At a critical moment for Palestinians Abu Dhabi and Manama are moving ahead with normalisation with Israel, just as Riyadh did before them.
The Associated Press (AP) and the Washington Post have reported that UAE ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba and his Bahraini counterpart Abdullah bin Rashed Al Khalifa met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a luxurious restaurant in Washington on March.
AP reported that Al Otaiba and Al Khalifa met at Cafe Milano restaurant in Georgetown, Washington, with the US adviser and State Department official Brian Hook and a number of US journalists. Netanyahu and his wife then joined them, “They had friendly conversations and laughed together out loud.”
According to the Washington Post, their dinner highlights one of the worst kept secrets in the Arab world. They are “the quiet relations between Israel, the UAE and some of its Arab neighbouring countries which are getting closer to Israel, although they do not officially recognise its existence.”
The newspaper pointed out that there is a new common cause that makes these countries closer to Israel, which is standing against Iran. It noted that the meeting sheds light on the “extent of friendly cooperation relations between Israel and some of the Gulf countries led by Saudi Arabia, which considers that Iran now represents a greater threat on the Middle East than Israel.”
Politics, sports and deals
According to US and Israeli newspapers reports, the UAE, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have gone beyond the “acquaintance” stage with Israel and reached closer relations and coordination on serious issues in the region, especially the Palestinian cause in relation to the so-called “Deal of the Century” or the “Iranian threat.”
In addition to meetings between the three countries’ officials and Israeli political and security officials and clerics which have been held in recent months and years in Washington and European capitals. Haaretz reported that meetings have also been held in Tel Aviv and included large Saudi figures who the newspaper did not disclose.
Even though Saudi Arabia has opened the door for political and media normalisation with Israel as part of the new openness policy adopted by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, the UAE and Bahrain have been the most active states in this regard.
Saudi commentators and writers have welcomed the openness to Israel, arguing that the normalisation of relations with Tel Aviv is based on breaking the psychological barrier, which is the same mindset that the deceased Egyptian President Anwar Sadat had adopted when he went to Jerusalem and signed the Egypt–Israel Peace Treaty.
This new approach has been expressed members of the media, including the researcher and media professional Abdul Hameed Al-Hakeem who congratulated Israel on the occasion of what he called “Independence Day” in his tweet saying: “The Iranian policies are similar to the Nazi policies that targeted the extermination of your people.”
For his part, a writer in Al-Riyadh newspaper, Ahmad Al-Jumaiah has published an article in which he called on the Arabs to normalisation relations and declare peace with Israel to devote efforts to deal with Iran because it is more dangerous than Israel, as he put it.
Last month, the UAE and Bahrain participated in the Giro d’Italia bicycles race of 2018, in the occupied territories, and the UAE has recently competed with the Israeli team in a European Netball Championship in Gibraltar.
These unprecedented normalisation participations in the matches have been welcomed by a great Israeli acclaim and described it by a great breakthrough and an Israeli victory, as confirmed by Yonatan Gonen, an official at the Israeli Foreign Ministry, and Ofir Gendelman, a spokesman for the prime minister, in their tweets.
Based on documents from Wikileaks website, MEMO has revealed that this normalisation goes beyond the sports field. There is an ongoing economic, diplomatic, security and military coordination between Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv. It pointed out to the great role of Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba in this regard.
The MEMO reported that the Israeli security companies, most notably AGT, have received contracts for the protection of gas and oil facilities in the UAE. These companies are also working on establishing electronic monitoring systems in Abu Dhabi. In addition, at the end of 2017, the UAE had participated in Exercise Red Flag in Greece along with Israel and the United States.
Few days before, the foreign minister of Bahrain surprised the Israelis themselves when he supported Tel Aviv’s right of self-defence after bombing targets in Syria. At the peak of the uprising against Trump’s decision to transfer the US embassy to Jerusalem at the end of last year, Bahrain had sent a delegation to Israel to crown the rapprochement steps.
These statements and visits have come in light of rapidly growing relations between Bahrain and Israel that have started since the 1990s and have been culminated by high-level meetings between senior leaderships in both countries over the past years, and a coordination on security, political and commercial issues, as reported by US and Israeli newspapers.
As for Israeli officials, they do not hide their welcoming of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s directions to openness on Israel and pushing forward towards achieving the “Deal of the Century” in cooperation with the Trump administration and their consideration that he is the locomotive that is pulling other countries all along this path.
Israeli Communications Minister Ayoob Kara had confirmed that Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE are publicly pushing forward relations with Israel and that visits by these countries’ officials have become frequent but undeclared.
Israeli officials have praised Riyadh for allowing Indian airlines to cross into Israel via Saudi airspace, while the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) against Israel movement considered what happened as a new form of normalisation.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu summed up his country’s growing relations with the three countries and other countries by saying that “relations with the Arab countries are currently witnessing an unprecedented development, they are greater than ever, and this is a huge change.”
Netanyahu pointed out that Arab leaders do not pose an obstacle to the expansion of Arab relations with Israel, but the nations and the prevailing public opinion in the Arab countries are the main obstacle to that, as he put it.
Israel hopes to overcome the public obstacle and the difficulty of penetrating the Arab civil society to take advantage of the intensive pace of Riyadh, Manama and Abu Dhabi and the official normalisation to achieve what it aspires to.