Adnan Abu Amer
Middle East Monitor / November 5, 2020
The normalisation agreements between Arab countries and Israel have led to louder calls for the US and Israel to establish new political and military alliances in the Middle East, with the aim of confronting hostile camps, especially Qatar, Turkey, Iran and the Palestinian resistance. This resembles the establishment of an Arab-NATO alliance, which might escalate tension and boost the regional arms race, giving the lie to Israeli claims about “normalisation” meaning “regional stability”.
Sudan’s normalisation has reinforced Washington’s plan to establish an Arab-Israeli alliance. This will be ready to face the Iranian threat and radical Islamism, because Israel’s enemies, notably Iran, find it difficult to accept the change in Sudan’s political strategy that paved the way to normalise relations with the Israelis.
Israel’s Minister of Intelligence, Eli Cohen, has spoken of the US and Israeli plan “to establish a regional alliance that includes Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Sudan, and more countries will join this coalition, without going into details of its goals. Sudan is considered as a strategic country in the regional alliance, thanks to its location on the shores of the Red Sea, its ports and the new military bases that can be established there.”
This regional alliance has three main objectives: to deal with the Iranian presence and halt its expansionist tendencies in the Middle East; curb the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood axis led by Turkey and Qatar; and counter Islamist movements. It will also seek to build relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and bring the latter back to negotiations, which may happen after President Mahmoud Abbas steps down.
Israeli justifications centre on the perceived threat of cooperation between Shia Iran and the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, not only to Israel but also to Arab regimes. This was reflected in Iraq’s rejection of the request made by Egypt and the Arab League to declare the Brotherhood to be a terrorist movement. Iran and Turkey both denounced the UAE’s normalisation with Israel, despite tension between them.
Iran has been under great pressure since the latest wave of normalisation started, because Israel now has the green light to establish military alliances with other countries in the region. Echoing Cohen, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that his discussions with Netanyahu, Mohammed Bin Zayed and Donald Trump covered this “historic opportunity” to protect the Middle East.
There is no doubt that those opposed to normalisation are concerned about its undeclared goals, and the possibility that the occupation state may get a foothold in the Gulf which will threaten the area’s security if, for example, Israel establishes a military base in the UAE. Hence, counter-measures include other alliances against Israel’s influence in the Gulf as well as creating intelligence-gathering centres on the southern island of Socotra to monitor Israeli movements through Bab al-Mandab to the Horn of Africa.
Sudan’s joining of the normalisation axis boosts the chances of this new regional alliance. With more Arab countries lined up to normalise, the alliance against Iran and the Islamists will get stronger, because such states have mutual security concerns shared with the Israelis. That’s reason enough for Trump to push for this anti-Iran alliance.
Israel’s assessment suggests that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman could lead the alliance in the confrontation with Iran and the Brotherhood. Hence, it believes that it is critical to have Saudi Arabia on board as soon as possible. This is why Washington and Israel are working hard towards Saudi normalisation with the Zionist state.
It is clear, therefore, that none of this normalisation is happening in a vacuum. On the contrary, it is all planned very carefully with specific objectives in mind. The “Abraham Accords” were not just meant to be “peace” deals, but were also intended to facilitate alliances as soon as hostility towards Israel was reduced.
There is no doubt that selfish national interests were also behind the normalisation deals, including the desire to be independent of Iran and to stay off the US list of states which support terrorism. The geopolitical reality is, therefore, that the normalisation states need to ally themselves with Israel to keep Washington happy. If Saudi Arabia signs a normalisation agreement, though, the Arab world will lose its “father figure” and its own strategic ally.
Normalisation, the Arab League’s refusal to discuss the Palestinian complaint about such agreements, and the apparent cracks in the European position all reflect a profound shift in regional and international positions. Influential sources in Israel claim that what we have seen in recent weeks is the tip of an iceberg that has been growing for years. This has a direct impact on Israel’s position in the world, with countries in Asia — India, Japan and Vietnam, for example — and Muslim countries in Central Asia and Africa, as well as many Latin American countries all keen to establish overt relations with the occupation state.
All of this is timed to coincide with the US presidential election just in case Trump loses. There is genuine concern that with a President Biden in the White House, the US could make overtures to Tehran. Thus, an Arab-Israeli front is set to be an obvious alternative to the US and Europe to prevent a threat arising from any development in Iran’s nuclear programme.
This suggests that Israel might now have to strengthen its ties with countries outside the Middle East, and not put all of its eggs in one basket. It is true that its relations with Washington are strong and flexible, but the Israelis must be prepared for any scenario and loosen the attachment to its main sponsor given the current political uncertainty in Washington.
Adnan Abu Amer is the head of the Political Science Department at the University of the Ummah in Gaza