Like a bolt out of the blue – PM Bibi Netanyahu has shocked the Israeli people and the world by concluding a historic peace agreement with the United Arab Emirates in the Persian Gulf. Come what may, he will go down in history along with two other immortal peace makes – Prime minister Menachem Begin (who signed the peace accord with Egypt in 1979) followed by Yitzhak Rabin (who make peace with Jordan in 1994).
The background is extraordinary, with Netanyahu’s feat coming in a time when thousands of angry Israelis have been protesting outside his Jerusalem residence, demanding the PM’s resignation. Netanyahu has been tarred and feathered for bungling the COVID crisis, as well as running afoul of the law (and in fact, he is now on trial). Now, amid this political mayhem, US President Donald Trump is expected to oversee the signing of the peace agreement three weeks from now in Washington.
Naturally, in the Persian Gulf, Tehran is furious. The world’s “number 1 sponsor” of state terror castigates the peace treaty as “dangerous and illegitimate.” This is almost as good a “recommendation” as any concerning the value of a peace agreement between Israel and an Arab state in the Gulf.
It has just been announced that Mossad Chief, Yossi Cohen, will again leave for another visit to the United Arab Emirates. Note this, about a month ago, it was reported that the Mossad’s Chief “Spook” was about to visit some states in the Gulf. At the time, we reported on this unusual trip, recalling that the Mossad Director’s travels abroad were not made public. In retrospect, Cohen, who is highly-rated by the PM, was apparently sent on a secret diplomatic mission linked possibly to the forging of a peace treaty. It can also be said that such a dramatic move had to require the involvement of President Trump. An official Israeli announcement says that Cohen’s upcoming visit will be mainly to finalize security issues.
In Washington, Trump estimated the peace accord will be signed in another three weeks in the US Capitol. Lo and behold, Trump will also be able to cash in with Jewish and Evangelical voters with the presidential election in the offing. On a side note – it would appear as if the Mossad director’s diplomatic prowess points to a future career in Israeli politics.
To Netanyahu’s credit, he kept the sensitive diplomatic contacts under wraps. This, after also being severely criticized by the far-Right for recently refusing to annex part of the West Bank within the boundaries of the Trump peace plan. Jordan’s Kind Abdallah was furious and had warned that this would violate his kingdom’s peace treaty with Israel and would trigger dire results. Finally, after the European Union, Israel’s biggest trade partner, threatened to impose sanctions, Netanyahu decided to back off the annexation for the time being. Of course, this angered many of his Right-wing supporters, and the polls indicated that Netanyahu was in a nose-dive.
Now overnight, Netanyahu is riding on a wave of new popularity. Bibi will lose out with the far-Right settler camp but gain support from middle-of-the-road camp. Whether you love or hate Netanyahu (and I have never voted for him), you have to admire his Machiavellian ability to, almost overnight and with top secrecy, navigate a peace agreement with a third Arab state. Indeed, a feat comparable to that of Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin.
But how this will play out in the long run with Israeli voters remains to be seen. On the far-Right, Naftali Bennett will likely get the backing of the settlement camp. On this score, it’s plausible that the PM may try to counter this by announcing a new building project in the West Bank, within the parameters of the Trump peace plan. As for the Blue and White coalition partner, the lackluster performance of its leader, Benny Gantz, does not pose a real threat to Netanyahu.
Israel and the Arab States in the Gulf
In the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the more distant Gulf states have played a very low profile in their military support for the Palestinians. However, in recent years, the shifting balance of power in the Middle East has also affected them. Israel has grown from a minuscule presence to a real power player and, particularly, vis-a-vis Iran (a non-Arab state that is now threatening its Arab neighbors).
The Muslim Shiite Ayatollahs in Tehran are bent on dominating their Sunni Arab neighbors. Recently, the Iranians sent a menacing wakeup call to Saudi Arabia, the biggest Sunni Arab state in the Gulf, by launching a massive guided-missile attack on its Aramco oil refineries. Rhiyad’s American ally did not respond forcefully against Iran, and Saudi Arabia and its Arab neighbors obviously took notice.
Could this have influenced the Gulf states to consider Israel as a potential ally against Iran on the principle, “the enemy of our enemy could be our friend.”?
Then there’s the example of the Israeli-Egyptian military cooperation in Sinai against radical forces. And after the dust begins to settle with Jordan over the annexation issue, Israel and the Hashemite kingdom can continue their cooperation in coping with military threats from neighboring Syria and Iraq. Gradually, after Egypt and Jordan realized that making peace with Israel was in their national interest, the Gulf states may also perceive that Israel can be a valuable ally, this time against Iran.
So, except for the far-Right settler camp that accused the Prime Minister of “selling them out,” Netanyahu can be justifiably applauded for his statecraft. Although it pains me to say so, alternate Prime Minister/Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabbi Ashkenazi, who were kept totally out of the loop, appear to be rank amateurs in what can be described as the snakepit of Middle East politics.
Then there’s poor Lebanon – this sad country is still reeling and will be for some time to come. The fact is that Lebanon could have avoided the horrific explosion that has caused so much devastation and bloodshed. Think about it – who had the motivation and the funds to amass and store such a massive quantity of explosive material in the heart of Beirut? The answer is Hezbollah, the Shiite Muslim proxy of Iran, that has mounted an ongoing guerilla war against Israel and dominated Lebanon.
There is no dispute between Lebanon and the Jewish state. In fact, following the expulsion of Yasser Arafat and the PLO terrorists from Lebanon, Beirut and Jerusalem engaged in serious peace negotiations. However, the opposition of anti-Israel Shiite Muslims, supported by Tehran, succeeded in blocking a peace agreement. The Ayatollahs in Tehran have invested a fortune in arming and supporting Hezbollah, which is bent on doing Iran’s bidding. It is a safe bet that if a serious investigation is conducted into the Beirut atrocity, it will lead to Hezbollah, which actually rules Lebanon today.