Eyal Hashkes believes that the way forward to continue the spirit of the Abraham Accords is to build regional bridges in the Middle East through economic opportunities.

The former Army intelligence analyst, whose new book “The Economic Bridges: The New Opportunities in the Middle East” has been published in Hebrew, tells Israel National News that his main message is “we should not only aim for ceremonies in the White House."

"Building bridges now when we can't necessarily reach agreements that are far-reaching can be beneficial for Israel, for the countries around us that have economic needs and and for the security in the region," he says. "If we only focus on peace and these large-scale agreements, we'll miss the economic bridges and the better Middle East that we can build now."

While it is not possible to change the ideologies of people in the region, Israel can go a long way by helping to fulfill economic needs.

“Israel as an economic powerhouse here in the region can help them fill their economic needs, and Israel can benefit in the process. The security in the region can benefit and the people of these countries can benefit at the same time,” Hashkes says. “The past year ever since Abraham Accords has seen commerce between Israel and the UAE shoot up and that's just the commerce aspect. There are a lot of other aspects of the relations between Israel the UAE and other countries in the region, in innovation, in water, in tourism, joint investments in transportation, even in space. We can create these connections and bridges. I’m going into each one of these opportunities in the book.”

Hashkes is a firm believer that there is an “intuitive understanding” in Israel that regional cooperation will benefit everyone.

“As far as i've seen Israel is the only country who has a Ministry of Regional Cooperation. It’s an intuitive understanding, not only within the army, that economic cooperation is good. What I think is still missing is a systematic way to think about it and that's what I tried to do with my book, to suggest a systematic way to think about the bridges we can build with the countries around us.”

How can this economic and regional cooperation be translated into the Palestinian Arab arena?

“There's a differentiation I make in my book between top-down economic bridges and bottom-up economic bridges,” he says. “In the case of most countries around us, most economic relations would be top down in countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia we see the leadership, or the UAE we see the leadership in many cases pushing economic relations. In the Palestinian arena, I think it should be bottom-up economic connections because top down hasn't worked for various reasons, ideologies, differences, disagreements, which is why the focus should be on building bottom-up relationships.”

He continues: “When I talk about bottom-up relationships I mean Palestinian employees in Israel. That's that's a huge catalyst for higher connections that lead to better security in the region and better prosperity when Palestinians purchase at Israeli malls in Judea and Samaria, and work there, that's a bottom up economic bridge.”

As someone who comes from the intelligence sector, what countries in the Middle East does he see next joining the current era of regional cooperation?

“It's a little hard to predict but I think Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Gulf, such as Oman, will make the transition in several years time,” he says. “We have to be patient. For the UAE, it did it seemed to happen overnight. But I think in the case of many other countries in the region it's a process. It will be a gradual process of slowly increasing economic and other bridges between the countries rather than signing a full normalization agreement.”

Sometimes, the Abraham Accord deals seem “too good to be true.” In exchange for normalization, Israel had to give up the sovereignty program, for instance. In that sense, Hashkes explains that with Saudi Arabia pressuring Israel on the Palestinian Arab issue, it may be more practical to instead focus on building economic bridges, and not on official agreements and White House ceremonies.

“We shouldn't only focus on having those ceremonies in the White House and having these political agreements,” he says. “We should focus on bridges we can build now without necessarily solving the disagreements because there will be disagreements. We have our own aims, other countries in the region have own aims.”

He agrees that this fact is why the word “normalization” is so crucial.

“In Saudi Arabia, we should focus on building bridges. One such bridge could be Saudi Arabia is building a futuristic region called NEOM and they want to build it as high-tech [with] renewable energy and and other types of hubs, and they're building it really close geographically to Israel. That region should also according to their plans have a special legal status. That's an example of something that we can cooperate on even before we have that normalization and that doesn't require solving the disagreements like you mentioned.”

Hashkes explains that he sees “peace through economics” as the way forward for Israel and Arab countries in the region.