Last week, the UAE Ambassador to Israel, Mohamed Al Khama, along with Israeli President Isaac Herzog, jointly started trading at the Israeli stock exchange.
Couple this with the Gulf country’s opening of its embassy in Tel Aviv and it has been a week rich with symbolism in Israel-Arab relations. Where Israel was once the outlier, maligned by neighbours on all sides, it is now building newfound Gulf friendships, which act as a counter to the destabilising forces of Islamism.
The UAE and Israel recognise that what unites them considerably outweighs whatever may divide them. The funding of Islamist and extremist groups by actors such as Iran, whilst preaching an increasingly anti-Western rhetoric, pose the region’s greatest threat to stability. It is this, as much as anything else, that has drawn Israel and their newfound Gulf allies close together.
It is this behaviour that is why those states propagating Islamist ideology are increasingly ‘outlier’ states, side-lined by others in the region in a manner reminiscent of Israel’s once solitary position. This increasing isolation, which in the medium-term will harm their power and influence, was crudely and somewhat amusingly personified in an outage in the Iranian clock counting down the years until Israel’s destruction.
The Gulf and Israel’s long-standing Western allies should be doing everything they can to facilitate this budding partnership, still very much in its infancy. Whatever noises America and others may be making about reconciliation with Tehran, a bulwark against the Islamism and extremism aided and abetted by rogue regimes is increasingly necessary.
In the case of the former, this is highlighted by the elevation of hardliner Ebrahim Raisi to the Presidency. In the case of the latter, America will need to rely on new, more trusted regional partners and refresh the focus of its security policy priorities, particularly in a post-Iraq and Afghanistan conflict world. President Biden has surely realised by now that the U.S.’ need for dependable security partners in the region is better served by building the partnership between Israel and the Gulf into an independent, viable and sustainable alliance.
Israeli-Gulf cooperation has shown itself to run deeper than pure security issues, with the myriad of partnership announcements emanating from Tel Aviv, Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Tackling climate change, growing trade and sharing pandemic-related innovation and technology are just some examples of how this fledgling relationship is growing. The Israelis and Emirati’s cooperation will eventually draw in key countries such as Saudi Arabia. As I have always said, it is a matter of time before the Saudis recognise the state of Israel, further stabilising the region and developing networks and ties that positions these states as an economic powerhouse that will shape the Middle East’s future direction.
As this new future takes shape, it will leave Iran and their acolytes increasingly marginalised at the edges of Middle Eastern affairs. The popular backlash against their influence is already evident in places such as Lebanon, where soaring fuel shortages and prices as well as a lack of electricity have led many to start openly challenging the likes of Hizbollah. Iraq, Yemen and Libya provide other examples of regional hotspots where Islamist influence is increasingly unwelcome.
The Abraham Accords, aside from the powerful symbolism of Jewish-Arab reconciliation, show that an alternative for building influence over Middle East affairs is possible. Rather than through the deployment of militias and funding of extremists, diplomacy and commerce are the building blocks of an alliance of nations that can provide the basis for an increasingly stable and prosperous Middle East.