Peace deals reflect the big picture in the region

Few are the Arab rulers who have what it takes to recognise and seize the right moment to take a crucial step that serves the interests of their countries and peoples in the short and long terms.
Monday 28/09/2020
(L-R)Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump, Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani, and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan at the White House after they participated in the signing of the Abraham Accords, in September 15. (AFP)
(L-R)Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump, Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani, and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan at the White House after they participated in the signing of the Abraham Accord

So, how should we look at the peace agreements that the United Arab Emirates and the Kingdom of Bahrain signed with Israel under American auspices, at a time when much meaningless talk is coming from bidders who do not want to understand that each country in the region has its own circumstances and ways of defending its interests?

We must first admit that Sheikh Muhammad bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, and King of Bahrain Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa have the required courage and leadership qualities to make difficult decisions in such complex circumstances engulfing the region and the world.

Few are the Arab rulers who have what it takes to recognise and seize the right moment to take a crucial step that serves the interests of their countries and peoples in the short and long terms. If King Hussein, may God have mercy on him, had not taken the decision to sign a peace agreement with Israel in October 1994, Jordan’s fate today would have been in jeopardy. King Hussein chose the appropriate moment to do that after the Palestinians accepted the Oslo Accords. At that moment, the wise monarch considered that it was about time for the Hashemite Kingdom to draw its final borders and take all of its rights to land and water. The late Jordanian monarch really did not care about the useless political auctions and bidders that followed Jordan’s step, nor about the slogans raised to harm Jordan.

What needs to be recognised by all is the fact that a huge imbalance was created in the region, resulting mainly from that 2003 political earthquake in Iraq otherwise known as the American invasion of that country. The mighty American army overthrew the existing regime, and then handed over this important Middle Eastern country to its historical enemy, the so-called “Islamic Republic” of Iran. So now, we have ended up with a huge regional imbalance that is very difficult to deal with in light of the total absence of Iraq and the aggressive roles of Iran and Turkey.

In Iraq, the Iranian expansionist project found a new start and went in all directions. Lebanon, for example, took a frontal hit and is currently suffering agonies from Iranian interference through a sectarian militia in the country called Hezbollah.

Since 2003, the borders between Iran and Iraq have been blurred, completely disrupting the regional balance. The current Iraqi government, headed by Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, is trying to restore these borders and fortify them in order to put an end to the Iranian penetration and influence in Iraq at all levels. Kadhimi, who is not hostile to Iran, has raised the slogan “Iraq first”, but will he be able to succeed in his mission? It is a big question that the UAE and Bahrain cannot spend years waiting for an answer to.

What happened on the ground is that in the Arab Mashreq, or in the Gulf region, it was almost like the collapse of the regional system that arose after the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire and the demarcation of the borders of the Iraqi state.

The late French President Francois Mitterrand considered the border separating Iraq and Iran as one between “two great civilizations”, namely the Arab civilization and the Persian civilization, and said that preserving this border is preserving the regional balance, especially since Iraq has become one of the pillars of that one hundred years-old regional system. Mitterrand said that in the context of justifying France’s intervention on the side of Iraq in 1981 during the Iran-Iraq war to prevent the border between the two countries from falling.

When Egypt made peace with Israel in March 1979, the possibility of war with Israel was no longer an option. So, the remaining slogans raised by those still pushing the agenda of war with Israel were nothing more than attempts in a game of using Palestine and the Palestinians for ulterior motives and goals, a despicable game carried out essentially by Iran, which was later on joined by Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey.

Given these realities, should a country like the UAE be at the mercy of Iran, a country that is occupying three of its islands (Abu Musa, Lesser Tunb and Greater Tunb) since 1971, and strive to appease it, in order to please some Palestinians involved in playing the bidding game about the Palestinian cause? Should it expect and accept Turkish intervention in its affairs, given that Turkey is nowadays leading the international organisation of the Muslim Brotherhood, in order for it to be accepted by a Palestinian extremist movement like Hamas, a movement ready to serve the Israeli occupation at all times?

The two civilized speeches delivered on the White House lawn on the occasion of signing the UAE’s and Bahrain’s peace agreements with Israel, by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Emirati Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Abd al-Latif al-Zayani, the Bahraini Foreign Minister, were evidence of the two countries’ determination to turn over a page of the past in the region. For the first time, we have two Arab countries which have never been at war with Israel take the step of signing a peace agreement with it. If they have done that, it was because they have a global view of the situation in the region, and also because they need to examine the questions related to the future of security in the region as a whole and to their relationships with the US.

It is no secret that the United States is looking at reshaping the future of its presence in the region as a whole. On the one hand, it is no longer dependent on oil supplies from the Gulf and on the other hand, it has other more pressing preoccupations to address, namely its relationship with China.

The White House occupant today is Donald Trump. What would happen if Joe Biden becomes the next occupant following the November 3rdelection? Biden may be better or worse than Trump; we just don’t know. In that case, can any Arab country, especially if it is in the Gulf, bet on the unknown?

Ultimately, Israel is going to remain one of the most important bridges to get to Washington, regardless of who the occupant of the White House is. With Israel, there is room for establishing mutually beneficial relations linked to modern technology in various fields and many other matters, such as modern medicine and research, for example. What is certain, politically, is that the UAE will have a positive impact inside Israel, and that will help rein in the Israeli impulse to annex more Palestinian lands.

In the final analysis, dealing with the Israelis can either take the path of war or the path of dialogue. If Egypt, the largest Arab country, was convinced of the usefulness of the path of dialogue,since it helped it recover its lands occupied in 1967, including Taba, which war now should Bahrain or the UAE support or join?

Every now and then, everybody needs a new dose of common sense. It is definitely vital to think about the future and how to adapt to the new conditions in the region, whether in the Levant or in the Gulf. Iraq may succeed one day to lay the foundations for a normal relationship with Iran. However, that does not eliminate the double threat of Turkish aggression and Iran’s expansionist project. These are still present and still on the agenda; so caution is necessary, and that includes getting rid of the complex of how to deal with Israel and others.