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  • Seth Frantzman

Milestones of Israel - Gulf ties

Updated: Nov 3, 2020

A look back at how Israel ties with the Gulf emerged


October 2020 was a major turning point in Israel relations with the United Arab Emirates and the Gulf. What began with a trickle of visits and new initiatives between 2018 and 2020 emerged rapidly in the summer of 2020 as relations and normalization were announced.

It all came to a head in October. A UAE delegation arrived in Israel on October 20. Four cooperation agreements have been signed. These included the visa-free travel, and deals relating to investment, science and technology and flights. The agreements also include an Abraham Fund that will start with $3 billion in trilateral investment.

The Jerusalem Post notes “US International Development Finance Corporation CEO Adam Boehler announced the fund on the tarmac at Ben-Gurion Airport, where a ceremony was held in honor of the first Emirati government delegation to Israel, led by UAE Financial Affairs Minister Obaid Humaid Al Tayer. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ‘asked us to come to do everything we could to turn the words of the accords into action and invest behind these accords and support other countries as they support these accords,’ Boehler said. ‘People are tired of the same and want economic security and jobs that come from enduring peace.’” Important US and UAE officials are linked to the October 20 meetings. These include Al Tayer and US Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, as well as Avi Berkowitz, the US Special representative for international negotiations.

How did Israel and the UAE get to this point

Let’s remember the context.  I have written on Israel-UAE relations frequently, such as this piece at Bloomberg and also at The Atlantic Council, the Daily Beast and The Jerusalem Post. (See other articles here, here and here and here).

Back in October 2018 Netanyahu made a trip to Oman that marked a major breakthrough in Israel’s attempts to develop ties with Gulf Arab countries. Israeli Minister Miri Regev travelled to the UAE in October 2018. There was widespread speculation at the time about possible relations, perhaps between Israel and Bahrain at first.

Israel and the UAE already shared concerns about Ankara’s aggressive stance in the region and also about the Muslim Brotherhood, in which Hamas has roots. Israel had also expressed concern in October 2019 about threats from Yemen, where Iranian-backed Houthis are fighting a Saudi-led alliance that has at times included the UAE. The UAE is also close to Egypt, Jordan, Cyprus and Greece; countries that are close to Israel and which form part of the EastMed gas forum.

Subsequent months involved a Chad leader’s surprise meeting with Israel’s Prime Minister and then in June 2019 Bahrain hosted the “Peace to Prosperity” workshop prior to the January 24, 2020 Trump rolling out the peace plan.

Israel also confirmed participation in the 2020 Expo in Dubai.

A February 4, 2020 Uganda secret Sudan meeting followed and on May 19 Israeli officials said a UAE flight delivered humanitarian aid to Israel during the Covid crisis. This was a symbolic flight. A second flight took place soon after. On June 12 the UAE’s ambassador to Washington Yousef Al Otaiba wrote an oped in Israel’s largest circulation daily. On July 6, 2020 IAI and Rafael and the UAE’s Group 42’s CEO Peng Xiao, signed a deal to work together against Covid. On August 13, 2020 UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash, announced the UAE’s agreement to normalize relations with Israel.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flew to the region on August 23, to Israel and then direct to Sudan (the first flight of its kind) and then to Bahrain and the UAE on August 26.

On August 31 the first flight from Israel with the EL Al, with Jared Kushner and a delegation from Israel and the US on board, the ‘Kiryat Gat’ plane flew from Israel to the United Arab Emirates. On September 4 a deal with Kosovo and Serbia was pushed through by Trump and on September 11, Bahrain says it would establish full diplomatic relations with Israel. Days later on September 15 the Abraham Accords were signed in Washington. Group 42 also said it would open an office in Israel on September 13. UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed said “I stand here today to extend a hand of peace and receive a hand of peace.”

Israel entered a lockdown soon after. Rumors about Sudan normalizing relations were dashed on September 26 (“sources say US officials indicated they wanted Khartoum to open ties with Israel, following in the UAE and Bahrain’s steps”) but revived on October 19 when the US announced it would take Sudan off its terror sponsor list. Oman said it welcomed an agreement but would wait. Kuwait’s Emir died and Morocco slammed Israel at the UN.

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz told reporters from the Gulf that Turkey was opposed to regional peace.

October 6 news included the following: “Israeli investment platform OurCrowd has signed a memorandum of understanding with business development company Phoenix, to increase business and tech ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).”

Israel’s Knesset approved the agreement on October 15 and the UAE followed days later. UAE anti-terror chief Dr. Ali al-Nuaimi said “We need to pool all resources to work together to counter terrorism,” he said. “They [terrorists] are across borders; they are everywhere. It’s our responsibility as Muslims to get back our religion and to show it to our kids as a religion of peace.”

On Sunday October 18 Israel and Bahrain signed an agreement to normalize ties as the first Israeli flight arrived in Manama. Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullah Bin Rashid Al-Zayani, who had signed the declaration in DC and Undersecretary of International Affairs Abdullah bin Ahmed bin Abdullah Al-Khalifa greeted the Israeli delegation.

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