In an interview in the Israeli media last weekend, it was Tony Blair who revealed that back in 2015 he first introduced Prime Minister Netanyahu’s trusted consigliere Yitzhak Molcho to an Emirati cabinet minister in London.
The meeting went well and that gradually led to further engagement. By the end of 2016, the same Emirati minister met with Netanyahu. With trust being built, Netanyahu was introduced to Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed (MBZ) and their conversations became more frequent. In 2018, Netanyahu visited Abu Dhabi twice, on an Israeli flight that crossed Saudi airspace. According to Blair, MBZ showed “exceptional political and leadership talent,” (Blair also described Netanyahu as a “remarkable politician”). The covert alliance was built on the convergence of shared threats, primarily Iran’s nuclear programme and regional aggression, but also Sunni Islamists. Netanyahu and MBZ also share a passion for science and technological innovation. The new allies will now harness synergies across a range of sectors.
In parallel to the cultivation of a long term relationship spearheaded by the Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, the Trump team successfully cajoled the relationship out of the shadows. Jared Kushner who many mocked as being ill suited and out of his depth in top level diplomacy, showed tenacity, but the real sweetener for the UAE was the US commitment to supply F-35 fighter jets. For Trump, this is perhaps his only foreign policy success, the ceremony provided favourable optics amid his re-election campaign. Though ironically, another shared Israeli- UAE assessment is the perceived US disengagement from the region, making reliable regional alliances a safer long term bet. For Netanyahu, facing so much domestic pressure, this is the legacy achievement he dreamed of, while at the same time, neutering political rivals and exposing the Palestinian veto as a busted flush.
Most encouraging is the desire of the Emirati public to welcome the Accords and openly engage with Israelis. The framing of the Abraham Accords, peace among the monotheistic faiths, should be celebrated. Now we look forward to the welcoming more Arab states across the threshold – wishing us all a healthy and peaceful New Year!