Diplomacy

Experts eye Israel normalisation accords as means to counter Iranian threats

By Sultan al-Barei

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A billboard posted by the UAE embassy marking one year since the signing of the US-brokered normalisation agreements with Israel is seen along the expressway in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv on September 14. The billboard reads in Arabic and Hebrew: 'Peace is the future of our children.' [Jack Guez/AFP]

RIYADH -- The normalisation accords inked last year with Israel have proven to be a necessity for the establishment of peace in the Middle East and the Gulf region and as a shield against Iranian threats, legal and security analysts say.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain signed the US-brokered normalisation agreements with Israel on September 15, 2020, followed by Sudan in October and Morocco in December.

The agreements "have proven to be a necessity to preserve the security of the Middle East region and banish the spectre of war stemming from the Iranian interference in the region", said Khaled al-Zoubi, a lecturer at the Faculty of Law at the UAE's Ajman University.

In their first year, the agreements "have achieved what has not been achieved in many long years, and thus opened new doors for joint co-operation and negotiations that are in the interest of the peoples of the region".

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A delegation from the technical, business and technology sectors in Israel attends an exhibition in the UAE. The exchange of scientific and technological experience is an additional stimulus provided by normalisation agreements with Israel. [Emirates News Agency (WAM)]

The deals will also benefit the countries of the region economically, especially following the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, al-Zoubi said.

Commercial and economic provisions of the accords "will without a doubt help these countries recover more quickly", he said.

Boosting economic co-operation

The UAE and Israel have sought to emphasise the economic dividend offered by normalisation, especially Dubai, which continuously seeks to expand its tourism, technology and business sectors.

"After a year of the Abraham Accords, we have a story to say," UAE Minister of Economy Abdulla bin Touq al-Marri told a panel discussion held by the Atlantic Council on Monday (September 13), AFP reported.

"We exchanged ambassadors; we have signed over 60 MOUs (memorandums of understanding). We have 600-700 million of bilateral trade happening, we have funds of billions of dollars that has been announced.

"We're looking to create over a trillion dollars of economic activity over the next decade."

Since last year, a number of Israeli start-ups in the fields of artificial intelligence, fintech and agriculture have set up shop in the UAE.

Business exchanges between the two countries, whose economies were hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, reached $500 million in August -- excluding investments -- after tourism, aviation and financial service deals were struck.

"The main benefits for the UAE have been economic," Elham Fakhro, an analyst at the International Crisis Group think-tank, told AFP.

"Tourism, cultural exchanges, cyber-security agreements, and diplomatic exchanges have benefitted the two states."

According to Israel's consulate in Dubai, nearly 200,000 Israelis have visited the UAE since the establishment of ties.

Opening everything up

Bahrain is also hoping normalisation will help attract visitors from abroad.

Many Bahraini Jews left the country during the Arab-Israeli conflict over fears they would be targeted, while others stayed behind but kept a low profile, said 61-year-old Rabbi Ebrahim Nonoo.

Nonoo recently led prayer services in Manama's renovated synagogue, bringing Jewish traditions into plain view for the first time in decades.

The accords "opened everything" up, he told AFP.

Rabbi Elie Abadie, head of the association of Gulf Jewish communities, said the return of public prayer was "renewing our history in the region".

"Jewish public prayers were heard in this region for over 2,000 years and unfortunately were stopped in 1947," he said. "Resuming them is like coming back home."

Even when the synagogue was out of action, Jews in Bahrain were still prominent in business and public life.

One example is Nancy Khedouri, a Bahraini Jewish parliamentarian, who hopes that the opening up of Jewish culture will attract visitors from abroad.

"Many more people from the Jewish faith are interested to travel to the region, dreaming up new opportunities, enthusiastic to learn from those already living in the Gulf region," she told AFP.

"Those visiting will definitely contribute to tourism and economic growth."

Countering Iran

Retired Emirati army officer Abdullah al-Ameri said in all likelihood the normalisation accords with Israel will continue to expand to other countries.

"Misgivings about [the accords] have largely dissipated with the start of the implementation and actual application of many of their provisions," he said.

The main threat to most of the region's countries is Iran and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' (IRGC) "projects", he said, referring to Tehran's efforts to expand influence in the region.

"Confronting the IRGC and its affiliates is an integrated collective responsibility, and will not yield results except through mutual co-operation among all," al-Ameri said.

This would require "casting away past historical disagreements once and for all and working to establish new relations that fit and keep pace with the current era, especially since the Iranian threat is growing due to Iran's insistence on possessing and manufacturing nuclear weapons", he said.

The fate of the countries of the region "will undoubtedly be ruined" if Iran were to direct such weapons at any one nation.

"A unified confrontation of this danger and the renunciation of differences among the countries of the region are the only way to eliminate this danger and put an end to the proliferation of the IRGC's affiliates and limit their effectiveness," he said.

Limiting the recent agreements to just the issue of normalisation of ties "would be an injustice to the accords", said Abdullah al-Dakhil, a lecturer at the Faculty of Political Science at King Saud University in Riyadh.

The accords are a safety valve that "allowed some countries in the region to form a bloc, albeit partially so far, to repel terrorist attempts by multiple parties, be they extremist terrorist groups or the IRGC and its military arms in the region", he said.

"The accords are among the most important agreements reached in the modern era to establish peace in the Middle East and forge new alliances to ensure security and safety for the peoples of this region," said al-Dakhil.

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