There is no gainsaying that the Middle East is undergoing a profound transformation that reflects the broader and more far-reaching changes in the current world order. The region is in a state of flux, and the vocabulary that has long prevailed, such as “the Israeli enemy,” is changing in some countries and has already changed in a significant part of the region.
The traditional Arab view associated with Israel for decades is gradually fading and being replaced by a more natural view, although not by complete acceptance. But things are moving in that direction. I am speaking here from the public opinion in several Arab countries. I am not generalizing.
I am not saying that things have completely changed. But the overcoming of the traditional image that people have of Israel and the momentum working in this direction is a great qualitative achievement made possible by the peace agreements that the UAE signed with Israel in August 2020.
Egypt and Jordan have normalized their official relations with Israel since 1979 and 1994 respectively, and the Oslo Agreement between the Palestinian Authority and Israel was signed in 1993. However, it cannot be denied that these agreements have not brought the official state of peace to the streets. This is due to many reasons and considerations that we may all know.
But the advantage of the Abraham Agreements is that they immediately touched the pulse of the societies in the countries that signed them, such as the UAE and the Kingdom of Bahrain, mainly because the agreements benefited from past experiences and focused on the economy, tourism, investment and everything that establishes normal relations between countries.
Against this backdrop, I was not surprised that Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, during his recent visit to Manama, called for forging “alliances” between Israel and the Arab countries.
The first official visit by an Israeli prime minister to the Kingdom, as well as a meeting with King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and Crown Prince and Prime Minister Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, included extensive discussions with Bahraini officials on leveraging the comparative advantages of the two countries’ geographic location to facilitate the movement of goods between Asia and Europe.
It could be said that the military and security aspect of Bennett’s visit to Bahrain cannot be ignored, as both countries face the same threats. There is no doubt about that. But I think it does not form the basis of bilateral relations, or at least it does not occupy most of the strategic thinking.
Despite the provocations that the Kingdom of Bahrain has faced from its Iranian neighbor, it has not established formal relations with Israel to counter those provocations. Such sovereign orientations must be evaluated from a broader strategic perspective that is not limited to a single variable. The region, like the entire world, is in flux.
Frankly, I do not understand why some regional parties denounce the GCC countries’ alignment with their strategic interests, especially since those who do. Iran, for example, in pursuit of its interests, engages in dialogue with the very party it repeatedly refers to as the “Great Satan.”
The US, a trusted strategic partner of several countries in the region, is also participating in the negotiations in Vienna, even though countries in the region have various reservations about the Iran agreement, from which the former administration of President Trump withdrew in 2018.
There is a high likelihood that the same gaps, problems, and drawbacks will remain if new safeguards are available in line with the US negotiating vision. It is clear that the revival of the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran is imminent, and that the threat of Iranian-backed militias hatching in several countries in the region is also dangerously increasing.
Given all these dynamics, it is obvious that the rules of the game in the region are changing; new cooperation and even alliance structures are emerging to counter threats and protect the security and stability of states.
What remains problematic, however, is the attempt to impose an opinion, exert influence, and dominate the policies of others out of a sense of superiority, which prevents an objective understanding and awareness of the context of current events and developments. Realistically, no one in the GCC countries wants to make things worse or heat up the atmosphere.
These countries simply have ambitious development projects to bring more prosperity and well-being to their people.
That there is a great rush of development projects in the countries of the region. This creates a positive and desirable state of competition or integration that not only benefits the people of the region, but also spreads the economic returns to many countries around the world. These projects provide opportunities for overseas job creation and new opportunities for investment, exports, imports and large volumes of trade.
It is absurd to claim today that the GCC states’ relations with Israel are aimed at one side or the other, or that military alliances are in the making. But it is certain that a project for regional security and stability is emerging, based on peace, coexistence, tolerance and acceptance of the other.
It is a real weapon that, despite all obstacles, is capable of displacing all projects of spreading hostility, turmoil, chaos and unrest in our region. The peoples of the entire region, without exception, want to live in peace.
Those who believe otherwise should come to their senses instead of continuing to waste resources on illusions that can only be sold to the merchants of war, the sellers of slogans and false dreams.
Dr. Salem AlKetbi is a UAE political analyst and former Federal National Council candidate,