Israel has pursued the destabilization of its neighbours for years. The accepted wisdom has been that turning Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Iran, into failed states would boost Israel’s security and power in the region. They have simultaneously sought normalisation with Arab countries across the Middle East and North Africa; Egypt, Jordan, and now the UAE have all made peace with Israel. Bahrain is reportedly in talks to normalise relations, possibly Oman, and it seems likely that eventually Saudi Arabia will follow suit.
Of course, Muslims reflexively reject such normalisation; but I think this may be short-sighted. In fact, I think Israel may be short-sighted in its pursuit of destabilization on the one hand and normalisation on the other.
Since the establishment of the US-Israel relationship, the context has always been the dual premise that Israel is under constant existential threat, and that Israel (after the 1979 revolution in Iran) represents America’s most vital ally in the Middle East. If all the countries that are deemed threatening to Israel are either converted into failed states, or else normalise relations with Israel; this dual premise becomes obsolete.
Martin Indyk, the former US ambassador to Israel, rightly noted that the UAE-Israel peace deal is not, in fact, an agreement between the Emirates and Israel, but a deal between the US and UAE. The agreement has strengthened American relations with the Emirates, and raised that country’s status as a strategic ally in the region. Even now, the Americans are intending to sell F-35 fighter jets to the UAE, much to the chagrin of Israel (which has always enjoyed the US-sponsored privilege of perpetual military superiority). What we are seeing is the diminishing importance of Israel as the justification for the dual premise fades.
A president who thinks in business terms, like Donald Trump, surely sees how the changing dynamics of the Middle East are making traditional US relations with Israel less and less viable. Committing to maintaining Israel’s military superiority hampers the American defense industry’s ability to sell arms to rich and ambitious Gulf States, and the billions of dollars in foreign aid to Israel is getting harder to rationalize; ‘after 72 years, it is time to leave the nest, especially since the neighbourhood is safe now’, one can imagine Trump thinking. The Gulf becoming more deeply allied to the US, and with their vast buying power, provides the US with more strategic freedom in the region.
No doubt, Israel is encouraged that the UAE’s enmity to Iran may bolster the campaign to either attack or erode the country in the near future. But this constitutes Israel pursuing their own irrelevance.