After Abraham Accord, Prospects for Regional Military Alliance Weighed
Analysts tout tech potential of Israel-UAE deal but skeptical of security coordination
Could last week’s historic diplomatic agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates open the door to a formal regional alliance, an “Arab NATO plus Israel” aligned against the common threat of Iran?
Recent developments demonstrate the possible limits of wider collaboration with Israel’s neighbors sparked by the UAE deal.
On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia announced that peace with the Palestinians is still a prerequisite for normalization of relations and Sudan fired a spokesman for disclosing the existence of peace talks with Israel without authorization. Then there is the controversy over reports that the United States agreed to sell F-35 fighter jets to the UAE as part of the pact, despite Jerusalem’s opposition.
Prof. Eytan Gilboa, a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, ruled out a NATO-style alliance of Sunni Arab states and Israel against Iran, saying that informal collaboration is a more likely scenario.
Gilboa said that military cooperation between Israel and the UAE is not enough to sustain a strategic partnership because theoretically, the threat from Iran could go away. What does makes the Abraham Accord sustainable are its economic aspects, particularly in terms of technology, he said in an interview with The Media Line.
“They know that Israel is the ‘startup nation.’ They would be ready to invest large sums of money in technology and startups. This is important because, if the threat disappears, you still have this interest,” he said, ticking off areas where Israel is known to have expertise and that Gulf countries are interested in developing, such as agriculture, medicine, solar energy, and water desalination and conservation.
“The plan is to expand the collaboration not just with the United Arab Emirates but also with Bahrain, Oman. Maybe then the next phase would be Saudi Arabia. Maybe Morocco,” Gilboa said.
Dr. Emma Soubrier, a visiting scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, told The Media Line in emailed comments that a regional alliance is unlikely, given the many dissents from Arab governments.
Isolating and containing Iran is not the main goal of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the driving force behind the UAE’s foreign policy, Soubrier said. He is more concerned with countering the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood in the region, she continued.
Soubrier agreed with Gilboa’s assessment that the deal with Israel could lead to increased high tech advancements by the two Middle Eastern countries. One passage in the joint statement announcing the agreement states that Israel and the UAE plan to boost cooperation on developing a vaccine for the novel coronavirus.
“Taking their ties out in the open in such a way will allow Israel and the UAE to collaborate more officially in fields such as artificial intelligence (against the background of boosting health tech to tackle the effects of the pandemic at home and abroad) and cyber capabilities. They might also be interested in intelligence sharing related to counterterrorism in the longer run,” Soubrier said.
We see a decrease in the American involvement, and we see a rise in non-Western powers in this region, and I think that the UAE is really threatened on the security level. I think that the highest interest for the UAE now is to approach Israel and sign a security deal besides the normalization.
Dr. Moran Zaga, a policy fellow at Mitvim − The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, said that the Iranian threat did play a role in the UAE coming to the table, along with concerns over US isolationism regarding the Middle East, as the Trump Administration is perceived as being more focused on domestic issues.
Zaga noted recent incidents involving Iranian vessels in the Persian Gulf, some of them in UAE territorial waters, along with the reported economic, political and military agreement between Iran and China.
“We see a decrease in the American involvement, and we see a rise in non-Western powers in this region, and I think that the UAE is really threatened on the security level,” Zaga told The Media Line. “I think that the highest interest for the UAE now is to approach Israel and sign a security deal besides the normalization.”
She said that the Israel-UAE deal would open the door to wider collaboration because the Gulf state is closely connected to other Arab countries that might be more receptive to dealing with Israel under a multilateral umbrella.
“I think that would be a great benefit for all sides having these regional challenges,” Zaga said.