UAE Allegedly Halts Security Deals With Israel, Putting Pressure on Netanyahu To Stop Judicial Reforms
The potential risk to Israeli-Emirati relations may raise the political cost of moving forward with the judicial overhaul
Israel’s Channel 12 News reported on Sunday that the United Arab Emirates plans to suspend some of its defense deals with Israel in response to controversial statements and actions by the Israeli government. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu issued a statement rejecting the veracity of the report and maintaining that there continue to be positive diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Whether the specific report is true, the trend of increased criticism of Israel by Arab countries is evident, even among those that recognize Israel. Experts believe that this recent increase in criticism is meant to put pressure on Netanyahu to halt the judicial overhaul.
Professor Yoram Meital, an expert on Middle Eastern politics at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, told The Media Line that recent events in Israel have brought relations between Arab countries and Israel to “a boiling point.”
“It really puts their governments under heavy pressure with not only statements by ministers from the far right in Israel but also with the tragic events like the one in the village of Huwara,” Meital said.
After two Israelis were killed by a Palestinian in the West Bank town of Huwara last month, Israeli settlers staged a mass attack on the town and surrounding villages, killing one man and setting fire to homes, businesses, and vehicles.
Meital said that the pressure from Arab countries itself might not lead Netanyahu to walk back the judicial reform but that it would intensify the pressure already being applied by the US and by Israel Israeli citizens.
Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets for 10 consecutive weeks to protest the government’s planned judicial overhaul. According to some sources, up to half a million protesters took part in last Saturday’s nationwide demonstrations.
How exactly Netanyahu will respond to the mounting pressure remains to be seen. “No one can tell whether Prime Minister Netanyahu would completely shut down the [judicial overhaul] process or just try to modify it, and if the modification would be enough to calm down the resistance within and outside Israel,” Meital said.
Professor Jonathan Rynhold, head of the Department of Political Studies at Bar-Ilan University, described the criticism from the UAE as one of several factors increasing the political cost of moving forward with the judicial reforms.
Rynhold noted that Netanyahu “is seen politically as a fantastic diplomat, fantastic in the security area and fantastic economically.” It would be a serious blow to his reputation for the UAE to pull out of the security deals.
“That damages his standing as a great diplomatic genius and strengthens the argument that whereas in the past he operated on the basis of what was good for Israel, today he’s operating on the basis of what’s good for Netanyahu,” Rynhold said.
Meital noted that the UAE’s comments should be understood in the context of shifting Middle East dynamics.
On Friday, Saudi Arabia and Iran announced that they would restore diplomatic relations. Preventing Iran from gaining access to nuclear weapons has been one of Israel’s foreign policy priorities, which Israel has addressed in part by attempting to turn other Middle Eastern countries into partners in that cause. The Saudi-Iran deal is therefore seen in Israel as a major setback.
“It seems like the conciliation between the Saudis and the Iranians has left Israel alone with the UAE,” Meital said. If the report of an Emirati retreat from its close ties with Israel is true, he said, this context would make it even more significant.
In the worst-case scenario, the UAE could decide to cancel its diplomatic mission in Israel and call an end to normalization agreements including those about borders, tourism, and cooperation in other fields, Meital said.
For now, Meital said, the situation has not gotten to that point. “I think that they are trying public diplomacy now, just to project their concerns about the developments in Israel,” he said. “We are not at the point where they are using all the cards that they have in their hands.”
Regardless of the veracity of the report, the news of the UAE’s disapproval may lead more Israelis to express their opposition to the judicial overhaul, Rynhold said. “The more signs there are of opposition to Netanyahu,” he said, “the more it encourages other people to oppose it and to oppose the legal coup.”
Rynhold noted, though, that with Netanyahu’s majority in the Knesset and with upcoming elections several years off, Israeli public opinion about the judicial overhaul may have a relatively small impact on the process.