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Khalifa Haftar’s latest declarations

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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On April 27, General Khalifa Haftar, the military and political leader of Cyrenaica and especially of the Libyan National Army (LNA) announced that he “accepted the popular mandate to deal with the country’s issues, despite the burden of responsibilities and obligations, as well as the vast extent of responsibilities that lie on the shoulders of the Army”. He said so in a television speech on the evening of April 27, besides other statements on military tensions.

 The General of Cyrenaica also added that the Army commanders would “be available to the people and work to the best of their abilities to alleviate the suffering of the people”. Gaddafi-style tones were used by a political-military leader who, as early as 2016, had his Cyrenaica’s banknotes printed in Russia with the Sirte Colonel’s profile.

We should not be ironic about these matters. The Libyan national sentiment, forged by the anti-colonialist struggle against the Italians at first and the Brits later, is by no means secondary to the widespread sentiment of loyalty to one’s own tribe.

Since 2016 Russia has already spent at least 10 billion dinars in Libya for aid to the population and, directly, to Khalifa Haftar’s Forces.

Furthermore, all the Libyan coastal areas from which migrants leave belong to the Forces linked in some way to the leader of Tripolitania, al-Sarraj. The same holds true for the detention centres.

Without this money flow the Misrata Forces, led by Zahwia and linked to the Warshafana tribe, would have no certainties in the distribution of salaries and payments for weapons and supplies.

 In al-Sarraj’s Tripolitania the cycle of central-periphery funding is often uncertain.

On this Tripoli’s coast there is also Sebha, as well as Surman, used as migrant detention areas and military support to Tripoli, not to mention even Tripoli’s internal security militias, as well as the Nawasi and Tajouri, and the RADA forces that are Salafists linked to Abdel Raouf Kara and are now permanently deployed in the airport of Mitiga. Finally, there is still the Tripoli Revolutionary Brigade, led by Tajouri, that controls all the branches of banks in Tripoli.

 The Nawasi own all the branches of the Libyana company, which deals with post and telecommunications- and we can imagine with what level of security. Here there is the issue of the clash – not yet ended – for gaining control of the currency black market between the Nawasi and the Ghazewy Brigade that still controls the old city.

In May 2017 the Nawasi Brigade also attacked the Foreign Ministry, whose Minister, Mohammed Taher al Sayala, had even been accused of having “covert” relations with Haftar, probably because of his frequent meetings with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov.

In August 2017, the Nawasi brigade – as rich as and often even more than the government of Tripoli – also attacked the Coast Guard’s Head of security. Currently, however, nothing has changed.

 The Tripoli polyarchy – while the Benghazi group shows greater unity – is the main enemy of its own stay in power.

This is the Libya that currently Italy has totally abandoned to its own devices, believing that the fate of Tripoli’s and Cyrenaica’s coasts is not interesting for it. Obviously except for paying lip service to the U.N., the E.U., as well as the Kantian Perpetual Peace and some other universalist nonsense carefully devoid of any idea of national interest.

A fatal mistake for which we will pay a terrible price, not only for the future arrival of a huge number of migrants in the midst of a very harsh economic and financial coronavirus crisis.

 Shortly before Haftar’s TV message on April 27, some members of the Benghazi Parliament issued press releases in which they stated they entrusted the country’s leadership to Khalifa Haftar.

 Internal rebalancing that hides Haftar’s residual ability to control his political team and supporters better than al-Sarraj.

 Without external support, however, neither side, i.e. Tripoli’s GNA and Cyrenaica’s LNA, have the possibility of going on the offensive – hence a stable and effective war of movement.

 In my opinion everything began in early April 2019, when Haftar announced his plan to take Tripoli and even to free – as he said – al-Sarraj’s government itself from the grip of the Islamists, who held the region and the local politicians on a string.

Haftar’s plan was a real lightning war, with Tripoli quickly encircled and commando groups that would later enter the city, with a view to eliminating the pockets of resistance of al-Sarraj’s GNA and its “brigades”, well-known for their scarce political and military reliability and often autonomous forms of financing.

 For Haftar that was a way of forcing also the countries that supported all the various warring parties – which currently prefer to side with al-Sarraj in negotiations – to sit at the table with him who was finally the dealer giving the cards.

 But the blackmail of the LNA leader was even simpler: either you pay heed to me or I put the great migration routes back in action and close the oil supplies.

.Most of the weapons related to Haftar’s LNA are still those in the stores of Gaddafi’s old Libyan army that was not bad at all logistically.

 The logistical support and the military upgrade are still prerogative of the Emirates and Egypt, while a large part of liquidity is provided by Saudi Arabia and France has supremacy in the field of intelligence. Russia has a friendly wait-and-see attitude, with indirect support of mercenaries and weapons, to avoid frictions with Turkey, al-Sarraj’s primary partner, and to avoid an entanglement in the Maghreb region which, according to the Russian equation, would have been an excessive investment liable to weaken Russia’s operations in other regions it still considers of primary interest.

However, significant support has been lent to Haftar by the above mentioned Russian mercenaries of Wagner, who currently amount to 2,400 units approximately. Wagner is a subsidiary of Evgeny Prigozhin, a businessman very close to Vladimir Putin.

Wagner’s Russians have their base at Al-Jufra, in the fully safe area for Haftar, but they also directly command the LNA Brigade No. 106, the best elite unit of Haftar’s army.

 The Tobruk Brigades that are part of Cyrenaica’s LNA are the following, for a total number of 25.000 soldiers: the 9thBrigade of Tarhouna, the city that was also the birthplace of a recent director of the Italian intelligence service AISE; the Zintan Forces, led by Idris Mathi and Mukhtar Fernana; the militants of the Bani Walid tribe; the al-Wadi Battalion of Sabratah; the Anti-Crime Force of Zawiyah; the 12th Brigade of Brak-al-Shati, 7 Battalions and two Brigades, and finally the 106th Brigade of Benghazi, the Special Forces, four additional line brigades.

At tactical level, despite the Wagner strong support, currently the war against Haftar’s Tripoli has stopped in the Tripoli Southern districts.

 In this case, it is said that some European intelligence services, especially from Southern Europe, have provided strong support to al-Sarraj in view of blocking the LNA’s initiative and prepare, in time, the best groups currently supporting Tripoli’s government.

 Last June, however, two specific new situations changed the tactical equation in favour of al-Sarraj.

 The first was the long chain of logistical links between the front lines and Haftar’s Commands, which was slowly breaking down and making the links between the various LNA forces on the ground and between them and the central Command increasingly difficult.

Moreover, precisely for the above stated reasons, the offensive positions south of Tripoli shifted slowly from Haftar’s forces–which were also subject to slow disintegration, as always happened in those areas – to al-Sarraj’s best units, where the penetration of Haftar’s LNA agents, probably for specifically financial reasons, was not successful. Thatwas an eminently political factor

 Haftar, however, had planned to stay around Tripoli only a few days, or two weeks at the most. On the contrary, the situation reached a stalemate that greatly favoured the forces linked to al-Sarraj.

 It was precisely Ghayan, the starting point of Haftar’s attack, which was conquered, a few days after the LNA’s attack, by al-Sarraj’s best forces, “well directed” by some European Intelligence Services – as we would say about the first four Caliphs after the Prophet.

After over four months of stalemate, al-Sarraj trapped Haftar’s first lines that, at the time had either escaped or were without food and ammunition.

 Another immediate change of scenario: after a network of support to Haftar’s LNA lines, above all by the French Intelligence Services and the Russian Wagner group, the attack potential of Cyrenaica’s LNA changed. It reached Tripoli and was encircled, above all, by the Zintan Forces, immediately south-west of Tripoli.

 However, the new supply and command lines – rapidly rebuilt by Russia and France – meant that Haftar could again bomb the headquarters of the Tripoli military academy in Hadhba in early 2020, precisely on January 5, with a toll of 30 dead and about 500 wounded people.

 Immediately afterwards, the real partners of the two Libyan warring groups, in Tripoli and Benghazi, namely Russia and Turkey, pushed – with the methods we can imagine – their representatives on the ground into a truce, at least temporary, but capable of making the two countries put forward a new independent and autonomous Libyan project, right at the beginning of the Berlin Conference, planned and then held as from January 19 of that year onwards.

 The results are now well known.

Just free words and unfiltered thoughts, but we had already talked about it at the time.Later a clear and inevitable stalemate between Tripolitania and Cyrenaica was reached, and it would not even be difficult to imagine why, given the typically Western idea – that currently everyone must necessarily follow, without even wondering why – of the Perpetual Peace projects that would have made even Kant, a careful reader of Machiavelli, smile.

 France and Great Britain broke Gaddafi’s treasure box to avoid the Colonel’s often “salvific”financial support for Italy, precisely in the phase in which the Euro was being designed as a model of “austerity”, i.e. a stable stop to Italy’s development in favour of others.

 ENI was obviously the primary object of desire and the Maghreb region’s closure to the presence of a non-homogeneous partner, such as Italy, not in line with the British and French oil interests did the rest.

In 2011, at the time of the great financial spread in Italy, Great Britain punished the Colonel who, upon direct choice of the Italian Intelligence Services, staged the coup against King Idriss, a British-made King as no one ever before, while the Cyrenaica King who boasted of “never having visited Tripoli” was “undergoing hydrotherapy treatments” in Turkey.

Gaddafi’s was punished because he sent the Brits away, also successfully seizing their bank accounts, and immediately opened the way to the Italians of ENI.

The ENI team had played some role in the coup staged by the pro-Nasserian “free officers” supported by the Italian Intelligence Service SID.

Later they warned, twice, of British targeted insurgencies, attacks and attempted assassinations against the “Colonel”.

 A third time Gaddafi was put on alert by the Italian Intelligence Services in relation to a U.S. attack against the Colonel’s usual tent inside his base of residence.

 There was enough to be severely punished. In the intelligence world nothing is forgotten, and the day of reckoning comes sooner or later.

France, however, still wants ENI or in any case a hegemonic Libyan areafor its reference oil company, Total.

 Since early this year, however, Haftar has been controlling almost all the oil wells, such as Sarara and Al Fil, as well as the entire Sirte area and the coastal terminals to transport this oil.

 The oil issue by which Haftar sets great store started in 2016, when the U.N. Security Council extended a motion enabling only the Tripoli government to manage exports through NOC, the Libyan State-owned oil company.

As we will see later on, this is the real and strong link between France and Khalifa Haftar’s LNA.

As already said, no result was reached at the Berlin Conference, but a factor materialized that was to clarify the future strategies of the two Libyan partners. Al-Sarraj’s GNA was then strongly and explicitly supported by Turkey, which wanted to play a role of Mediterranean – and later global – protection and expansion of the Muslim Brotherhood networks – hence above all of the Tripoli government – while Russia certified its lateral role, but always well connected with Haftar, for indirect oil interests and, above all, for reaching the strategic goal of a military base on Cyrenaica’s coast, a real game changer in the relations between the Russian Federation and NATO.

 Both al-Serraj and Haftar, however, share only one assessment: the structural inefficiency of the U.N. mandate for the region and the irrelevant role played by Ghassan Salamè as U.N. Envoy.

Nevertheless, one of the current factors underlying the radicalization of the conflict between Tripoli and Cyrenaica lies also in the current Covid-19 pandemic.

 Haftar heavily bombed Tripoli, hoping to make military use of the efforts that, however, al-Sarraj is making to curb the contagion.

 The civilian population has thus become a primary war target.

 As many as 2.4 million people were left without drinking water in Tripoli because, on April 10 last, Haftar’ Sherif Brigade cut off water supplies.

 The Turkish support, with drones and advanced weapons, is still very important for the GNA in Tripoli.

 The first target of Tripoli’s forces was the air base of Al Watiya, the area enabling to hit the capital of al-Sarraj’s government with the drones supplied by Saudi Arabia.

 The Benghazi LNA militias responded with an offensive along the coast, which enabled Haftar’s GNA to secure the city of Zuwara until the conquest of Ras Jedir, a position on the border with Tunisia.

 To the east of the coast, the two Libyan governments are still fighting for taking control of Abugrein, from which supplies leave for Misrata, which is the real military cover both for al-Sarraj’s government and for the city of Tripoli.

 The third bone of contention in the current clash is the city of Sirte.

 Cleared from the Islamic State, above all by the Misrata forces, linked to the GNA, Sirte is currently in Haftar’s hands after a jihadist Salafist unit defected to the Benghazi LNA.

 Al-Sarraj arrived also at Sabratha and Sormanto control the line from the Tunisian border to Misrata, i.e. the key to Tripoli.

Hence currently the battle is mainly in the area of Tarhouna, Haftar’s most important base towards Tripolitania. Tarhouna is controlled by the 7th Brigade, an elite brigade of the Benghazi LNA led by the Al Khani brothers.

It is said, however, that Tripoli’s forces – strongly supported by the Turkish militias – are about to enter that city, which is crucial to hit and control coastal Tripolitania.

 The Turkish drones are essential to provide cover and information to the GNA forces towards Tarhouna that, if lost by Haftar, would no longer allow the supply chain from Benghazi to West Tripoli, and would therefore permanently block Khalifa Haftar’s LNA at the borders of Tripolitania.

 After conquering Tarhouna, Tripoli’s GNA is expected to head for Al Jufra, the key city for the cross-control of Fezzan, Tripolitania and Cyrenaica.

As everybody knows, the Libyan war is a proxy war, which only the Westerners’ strategic carelessness does not allow to solve in a rational way.

This rational way would finally be to determine the birth of a Libyan Federal State, with areas controlled by local players in stable coordination with their international contacts and counterparts.

 By now the possibility of a new unitary State in Libya, like Gaddafi’s, is increasingly remote.

We all know it is a bad thing, but now the “Arab Spring” disaster has taken place also in Libya, and above all against Italy, and it is no use crying over spilt milk.

Milk that we, too, spilt, obtorto collo and probably, without being fully aware of what the loss of Libya meant for Italy.

It should be recalled that al-Sarraj still has the U.N. support, as well as that of Great Britain, responsible for the regime change against Colonel Gaddafi, immediately after France. He also has the less decisive Italian support, as well as the support of Tripoli’s real backers, namely Qatar and Turkey.

But why does Turkey support al-Sarraj?

 Firstly, because the government in Tripoli is supported by the United Nations, i.e. an international legal space that is vital to protect Turkey in its operations in Central Asia and the Mediterranean.

Secondly because this loyalty to the United Nations envisages a legalistic role for Turkey, like “we side with the lawful and legitimate State, while others support an illegal warlord”.

 Then there is a much more substantial issue, i.e. the agreement between Turkey and Libya on the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) between the two countries, which enables Turkey to balance its weight between the East and the West of the Mediterranean. Finally,Turkey does not want another refugee crisis, even in the Maghreb region, which could spill over onto its shores, considering that Turkey is already the Mediterranean-Asian country with the highest concentration of refugees.

With the future control of its oil and gas exploration EEZ off the coast of Tripoli, Turkey is building its absolute role as the sole mediator between the Middle East oil and gas and its European and Western consumers.

This Turkish strategy is directly against Greek and above all Italian interests, but this is probably not even known to the Italian government, which now believes that foreign policy is always a version of Lenin’s “gala dinner”.

 On Haftar’s side, albeit in various degrees, there are still the following countries: France, which is still the axis of LNA’s intelligence; clearly the Russian Federation, as we have already seen; Egypt, which does not want in any way an “infection” and a contagion of the Muslim Brotherhood from al-Sarraj’s Libya through Tunisia, which is now also a Turkish platform, up to its borders, given that it was Al Sisi who staged a coup against the Muslim Brotherhood in power in Egypt.

Again on the side of Haftar, there is Saudi Arabia, the rich supplier of capital and weapons, and finally the Emirates.

It is good to note that on one Libyan side there is Qatar, while the Emirates are on the other side.

 Qatar is the world’s largest producer of natural gas, while the other Emirates extract oil, and the two markets are different and often opposed.

The core of the issue is that France supports Haftar because it believes that he is the only credible military force to control the passage of soldiers and weapons into the Sahel, where since 2014 France has been maintaining its Operation Barkhane.

 Obviously the fact that a man linked to France holds most of the Libyan oil fields enables it to take the lion’s share in Total, especially against ENI interests.

 But Russia, too, has significant oil interests, with Tatneft and Gazprom operating in Libya since Gaddafi’s time.

Russia, however, also intervened directly in favour of the Chad troops operating in the Sahel that are clearly opposing those of Haftar’s GNA that Russia supports in Libya.

Hence, considering that the possible lines of connection between Benghazi and the area of clashes with Tripoli’s GNA are now in the hands of the Turkish militiamen and of some other GNA’s “militias”, in this phase the only rational choice for Haftar and his points of reference could be that of creating a large political-media operation in view of achieving – with the maximum political and military clout – an international negotiation ensuring a decisive role to the LNA in the future partition of Libya and, above all, a further strong and credible role in the sharing out of oil revenues.

 But what does Haftar really want? First and foremost, the General of Cyrenaica wants to maintain the unity of Libya which, despite many “federalist” and non-historical speeches by Western analysts, is a widespread feeling among the population.

Furthermore, the Algerian and Egyptian support to the LNA is still decisive, but it is also essential for the two States.

 Without Haftar’s backing, the feeble balance between the “sword jihad”, Islamic radicalism – not yet violent – traditional secularism, border and internal security, in Algeria and Egypt, would be completely undermined.

 A role that neither al-Sarraj nor the protectors of Tripolitania can take up on their own or credibly guarantee in Algeria and Egypt.

 Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, apart from Qatar, do not even want to hear about the Muslim Brotherhood, that is decisive in al-Sarraj’s government, but strongly present also in Benghazi, for old reasons of internal stability, but they do not want, above all, the oil and political crisis of the second largest oil producer in Africa.

 The mediation between Russia and Haftar is still in the hands of the Algerian Intelligence Services. The Russian arms pass through Algiers and are then assigned to Haftar.

 Moreover, Russia has no interest in letting Haftar alone definitively win since it does not entirely trust him. It supports Benghazi’s LNA to have a preferential accessto the Libyan oil resources, as well as for the already mentioned future possibility of building a large base in the Mediterranean.

Russia also wants a real and definitive negotiation between Benghazi and Tripoli, but largely managed by Russia alone, above all pending the great post-war contracts (such as the Benghazi-Sirte railway, which is worth 2 billion US dollars). Russia’s interests in Libya, however, are mainly focused on a rapid de-escalation of the conflict – an operation directly connected to the strategic agreement between Turkey and Russia, which is of primary importance for Syria and Turkish Stream compared to the other peripheral scenarios. These scenarios also include the Libyan ones in which Russia has entered only because the Western naivety has enabled it to do so. Certainly, Bashar el Assad backs Haftar also materially, while strange rumours are rife of non-occasional relations between Iran and Cyrenaica’s LNA.

 The best idea would be, therefore, that of “sanitizing” the Libyan issue, putting the new players outside the European area out of play, as well as allowing an agreement between the EU, the United States and Russia to end the war operations in Libya and creating Zones of Regional Interest inside the old Gaddafi’s area, thus turning the war economy of the countless gangs -that is self-sustaining and allows the arrival of all the external players who want to do so – into the economy of reconstruction, possibly managed by the same gangs that are currently fighting one another.

 As said above, it is federal plan but within a national Libyan framework, establishing the traditional identity of the Libyan people and allowing the country’s transition from a war economy to the great reconstruction.

 Moreover, on January 20 last, Italy and Great Britain submitted a joint declaration condemning the closure of the oil wells in south-east Libya, ordered by Khalifa Haftar himself.

 France obviously blocked it within the EU. There was also a basic U.S. consensus on this declaration, which came after an explicit and direct request from the Tripoli government.

The underlying idea was to condemn the fact that “NOC (the Libyan State-owned company) was forced to suspend operations in critical installations throughout Libya” and hence urge the immediate reopening of all facilities.

 France, however, asked that the two countries present with their diplomacy in Libya, namely Cyprus and Greece, joined the operation. This means that while Turkey takes Tripoli and a minimal part of the Eastern Mediterranean area, France acquires two reference countries in the region, namely Greece and Cyprus.

 And probably also the old Lebanon, now undergoing a financial crisis and sufficiently far away from Saudi Arabia.

 On the other side, the Turkish jihadist and pro-Turkish militiamen gathered in Idlib, Syria, by the Turkish MIT, are already fighting for Tripoli, with 2,000 dollars a month on average, as well as 50,000U.S. dollars going to families in case of death and 35,000dollars in case of severe disability.

Turkey has also announced the sending of a ship for oil prospections off the Somali coast. The Libyan circle widens and this creates ongoing and uncontrollable instability.

Troubles for the Emirates or nuisance operations for the United States and China off Aden.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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Middle East

Israel and its Image After the 1967 War

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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.

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UAE and Israel: Nothing to See Here

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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?

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The new relationship between Israel and Bahrain

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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President Donald J. Trump, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bahrain Dr. Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister of Foreign Affairs for the United Arab Emirates Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyanisigns sign the Abraham Accords Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, on the South Lawn of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian)

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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