the UAE, like Bahrain today, closely followed the foreign policy of Saudi Arabia. This was since the UAE, as a small confederation of seven rival states, was historically threatened by its larger neighbor. From 1952-1955 Saudi attempts to assert their control over the oil rich Buraimi Oasis led the British to militarily intervene to secure the borders of the Trucial States (now the UAE) and Oman. This border dispute would last after the British withdrawal from its engagements East of Suez and the independence of the UAE in 1971. Although the two countries concluded a treaty in 1974, it was never confirmed until 1995, and never completely ratified by the UAE.But the UAE still looked to placate Saudi Arabia by following its foreign policy leadership. For example, the UAE joined Saudi Arabia and regional states Pakistan and Turkmenistan as the only countries to ever recognize the Taliban government in Afghanistan in 1996.
However, the development of the UAE into the modern financial center it is today began to change this historic power dynamic. The UAE first began asserting its independence with the expansion of Dubai into an international center of business and commerce, but while the emirate of Dubai grew to become an internationally respected state let in its own right, the UAE’s largest emirate, Abu Dhabi, was overshadowed by its gaudier, although less economically stable sister. As much as UAE foreign policy is national, it still remains a hotly contested union of microstates.
This changed with the rise of Abu Dhabi’s influential crown prince Muhammad bin Zayed, the infamous “MBZ.” Prince Zayed attempted to raise the stature of Abu Dhabi using the political and military tools under the control of Abu Dhabi as the state chiefly responsible for the governance, administration, and foreign policy of the UAE. He quickly brought the UAE in as a major leader and financer of the Arab counterrevolutions against the 2011 Arab Spring, bankrolling the government of President Abdul Fatah el-Sisi in Egypt, and anti-Islamist parties and forces from Mauritania to Jordan, along with Saudi Arabia and its ally Bahrain.
The war on the Muslim Brotherhood is both a personal crusade by MBZ and an attempt to undercut Qatar’s regional sphere of influence. The UAE has always felt al-Udeid would be better located in their country and was particularly incensed after it was passed up by the US to host the Taliban “embassy.”Yet, the UAE has had success in denting Qatar’s influence. Not only did it remove Qatari allies from power across the region, it has successfully raised the suspicion in Washington of Qatar as a state-sponsor of terrorism in the region and as a destabilizing force. This attempt to weaken Qatar’s influence in the region culminated in the UAE and Saudi Arabia leading a coalition of states to blockade Qatar in summer 2017 unless it agreed to abandon its independent foreign policy, including the Aljazeera network and its location as a haven for Hamas. While Qatar has survived the blockade, the UAE did succeed in dislodging its position as a regional power.
What has changed in the past three years is that the UAE has begun to strike out and pursue its own foreign policy goals separate from that of Saudi Arabia. Although the UAE originally entered the war in Yemen against the Houthi rebels as another ally of Saudi Arabia, it quickly looked to carve out its own sphere of influence. Beginning by reemphasizing historic ties with the tribes of South Yemen, it came to patronize and support the South Yemen separatists that provided the UAE an ally but undermined Saudi Arabia’s support of the internationally recognized government of President Abdul Mansour Hadi. In fact, the UAE’s support for the dramatic rise of Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman (MBS) is itself a sign of the UAE’s outsized diplomatic influence over the kingdom and the changing nature of their bilateral relationship.
Moreover, the UAE took the unprecedented step of deploying its own military forces to obtain its strategic objectives. The UAE suffered a relatively large amount of battlefield casualties in Yemen that helped united the country around a national cause and propelled the further modernization of the armed forces, with the support of western officers and American and Israeli security firms. It also allowed Abu Dhabi to bring the other emirates in line behind its policies, exiling opposition princes, and thus bringing the country closer towards internal political unity. Now a veritable nation in war, deploying forces, cultivating allies, and building bases in Yemen allowed the UAE to construct its own, distinct security architecture to control the Yemeni coast, the port of Aden, and the strategic island of Socotra that commands the entrance of the Bab el-Mandab strait. In addition, it has looked to construct bases and invest in strategic ports along the East African coast in the port of Berbera in Somaliland, and Bosaso in Puntland, and has shown interest in acquiring the management of Massawa and Assab in Eritrea for Dubai Ports World.
A New Leader?
After consolidating its position in the Arabian Peninsula, the UAE has moved up one more logical step to try to become a regional power. Although its military forces are probably the most professional in the GCC, the UAE is still too small to compete militarily with the likes of Turkey let alone Iran. This became all too clear when tensions exploded in the Persian Gulf in Sumer 2019 between Iran and the US after Iran began targeting international shipping in the Straits of Hormuz and possibly coordinated a missile attack with the Houthis on a Saudi oil-refinery that cut the kingdom’s oil production in half. Among the incidents was a most-likely Iranian bombing in May on tankers stationed at the major Emirati port of Fujairah in the Gulf of Oman. After this direct threat to its critical infrastructure, the UAE quickly dropped its aggressive rhetoric towards the Iranians and secretly sent its national security advisor to Tehran. The UAE is still a microstate, Abu Dhabi, let alone Dubai, would not survive a regional war as any larger country could. Thus, the maritime tensions of 2019 were as a rude awakening to the UAE as the blockade of 2017 was to Qatar.
It is in part and for this reason that the UAE has now scaled back its aggressive military deployments. It now looksto displace Qatar, Kuwait, and Oman for the favor of the United States as a regional “peacemaker.” Therefore, the UAE has billed itself as America’s greatest ally in the region as a patron of “Moderate Islam.” It has cultivated a diverse group of supportive Muslim scholars internationally whose unifying theme is a generic message of tolerance. The UAE has also implicitly contrasted itself with the “Qatari” or “Turkish” Islam as political and “Saudi Wahhabi Islam” as ultra-conservative. Of course, this is political semantics, intellectually all modern Sunnism in the Persian Gulf region derives from a similar (Wahhabi) source.
Regardless, the UAE has received international acclaim for this Islamic role around the world. It has been recognized for its leadership in the Muslim world by the likes of former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and, importantly, Pope Francis. The later conducted the first papal mass ever to Christian migrant workers in the Arabian Peninsula in 2019. The UAE has further leaned into the image as a “tolerant” country domestically through a “Ministry of Tolerance” and the construction of the first Hindu, Sikh, and Mormon temples in the Middle East. It has leveraged this image bilaterally to develop bilateral ties with China, India, and now with Israel.
Therefore, the UAE’s normalization of relations with Israel is the logical conclusion of that groundwork built over the past few years. Normalization allows the UAE to unambiguously and unilaterally claim its role as a leader in the Middle East and moreover the Islamic World. It can position itself to be a bridge between the United States, the West, and other Arab Muslim countries, by demonstrating a vision of peace, cooperation, and harmony between all religions. It fits well into its narrative as a collection of cosmopolitan, high-technology city states. It’s the culmination of its regional ambitions, and probably signals its new hopes to escape the Earth and explore space.
In other words, there was nothing surprising about the UAE’s normalization of relations with Israel. The only question that remains is “Will it matter?” Even if every state in the world recognizes Israel, it is unlikely the Arab Muslim street will ever totally abandon the Palestinian cause. The UAE may be part of a diplomatic coup that will sustain its rising international status, but as long as Muslim populations themselves remain committed to the Palestinian cause it will not disappear. It remains to be seen whether the “Deal of the Century” can change that fact.
As for the UAE’s regional ambitions, it still remains a small state. The UAE has effectively used the diplomatic tools at its disposal to become a regional power in the Persian Gulf region. But there is little precedent in history for small states outliving large empires. Many have affectionally called the UAE “Little Sparta” in recognition of its power. But while Sparta may have overcome Athens during the Peloponnesian War, it could never match the power of Macedon. While the UAE’s recognition of Israel may be significant, it is still a small state in a world of some 450 million Arabs and 1.7 billion Muslims. Can it really hope to become the political leader of an entire region in the international system, let alone a civilization?
The new relationship between Israel and Bahrain
The issue of the new relationship between Israel and Bahrain, following the agreement already signed between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, is particularly interesting. It marks a realignment of the Sunni world with the Jewish State, clearly against Iran, and hence indirectly with the West.
Israel, however, does not always think strategically like its Western allies. This is positive.
The oil leverage between the Arab East and the Euro-American West is currently changing (although the EU has not yet realized it) given the rise of the U.S. oil power.
Nevertheless, there is a change also in what we could define as the military “protection level” between the Sunni Arab world and the Western defence system, between NATO and the U.S. or Atlantic Alliance specific agreements with Sunni Arab countries. Europe is obviously out of the game.
The primary aims pursued are the following: as to the Arabs, fully playing the Western card with regard to the Russian Federation and, in some ways, also to China; as to Westerners, the game No. 1 is to take back the Sunni world after the jihadist crisis and then to create a new market of crude oil prices just now that the U.S. shale oil is changing the whole price system. Ultimately, however, the United States wants to avoid Russia and China strategically “taking” the Sunni world.
The Sunni world knows it can never do without the West to seriously oppose Iran and its proxies. It also needs the U.S. and the EU technologies to make the “energy transition” from oil and gas to renewables. It finally needs weapons and technologies, but probably also direct military aid from the United States and NATO – and, in the future, also from the Jewish State.
Iran is an existential threat also to them. In the Middle East the areas of influence and contact between Iran and the Sunni world are such that they cannot be regulated by some kind of peace treaty. Yemen is a case in point. Every move in the Gulf is a zero-sum game.
Now, however, we need to take a step back. The “Abraham Accord” between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAEs) and then Bahrain is based on future “normal relations” between the Jewish State and the UAEs.
An agreement drafted in mid-August 2020, but long prepared by the Intelligence Services and subsequently by both parties’ diplomacies, and also by some European Intelligence Services.
These “normal relations” imply usual business relations, direct flights, tourism, scientific exchanges and full diplomatic recognition.
It is obvious, however, that the Emirates will not send an Ambassador to Jerusalem.
It is not envisaged in the agreements, but there is, however, a specific exchange of information between the Intelligence Services, as has long happened also between Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Again according to the Emirates -but the text is anyway clear in this regard – the Israeli-UAE agreement immediately stops any Israeli attempt of West Bank annexation, but it also envisages a renewal of the negotiations between the PNA and the Jewish State to “put an end to the conflict”.
Vaste programme, as De Gaulle would have said. The core of the issue is that now the Palestinians of the PNA – a badly conceived entity resulting from the end of the Cold War – are no longer of any use to anyone.
Neither to the Soviet Union, which does no longer exist and no longer needs cumulative training camps for European terrorists or possibly pressure systems for their Arab allies, nor to the European left (and to the EU, although it is not aware of it) that knew nothing about foreign policy, but only wanted Israel’s “reduction”. Least of all to China, which does notknow what to do with them, nor even to the jihadist galaxy, which has scarcely used the old Palestinian guerrilla network.
Currently the prominent role played by Hamas in the Gaza Strip and also in the West Bank – a movement deriving from the Muslim Brotherhood, which explicitly accepts the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” in its statutes and which, however, is notoriously now fully supported by Iran, with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad – is a role that is certainly not interesting for the Gulf Sunni countries.
Probably it is interesting only for Qatar and Turkey, which have much to do with the Brotherhood. Nevertheless, I do not think that Turkey and Qatar want to go all the way in this strategic game, with the risk of antagonizing Saudi Arabia and most of the Emirates.
However, no one wants to bear the high costs for managing the PNA any longer. They are strategically useless and most likely even dangerous.
Israel and the UAEs already tried to normalise their relations years ago. In 2015, the Jewish State opened a diplomatic office in Abu Dhabi, in relation to the International Renewable Energy Agency. Later there were sports meetings and Israel had also been envisaged as a guest in the 2020 World EXPO, now postponed to October 2021, unless otherwise decided due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The real sign that the agreement with the Emirates was very important for Israel was the decision taken by Netanyahu to postpone the annexation of the West Bank indefinitely.
The Palestinians immediately recalled their Ambassador to the Emirates.
Israel cares little about the PNA, the relic of a Cold War that no longer has strategic significance, except for the pro-Iranian role played by Hamas and by a part of Fatah, the old political group of Mahmoud Abbas. Israel is therefore interested only in the West Bank and, in full agreement with Egypt, in the anti-jihadist control of the Gaza Strip and Sinai.
Obviously, neither Saudi Arabia, nor the Emirates, nor Bahrain, nor other States in the Sunni area (even though Bahrain has a Shiite majority, but a Sunni ruling class), and even less Israel want to be associated with a corrupt and totally inefficient political class such as the PNA’s, which is now the glove within which the Iranian hand is extended – and Iran is the only power interested and willing to take the two political areas of the old PNA by the hand.
As mentioned above, the “Abraham Accord” has been accepted also by Bahrain and then by Jordan, which has an old peace treaty in place with Israel dating back to 1994, but burdened by the subsequent severe crisis of 2015-2016 with Israel, at the time of the annexation of East Jerusalem and hence of the Al-Aqsa Mosque (Al-Aqsa means “the farthest”, a reference to the distance of Islam’s third holiest shrine from Makkah and Madinah in Saudi Arabia).
The agreement has also been accepted by Egypt, which sees the jihadist tension in Sinai resolved, in perspective, with the Jewish State’s more direct and explicit collaboration. Finally, the “Abraham Accord” has been publicly praised by Oman, now that the new King,Hatham bin Tariq, wants to keep on modernizing the Kingdom of Oman and Muscat in the wake of the late Sultan Qaboos – whose Guards wore Scottish kilts and played bagpipes – and with greater strategic independence from the other Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
Who is against the Accord? Obviously Iran, which sees a strategic correlation between Israel and the Sunni world looming large, with the very severe closure of the Emirates’ area to Iran – an area where it could have played the card of influence operations against Saudi Arabia and the United States.
Also Qatar is against it. The country is also militarily tied to Turkey and it is the financial and political base of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is disliked by all the other Gulf Sunni States and, in some ways, is in a process of reconciliation even with the Iranian-Syrian and Lebanese Shiites.
Obviously also Turkey is against the agreement, not for the acceptance of the Jewish State in the framework of inter-Arab relations – a State with which Turkey has had diplomatic relations since 1949, although it has never recognised the UN Partition Plan from which the independence of the Jewish State itself originated.
Turkey has a cold attitude towards the “Abraham Accord” particularly because it will be isolated in the Emirates and in the Gulf area, since it is loosely tied to the Muslim Brotherhood, and has a project of Central Asian expansion that will not enable it to maintain the status quo currently favourable to it in the Gulf, nor – in perspective – the good relations with Qatar.
As stated above, Bahrain- and, if all goes well, it will be the turn of Sudan, Oman and Morocco – is accepting and, indeed, has already accepted the Abraham Accord.
Morocco has already had Jewish Ministers in its governments, and the private affairs secretary of King Hassan II was an Italian, from Ferrara, who had also been the only one to show solidarity with him when the young Giorgio Bassani was expelled from high school due to infamous “racial laws” of 1938.
King Hamad has already allowed Israeli leaders to participate – in the future – in a regional meeting on Gulf security, the Manama Security Dialogue 2020, scheduled in the capital of the Kingdom for December 4-6.
Netanyahu already met the late Sultan Qaboos of Oman in 2018.
Why does Bahrain officially recognize Israel under the “Abraham Accord”?
First and foremost because the Jewish State is a brilliant success story.
Because of its technology, its stability, its military strength, even its excellent intelligence, Israel allures many countries in the Arab world and in other world regions. Sultan bin Khalifa has always openly expressed his esteem for the Jewish State.
In 2018 Bahrain’s Foreign Minister twitted a message in favour of Israel in its war against the underground channels created by Hezbollah. Later he explicitly expressed his appreciation when he saw that also Australia had recognized East Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish State.
The Sultan of Bahrain has openly put strong pressure on the Gulf Security Council for it to designate Hezbollah as a “terrorist organization”.
Here we are not talking about traditional tensions between Sunnis and Shiites, but about a geopolitical and strategic choice: to make the Emirates and the whole Gulf a peaceful area, so as to start – as soon as possible – the energy and economic transition that will decide the future of the oil States in the region.
The war freezes positions. It is expensive and does not allow the great economic transition that all the Gulf ruling classes, with the sole exception of Iran, intend to begin as soon as possible.
Obviously Iran does not play its cards so much on oil as on natural gas, which is not envisaged by the OPEC system.
It should also be recalled that Bahrain also hosted the White House’s Peace to Prosperity Workshopin 2019. On that occasion as many as seven Israeli journalists were welcomed to the Kingdom.
It should also be noted that Bahrain is closely connected to Saudi Arabia with specific reference to the economy and the selection of the ruling class.
Bahrain has a majority of Shiite population, with a Sunni royal House and a Sunni ruling class. Hence, more than for other Gulf countries, Iran, which is in front of its shores, is an existential threat.
The link between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia is increasingly strong, especially after 2018, when the small coastal kingdom had to repress – often harshly – the “Arab Springs” which, indeed, had many connections with Iran.
The greatest mistake recently made by Westerners in the Middle East, the “Arab Spring”, after the Sykes-Picot Treaty, when France lost some of its power because the translator was Luis Massignon, with his very refined Arabic that the desert raiders did not understand, while the interpreter for Great Britain was Lawrence of Arabia, who was used to the Arab streets and plebs.
What about Palestine? On September 3 last, almost simultaneously with the announcement of the “Abraham Accord” by Donald J. Trump at the White House, a videoconference was held between the Lebanon and Palestine, with the participation of Abu Mazen and all the Palestinian factions. It should also be noted that the videoconference had been organised by both Fatah and Hamas- a unique rather than a rare case.
Ismail Haniyeh, the Chief of Hamas Political Bureau, was in Beirut, together with Ziad Nadalia, the Secretary General of Islamic Jihad, and all the leaders of the factions that are not allowed to operate within the Palestinian National Authority’s territories.
Mohammed Barakeh, former member of the Israeli Parliament, was in Ramallah.
For everyone, the strategic key to interpreting the “Abraham Accord” was the breaking of the Arab Peace Initiative, the Saudi Arabian initiative of 2002, then reaffirmed in 2007 and again in 2017 by all Arab League Summits.
This “initiative” concerns, in nuce, Israel’s withdrawal from all occupied territories, as well as a “just settlement” for Palestinian refugees on the basis of UN Resolution No.194, and the establishment of a Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital.
What were the videoconference results? The clear and obvious perception of the isolation of the PNA, which no one now wants to maintain at full cost any longer, considering that it is a “strategic relic” of the past; the agreement between Hamas and Fatah, a unique rather than a rare case; the inevitable opening of the PNA’s territories to the declared enemies of the Abraham Accord, i.e. Qatar, which will try to reach a strategic and military correlation between Libya-Tripoli and the Gaza Strip, as well as for the West Bank and then Turkey, with its Muslim Brothers, who are those who founded Hamas. But above all it will be a deal for Iran, which already supports the Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian factions, obviously against Israel and waiting for Hezbollah to make again operations beyond the Litani River.
Hence “people’s struggle”, in the PLO and PNA jargon, but there is no reference to “armed struggle” in the final document of the videoconference, as well as the request for a Palestinian State within the 1967 borders, and then the evident verification of the declining consensus for the Palestinian cause among the Sunni Arab States of the Gulf, from which a further restriction of economic aid to the PNA will result.
Nevertheless, the real danger, which should regard also Israel, is the PNA’s full implosion, which could cause global military, migration and economic phenomena.
What about the Russian Federation? It must go back being essential in the Middle East. The “Abraham Accord” brokered and mediated by the United States and by some European intelligence services can put an end to the comparative and strategic advantage of Russia’s victory in Syria and the very careful management of military and intelligence relations with Israel.
Not to mention the refined Russian containment of the Iranian pressure in Syria – one of the real goals of the Russian presence in Bashar el Assad’s republic.
What cards could Russia play in the new Middle East that is currently being defined? Many cards.
As early as 2018, Russia has started to meet the Islamic Jihad again, while Abu Mazen also met Russian leaders in 2019 to create a new “format” of peace between Israel and the PNA mediated by the Russian Federation alone.
Then there is the Lebanese card – Russia’s presence is increasingly visible in the Lebanon due to an obvious spillover from Syria.
Hence Russia’s number one game in the new Middle East is to maintain close relations with all the regional, State and non-State actors, so as to get to be the only supreme arbiter (also towards Israel) of the future and now inevitable Middle East peace.
What about China? It does not view the Abraham Accord favourably, considering that for China it is tantamount to an actual withdrawal from the Middle East by the United States – and therefore an increase in the costs for the strategic control of the region – but also to the return of many important Sunni countries within a U.S. economic orbit, just when China was seducing Saudi Arabia and the Emirates.
The “Abraham Accord” closes the Gulf’s doors to many countries that wanted to enter the region.
China, however, will put on a good face and make the best of a bad situation, by supporting an actual friendly country, Israel, and maintaining the usual excellent relations with the Sunni world, in the hope of soon replacing the United States as the political-military reference point for the region.
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