Foreign Affairs Foreign Affairs

On September 15, 2020, representatives of the United States, the United Arab Emirates (“U.A.E.”), Israel, and Bahrain signed the Abraham Accord at the White House in Washington.  Named in honor of the three Abrahamic religions with roots in the Middle East: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the accord signals the normalization of relations between Israel and the two Arab Gulf states.     

The U.A.E. is a wealthy, oil and gas rich nation attempting to diversify her economy, as well as an American ally.  Dubai is the gleaming commercial hub of the U.A.E.  Located on the strategic Straits of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, the Sunni Emirates are, like her larger Sunni neighbor Saudi Arabia, traditionally at odds with Shiite Iran.  Bahrain is a small island nation in the Persian Gulf connected to Saudi Arabia by bridge, and home to an important U.S. Naval headquarters. 

The last two Arab countries to make formal peace with Israel were Egypt (1979) and Jordan (1994).  Israel will exchange ambassadors with the U.A.E. and Bahrain.  President Donald Trump said more countries would follow suit and establish full relations with Israel.  It was long thought that resolving the Israeli/Palestinian rift would be the prerequisite to Arab recognition or friendship with Israel.  The signing of the Abraham Accord gives concrete evidence of the shift in Middle East politics disproving the prior assumption.   

The shift began during President Barrack Obama’s tenure in the White House, when the United States attempted to begin a détente with Iran and concluded with the controversial Iranian nuclear deal or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in 2015.  Sunni Arab states threatened by Iran’s muscular policies and fearful of American disinterest reevaluated their attitudes towards Israel, a longtime foe of Iran.  The Palestinian issue was not left out of the Abraham Accords entirely – Dr. Gargash, the U.A.E. Foreign Minister, hailed Israel’s agreement to stop annexations in the West Bank as a significant achievement.   

The U.A.E. also hopes to obtain F-35 jet fighters from the United States.  Israel opposes such a move as it would degrade her qualitative military advantage compared to the Arab states, which the United States has pledged to uphold.  Israel is an F-35 operator.  If the U.A.E obtains F-35 fighters, it may signal a realization by Israel that it is preferable to have well-armed friends close to Iran.   

There is bipartisan agreement that fewer U.S. troops should be in combat zones in Afghanistan and Iraq.  An anti-Iranian coalition in the Middle East including Israel and various Sunni Arab states, all aligned with the United States, could allow Washington to take a lighter footprint in the region without abandoning allies to Iranian hegemony.      

The European Union signaled support for the peace deal.  The text of the friendship accord and peace treaty is available here and here

By Chris Crawford.  The author’s views are his own and not those of the Department of Defense, United States Navy, or any other entity.  The appearance of any external hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement by the Department of Defense to any linked website, product, or service.

Photo:  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).