Iran’s threat to the region is also high on the agenda during secretary’s Mideast tour
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did his best on Tuesday to assure Israel that the US remains committed to maintaining Israel’s military edge, despite Washington’s arms talks with the United Arab Emirates.
“The United States has a legal requirement with respect to qualitative military edge. We will continue to honor that,” the secretary told reporters after a meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Pompeo began a five-day Middle East visit in Jerusalem that will show support for the recent UAE-Israel agreement and continue US efforts to persuade additional regional governments to normalize relations with Israel.
“I’m very hopeful that we will see other Arab nations join in this,” he said. Pompeo’s itinerary also includes Sudan, the UAE and Bahrain.
The Sudan News Agency on Tuesday confirmed that while in Khartoum, the secretary will discuss supporting the democratic transition in Sudan and relations with Israel.
The UAE will now be the third Arab state (after Egypt and Jordan) and the first Gulf country to have full diplomatic ties with Israel.
(However, Mauritania, a member of the Arab League, did have full diplomatic ties with Israel from 1999 to 2009.)
Netanyahu, standing next to Pompeo, praised the deal with the Emirates, saying it would be beneficial for all and “a boon to peace and regional stability.
“I think it heralds a new era where we could have other nations join,” he added. “I hope we’ll have good news in the future, maybe in the near future.”
Prof. Uzi Rabi, director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University, told The Media Line the region was living in a historic time.
“We are witnessing a revolution, psychologically and politically,” Rabi says of the agreement between the UAE and Israel.
Pompeo’s visits are part of a “well-planned and well-orchestrated effort to make sure that the ceremony of signing the agreement takes place and to talk about some other states like Bahrain and the Sultanate of Oman following suit,” driven by self-interest, he adds.
“It is no secret that this administration is pushing for an array of agreements between Israel and Arab nations; it’s something that would help them out in the forthcoming election,” Rabi says.
“This will change the whole panorama in the Middle East,” says Rabi. “All this will push the narrative that regional peace is something that doesn’t have to go through Ramallah.”
Pompeo is not stopping in Ramallah for a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Palestinians say that is not important.
“A Pompeo visit to Ramallah isn’t on the Palestinian agenda,” says Nour Odeh, a Palestinian political analyst in the West Bank.
The Palestinians have been “very clear that the Trump Administration is part of the problem, not the solution,” she told The Media Line.
The UAE deal outraged Abbas, who ordered officials to launch a campaign against it and recalled the PA’s ambassador from Abu Dhabi.
Odeh says the current American government’s main goal is to marginalize the Palestinian cause.
“The Trump Administration is doing Netanyahu’s bidding. He needs positive news to stay afloat in light of his legal problems and coalition troubles, and [President Donald] Trump wants to pander to his evangelical base. This agenda has nothing to do with the possibility of real peace in the region, nor does it have to do with the well-being of the people of the region, who continue to oppose normalization with Israel because they view it as a reward for Israeli occupation and continued Israeli war crimes,” she adds.
Odeh refuses to call the deal between the UAE and Israel a “peace agreement,” and accuses the Trump Administration of bias in favor of Israel.
“First of all it’s not a ‘peace deal,’ because there was never war between the two countries. I think it’s very clear that Pompeo is in the region to advance this agenda of sidelining the Palestinian issue, by pushing Arab capitals to normalize Israel at the expense of the Palestinian rights,” she says.
She argues that the establishment of formal diplomatic ties between the two countries will harm the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002.
Odeh accuses the US administration of using its might to coerce countries to normalize relations with Israel.
“The US wants to force Arab governments to depart from the Arab Peace Initiative in exchange for nominal gestures from the US, whether it’s the possibility of a contract for the UAE to buy [advanced weapons] or the promise of the end of the nightmare of international trials [regarding genocide and war crimes] looming over Sudan, and God knows what’s [on offer] for Bahrain,” says Odeh.
The Palestinian Authority cut off all communication with the White House at the end of 2017, after the US recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Direct negotiations with Israel have not taken place since 2014.
“At the end of the day there is a very clear right-wing US-Israeli agenda, at the core of which is sidelining the Palestinian cause, pretending that you can have normalized relations [with Israel] in the region while the Palestinian people remain perpetually oppressed and occupied,” says Odeh.
Rabi says the timing of Pompeo’s visit to the region is critical, with two major issues on the agenda, the first which has to do with the UAE-Israel agreement.
“The other dimension of the visit is to talk about security issues, related to the agreement but also to do with Iran and Hizbullah,” he says. That second dimension includes the US drive to maintain the international arms embargo on Tehran.
The August 13 agreement to establish diplomatic ties between Israel and the UAE was reached under the auspices of the US. It has since evoked concerns in Israel that the Gulf country will now secure a deal to buy advanced US weaponry such as F-35 stealth fighter jets.
Dissatisfaction with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s opposition to the sale of F-35s to the UAE has caused the latter country to cancel a planned three-way celebratory meeting between itself and representatives of Israel and the United States.
Pompeo’s agenda includes American efforts to build a united front against the Islamic Republic.
The secretary of state said that US military support for the UAE was more important than ever in the face of the threat from Iran. The two Gulf nations are separated by a 44-mile-wide stretch of the Strait of Hormuz.
This comes on the heels of the UN Security Council’s rejection of a US draft resolution to extend the arms embargo on Iran. The Trump Administration is seeking a “snapback” of UN sanctions that had been eased as part of the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran.
“We are determined to use every tool that we have to ensure that they [the Iranians] can’t get access to high-end weapons systems,” Pompeo said. “We think it’s in the best interest of the whole world.”
For Odeh, the Palestinians’ lack of communication with Washington is not necessarily a bad thing and will not weaken the PA.
Palestinians accuse the Trump Administration of trying to “bullying them to surrender” and “accept its dictates.” The belief that this effort will succeed has been “proven to be an incorrect and baseless assumption,” Odeh says.
“It is very difficult to see a scenario where dialogue or any meeting can occur with this administration,” she says, reiterating that the PA believes the Trump government is hostile toward the Palestinians.
The US repeatedly tried to get the PA to return to the negotiating table by exerting financial and political pressure, to no avail, Odeh says.
Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab will visit Israel and the West Bank on Tuesday for meetings with top Israeli and Palestinian officials, in a trip meant to express London’s opposition to any future Israeli annexation in the West Bank.
He will “press for renewed dialogue” between the sides, according to a statement from the British embassy in Israel.
Raab is slated to meet in Jerusalem with Netanyahu, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, and in Ramallah with Abbas and Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh.