Earlier this month Israel and the United Arab Emirates announced they will normalize diplomatic ties and build a new bilateral relationship, a breakthrough which has the potential to recast the balance of power in the Middle East.
Israel agreed to suspend annexing territory in the occupied West Bank under this Trump administration-brokered, historic agreement. Now, delegations from Israel and the UAE will negotiate on issues from investment, tourism and security to telecommunications and the opening of embassies.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demonstrated Israel could build diplomatic, trade and security relationships with a powerful and influential gulf Arab state without first settling the Palestinian conflict. Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed — popularly known as MBZ — enhanced the UAE’s influence, positioning it as a key player, if not an arbiter, in future peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. The agreement should also open the way for congressional approval for the UAE to buy advanced U.S. military equipment.
Dialing the UAE into Israel’s economy — especially its highly developed technology sector — is a key element of the deal, but even more important will be the impact on the region’s deep and growing opposition to Iran, which the U.S., Israel, and the UAE all assess to be the greatest threat to Middle East stability.
Suffering from the horrific impact of COVID-19 and with its economy in freefall since the Trump administration re-imposed sanctions after withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal in 2018, Iran is in desperate economic straits.
Tehran rejected President Trump’s offer to negotiate lifting the sanctions in return for a new agreement which would address the 2015 deal’s failings and cover Iran’s state support of terrorism and its ballistic missile program. In an effort to influence other participants and induce the U.S. to return to negotiations, Iran began escalating attacks on the U.S. and its allies last summer, attacking oil tankers in the Gulf; seizing the Stena Impero oil tanker; shooting down a U.S. drone; and launching a missile attack against Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure.
In July 2019, Iran began exceeding the limit on its stockpile of low enriched uranium set under the 2015, arguing the U.S. was to blame for first violating the accord. Iran has also nearly tripled its stockpile of enriched uranium since November 2019, also in violation of the deal, according to the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran’s current stockpile brings it dangerously close to the amount needed to quickly produce a nuclear weapon.
Iran has continued its support for Syrian President Bashar Assad’s ruthless regime, which is guilty of crimes against humanity, as well as for proxy militants and terrorist organizations in Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon. In Iraq, militias such as Kataib Hezbollah and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq operate outside the Baghdad government’s control and are in effect a tool Iran’s projection of power at the expense of Iraqi national interests. The militias have launched ruthless sectarian attacks after liberating formerly Islamic State-held territories — which only created the conditions for ISIS to regenerate.
Israel and the UAE share grave concerns about Iran’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, its support of terror groups, and its backing for militants involved in regional proxy wars. Their shared interest in countering Iranian extremism united them in an extraordinarily bold diplomatic breakthrough.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has rejected the UAE-Israeli rapprochement, as has the Palestinian fundamentalist militant organization Hamas, even though the UAE emphasized it would continue to support the Palestinian people and a two-state solution. Mr. Abbas would do well to recognize that deterring Iran is the highest priority for Gulf states, who are naturally reluctant to give the Palestinians a veto over their national security policies.
The Trump administration deserves kudos for a diplomatic triumph while putting another arrow in its “maximum pressure” quiver against Iran. Serving as honest broker, Secretary Pompeo’s State Department enabled key diplomatic contacts between Israel and the UAE, during the February U.S.-led conference in Poland on Iran and, reportedly, during a June 2019 UAE-Israel secret meeting in Washington.
With its nuclear and military brinkmanship having failed to deliver economic growth to its own people, Iran is now relying increasingly on China, with whom it is negotiating comprehensive trade and military agreements, as well as Russia.
If Israel can strike UAE-like deals with countries such as Sudan, Bahrain and Oman, that would only increase the momentum for an effectual alliance against Iran, an alliance which would complement U.S. strategy to counter Chinese and Russian influence in the Middle East and beyond.
• Daniel N. Hoffman is a retired clandestine services officer and former chief of station with the Central Intelligence Agency. His combined 30 years of government service included high-level overseas and domestic positions at the CIA. He has been a Fox News contributor since May 2018. Follow him on Twitter @DanielHoffmanDC.
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