The peace treaty concluded between the UAE and Israel on 13 August 2020 constituted a strategic shift in the course of Arab-Israeli relations. The strategic repercussions of this agreement will go beyond the course of bilateral relations between the two countries, to affect the strategic reality in the Middle East region as a whole. Indeed, it would not be an exaggeration to say that they would affect the existing strategic reality in other neighbouring regions such as South Asia. Below are the most prominent expected strategic repercussions of this treaty.
The rise of the regional stability trend
This treaty constitutes a victory for a trend that has existed in the Middle East for a long time. That trend advocates that expanding and deepening the extent of dealings between the parties to the Arab-Israeli conflict constitute the most important gateway to achieving stability in the region and reducing the chances of a clash between its parties. This trend is based on the arguments of many theories of international relations, mainly the communication theory of Karl Deutsch, and the arguments of both the functionalism and neofunctionalism theories.
The essence of those theories is that the greater the volume of dealings between political units in a given region, the greater the opportunities for building confidence between political, economic and social elites, both formal and informal, and the greater the opportunities of forming common interests between those elites, especially in the field of political economy. This would lead in the long run to the formation of groups that support stability in the relations between the parties, and thus stability of the region in general. This trend also draws on historical experiences in some regions, especially Southeast Asia, which managed to neutralize the numerous conflicts and border disputes between its political units in favour of focusing on development and economic cooperation issues. This led in the last analysis to the creation of huge common interests among the countries of the region, which eventually contributed to limiting the opportunities for military conflict and building successful development experiences.
The signing of the peace treaty between the UAE and Israel would constitute an important opportunity for this trend to once again advocate it arguments, especially given the economic weight of the UAE in the region.
Increasing the association between the Gulf region and the Middle East "centre"
This treaty is expected to contribute to deepening the association between the Arabian Gulf region and the heart of the Middle East region. This would deepen the interaction between the various sub-components of the region. Historically, the Arabian Gulf region has enjoyed a degree of privacy and was relatively distant from the "centre region", which was predominantly conflictual as the centre of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Many factors have contributed to perpetuating this privacy, including the nature of the political and economic systems in the Gulf region, and the variation in the priority order of the main threats. The Iranian threat has had a high priority for the Arabian Gulf region compared to the priority of other patterns of threat in the "centre region."
The peace treaty between the UAE and Israel would undoubtedly contribute to deepening the state of association between the Arabian Gulf region and the "centre region", as a direct result of the increase in the volume of interaction and political and economic dealings between the two parties to the treaty. The chances of this transformation would increase if other countries in the Gulf region join in this direction. While there are huge historical dealings between the UAE and a number of "centre" countries (some of which were direct parties to the Arab-Israeli conflict), the inauguration of a phase of intensive interaction between the UAE and Israel would undoubtedly deepen the volume of the Gulf's interaction and association with the centre region due to factors related to the peculiarity of Israel, as a major party to the Arab-Israeli conflict, in addition to the horizons that would be opened by this treaty for political and security cooperation between the two sides. This would confer on the issue of regional security in general, and the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Palestinian issue in particular, a greater weight on the security agenda of the UAE and the Arabian Gulf region, which would turn into important parties to managing this conflict.
Implications for regional strategic axes
This treaty is expected to have important repercussions regarding the strategic axes in the region. At this level, two important results can be noted here. First, the treaty will contribute to strengthening what has historically been known as the "axis of moderation" in the region, which, in addition to the UAE, includes Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, as opposed to another, radical axis that mainly includes Qatar and a number of non-Arab countries as well as some organisations and "non-state" actors. The separation between those two axes took place over long years based on the positions of their parties on a number of important issues in the region, including the position on the Arab-Israeli conflict, as there remained a disagreement between the two sides over the mechanisms of managing that conflict. While the axis of moderation tended to give greater consideration to mechanisms of negotiation and direct dialogue, the opposite axis tended to rely on radical mechanisms, including violent, "non-state" organisations.
In this sense, it could be said that the UAE’s accession to the countries that maintain "normal" relations with Israel would contribute to strengthening the "axis of moderation" in general, and the position of the countries of this axis regarding the way to manage the Arab-Israeli conflict in particular, in the face of the radical axis, especially with the potential increase in the role of the UAE in managing the Arab-Israeli conflict after signing the peace treaty with Israel.
Second, the treaty is expected to increase the opportunities for UAE-Israeli cooperation and coordination with regard to the Iranian threat, both in terms of the specificity of this threat for countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in general, and for the UAE in particular, especially in light of Iran's occupation of islands belonging to UAE sovereignty, and the priority that Israel gave to the Iranian threat in recent years. Israel played an important role in mobilizing the international community against the Iranian nuclear project, and against the nuclear agreement that was signed with it in 2015. The UAE-Israeli treaty could inaugurate UAE - and also Gulf - cooperation and coordination with Israel in besieging the Iranian threat, starting with the exchange of information about the Iranian nuclear project and Iranian policies in the region, and ending with joint coordination in international forums regarding Iran's detrimental policies in the region and their impact on regional security. In addition, Israel could also be relied upon to obtain advanced surveillance equipment.
The Gulf-Israeli coordination with regard to the Iranian threat would also contribute to deepening the security interdependence between the Gulf region and the "centre" region, given the specificity of this "threat" for both sides, which increases the scope of Gulf-Israeli security consensus.
Deepening the security interdependence between the Middle East and South Asia
The treaty is expected to deepen the security interdependence between the Middle East and South Asia regions. Several factors have contributed to perpetuating the security interdependence between the Arabian Gulf region and South Asia, including labour, geographical location, and association with important common water bodies. However, other factors have emerged during the recent period that would have a greater role in perpetuating this interdependence, including the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), which includes building a multimodal network of international trade routes - sea, land and rail - which connects the regions of South Asia, Western Asia, Central Asia, the Caucasus, and Russia all the way to northern Europe.
This project is supported by India, Iran and Russia, as an agreement in this respect was signed in September 2000 between the three countries. That agreement was later joined by a number of countries in Central Asia, the Caucasus, the Arabian Gulf and the Middle East, including Kazakhstan, Belarus, Tajikistan, Armenia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Oman, Syria, Turkey and Bulgaria. Another example is the Ashgabat agreement whose parties aim to establish a network of cross-border roads with the aim of facilitating trade between the regions of Central Asia and the Arabian Gulf, relying on Iranian and Omani ports. The treaty was signed in April 2011 between Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Oman and Qatar, but the latter withdrew from the treaty in 2013. The agreement became effective in April 2016. Subsequently, Kazakhstan and Pakistan joined it in 2016, and India in February 2018.
The signing of the peace treaty between the UAE and Israel will constitute an additional variable in addition to the previous variables to deepen the mutual security effects between the regions of South Asia and the Arabian Gulf from another angle, namely the strategic relations between India and Israel. The Indian-Israeli relations will constitute an important link between the two regions, especially given the advanced level that those relations have reached at the economic, military and security levels, which paves the way for increasing opportunities of security cooperation and coordination between the three countries, the UAE, India and Israel, on the security implications of the ongoing transformations in Southern Asia, the Arabian Gulf and the Middle East for regional security.
In conclusion, all the above repercussions of the UAE-Israeli peace treaty cannot be asserted to move in an absolutely positive direction. The matter will depend in the last analysis on the ability of the UAE and the countries of the axis of Arab moderation in general to employ those transformations to serve Arab interests and the interests of this axis in the face of the radical axis that continues to have the capability to employ counter-arguments and assumptions.
Dr. Ebtesam al-Ketbi | 24 Sep 2020
Ahmed Zaghloul Shalata | 21 Sep 2020
Shereen Mohammed | 21 Sep 2020