The past year has proven completely wrong those naysayers who dismissed the Abraham Accords reached 12 months ago between Israel and four Arabs states as hollow theatrics orchestrated by naïve Trump Administration advisors amidst a re-election campaign.
US-brokered normalisation agreements between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain were signed at the White House on September 15, 2020, later joined by Sudan in October and Morocco in December.
Significantly, Oman and Saudi Arabia have supported the Accords in word, deed or both, and are widely considered likely to formally join at some point.
The historic agreements have shown themselves to be resilient and enduring, surviving not only changes of government in Washington and Jerusalem, but also the fraught war between Hamas and Israel in May.
More than this, these agreements are already yielding dividends and displaying the potential to economically and culturally transform the whole region.
Signs of flourishing and genuine relationships taking root are everywhere. There are now direct flights between Israel and the UAE, Israel and Bahrain and Israel and Morocco, while Israeli airlines can now fly over Saudi airspace, cutting hours off flight times on numerous routes. Despite COVID, 230,000 Israelis have visited the UAE, and examples of friendly cultural interchange between Israelis and Emiratis are occurring constantly.
Israeli trade with the UAE is expected to reach US$1 billion this year, and US$3 billion within three years. A UAE company has just signed an agreement to invest US$1.1 billion in Israeli natural gas projects. Trade between Israel and countries in the Middle East and North Africa is up a stunning 234% overall in the first seven months of 2021.
The Biden Administration, which for the most part has distanced itself from much of the foreign policy of the Trump Administration, has gradually but wisely embraced the Abraham Accords and now seems committed to working towards expanding the circle of nations that subscribe to them.
Today more than ever, that effort is strongly in America’s interests and those of like-minded European and Western powers, including Australia. It provides a potential answer to the new threatening balance of power emerging in this strategic region in the wake of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, amidst a US policy of seeking to withdraw its forces from the Middle East which has been consistent over successive recent administrations.
Former US President Barack Obama had hoped that Iran could be tamed into a regional stabilising force to facilitate a US withdrawal and “pivot to Asia” – which is why he was so determined to achieve a nuclear deal with Iran in 2015, expecting this would trigger a change in Iran’s rogue behaviour. Unfortunately, this strategy was always ill-conceived and the US offered so many concessions to entice Iran into the nuclear deal that it became almost a guarantee that Iran would ultimately achieve nuclear weapons capabilities.
Moreover, rather than moderating Iranian behaviour as the Obama Administration had hoped, the agreement simply empowered the Iranians with resources to increase their efforts to destabilise their neighbours through regional terrorist proxy groups.
Now, the regime is more radical than ever under new President Ebrahim Raisi, and is reportedly just weeks away from possessing all the materials needed to build a nuclear weapon.
Subsequently, the Trump Administration legitimised the Taliban out of eagerness to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan, a decision President Joe Biden ultimately carried out in such a chaotic, haphazard and defeatist manner as to almost certainly re-energise and empower the global jihadist movement.
However, despite these serious policy errors by all three recent US administrations, for better or for worse, American political leaders from both sides of the political divide are united in their determination to greatly reduce the US military footprint in the Middle East.
But the US and its allies need to plan for and facilitate such a withdrawal in a way that averts any additional policy debacles – which means without empowering terrorists or other aggressive rogue actors like Iran and Turkey, without providing too many opportunities for aggrandisement by US rivals, particularly China and Russia, and without endangering the stability of the region’s vital sea lanes.
There is a strategic model that can achieve all this if the Biden Administration has the vision and courage to put America’s full diplomatic weight behind it – the successful model of the Abraham Accords.
As Yaakov Amidror notes in this edition, the US withdrawal will incentivise moderate actors in the region to band together to protect themselves from threats emanating from Iran, Turkey and Islamist extremist groups like the Taliban. As the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco have already recognised, Israel is an essential member of any such alliance – possessing not only the region’s strongest military, but also able to offer economic, technological, ecological and intelligence assistance to regimes seeking to survive in an increasingly dangerous environment.
Such an alliance can even build links that extend beyond the region itself. India has been rapidly upgrading its defence ties with both Israel and the UAE over the last year. This could tie any new “Abraham Alliance” into the Quad – the alliance of India, Japan, Australia and the US – attempting to provide stability in South and East Asia.
An “Abraham Alliance” could also extend ties westward into the Mediterranean, where Israel and Egypt have been building close strategic ties with countries like Greece, Cyprus and Italy.
The US may be withdrawing militarily from the Middle East, but it is just common sense to seek to do so without leaving a dangerous vacuum behind in the world’s most unstable region. Happily, the last year has proven that it does not have to – the Abraham Accords offer a viable alternative with enormous geostrategic potential in the medium and longer-term. What is needed now is a concerted international effort to build on the great achievements of the last year to fully develop and capitalise on that potential.
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