President Trump created little history on Friday when he announced that the Persian Gulf Bahrain states would establish full diplomatic relations with Israel. The move to Bahrain, a month after normalizing relations with the United Arab Emirates, brings the number of Arab countries recognizing Israel to four countries (Egypt did so in 1979, Jordan in 1994) and a strategic realization of the Middle East Wings
But this latest Arab-Israeli entry is neither a bolt from the blue nor the result of months of fragile shuttle diplomacy by the Trump administration. Arab leaders in Israel and the Persian Gulf had been quietly cultivating relations for years, united by their general antipathy to Iran and worrying about a void in the region due to US retrenchment.
Martin S., who served as US ambassador to Israel, as Bill Clinton and Middle East peace envoy led by Burke Obama.
The White House exploited these forces, recognizing one by one the opportunity to progress on its failure: touting a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians.
Mr. Trump’s cultivation of Saudi Arabia and its Gulf neighbors was an important component, as was his desire to sell advanced weapons to these countries. But it was shamelessness, as much as spadework, that Tuesday set the stage for the White House ceremony, in which Israelis and Emirati would formalize their new relationship. (Bahrain will send officials to the ceremony.)
What are the benefits of close relationships?
Israel and the Gulf Arab states began to establish temporary relations in 1993 after the Oslo peace agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. They opened trade missions in each other’s capitals, although many were closed after the escalation of Israeli-Palestine violence in the second Intifada. , Which burst in 2000.
The links further strengthened over the last decade as Israel and the Gulf Arabs made common cause on Iran, which both sides see as a serious threat. In 2015, the United Arab Emirates allowed Israel to establish a diplomatic presence at the International Renewable Energy Agency in Abu Dhabi. Qatar has worked with Israel for a cease-fire in the Hamas-dominated enclave of Gaza. The Sultanate of Oman hosted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2018.
For the Gulf states, Israel is a hedge against the declining role of the United States in the region, as well as a wealthy trading partner with a high-tech economy. For Israel, Gulf ties reduce their isolation and are a way to counter pressure from Palestinians to negotiate a new state, as support from fellow Arabs is a linchine of that long campaign.
The chance of progress came paradoxically because of Arab alarm over Mr. Trump’s attempt to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. Trump’s plan was heavily tilted toward Israel, essentially giving Mr. Netanyahu a green light in the occupied territory of the West Bank.
For the Gulf Arabs, destruction in a close relationship with Israel would be a fatal blow. Under the Saudi-led Arab peace initiative, Israel will seek full recognition from the Arab world only after resolving its conflict with the Palestinians and approving its aspiration for statehood.
It fell to a well-connected diplomat from the United Arab Emirates, Yousef al-Otiba, to fulfill the choice for Israel. In a column on the front page of Yedioth Aharonoth, a Hebrew-language letter in June, Mr. Al-Otiba, the ambassador in Washington, told Israelis that he might have annexation or generalization – but not both.
The diplomat also approached Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, with the same message. But when the Emirates were drawing a line in the sand, they were also making an offer – one that Mr. Kushner, hungry for success after three years of fruitless Middle East diplomacy, was quickly accepted. He pressured Netanyahu to make changes in return for normalization, which Mr. Trump could claim as a diplomatic victory in an election year.
Amiriti now had other reasons to move forward. It helped procure sophisticated American weapons: F-35 fighter jets, Reaper drones and EA-18G Grottler jets. Analysts say Bahrain’s move could help the country secure an air defense system from the United States.
What will happen next?
Some analysts are likely to follow other Arab countries, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, in recognizing Israel with potential candidates from Sudan and Oman. But Bahrain’s decision is vicious because of its close ties and dependence on its much larger neighbor, Saudi Arabia.
Analysts say the Emperor of Bahrain, Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, would never have acted without the assistance of the Saudis, implying that it could be the precursor of an important Saudi move to normalize relations .
Saudi Arabia has already taken symbolic steps, such as Israel allowing commercial flights to use its airspace. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of the country, suggested that he is open to recognizing Israel, although his statements have sometimes put him in trouble with his more conservative father, King Salman, who turned Palestinian The traditional Arab position on statehood is reaffirmed.
Mr. Trump placed Saudis at the center of his Middle East diplomacy. His first presidential visit was in Riyadh, Saudi capital. He claimed to have negotiated multi-billion dollar arms sales to the state. And he defended Prince Mohammed against the evidence that he ordered the ruthless killing of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi.
Saudi Arabia also became nervous with Mr. Trump’s decision to move the Saudi Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. For all their expressions of support for Palestinians, they, like other Arab states, are less committed to the Palestinians than they once were. While arrests against Iran are considered a more necessary priority, analysts say, fueling a decade-long Arab protest toward Israel.
Mr. Trump and Mr. Kushner have bet that their cultivation of Saudi Arabia will pay off in support of American peace. Granting Saudi recognition to Israel would be a huge award, which ranks with the Camp David or Oslo Accords, which is the weight of the country in the Arab world. But Saudi Arabia takes its authorship of the peace initiative seriously, and Mr. Trump will not be the first US president to be shunned by him.
A lot will depend on the outcome of the US election, certainly. But with it off the table, at least for now, Mr. Indyk said there was a window for Palestinians to resume talks with Israel.
“On its face, there was something bad for the Palestinians that could create positive momentum for the peace process,” he said.