Russia and the Middle East
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"Forefather" reconciles Jews and Arabs

23.09.2020

A week after the Israeli Prime Minister signed a peace treaty with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and a declaration of peace with the Kingdom of Bahrain on the White House lawn in Washington on September 15, it became clear that not only these monarchies, but the Arab world as a whole were ripe for adoption responsible strategic decisions that will shape the New Middle East. Donald Trump also signed the fateful documents. The signing procedure has become almost a copy of the one - a truly breakthrough one that took place at the same place 41 years ago: President Jimmy Carter also signed the Camp David agreements between the leaders of Egypt (Anwar Sadat) and Israel (Menachem Begin). Like J. Carter in 1979, D. Trump today reinforces the political agreement and the military component: in particular, he does not exclude the supply of the latest F-35 fighters to these Middle Eastern countries.

Президент США Джимми Картер, лидер Египта Анвар Садат и Израиля Менахем Бегин после подписания Кэмп-Дэвидского соглашения 26 марта 1979 года году

The first attempt of normalization between Egypt and Israel in 1979 caused a reaction of condemnation and outrage from most Arab countries: in protest, they expelled Egypt from the League of Arab States (LAS), and this regional organization itself was moved from Cairo to Tunisia. It was returned back to the Egyptian capital only in 1991. It was in that year, we recall, that the "Desert Storm" broke out - an international military operation to expel Iraq from Kuwait it occupied.

The events around the Iraqi-Kuwait conflict (1990-1991) became a turning point - they seemed to have opened the eyes of the Arab elites to the fact that most of their problems and upheavals are not connected with Israel, but with deeper socio-political and religious divisions in the region. It became clear that the Soviet Union was not ready, as before, to stand up like a mountain for its radical clients, such as Saddam Hussein, Hafiz Assad or Muammar Gaddafi. Hence the desire of responsible Arab politicians to create the architecture of the New Middle East, which emerged in the 90s, for which it was necessary to turn the page of the Arab-Israeli confrontation. In 1994, Jordan made peace with Israel. And in 2002, a pan-Arab (originally Saudi) peace initiative was born, based on the principle of "two states for two peoples". It was the first manifestation of the realistic approach of the Arab League, which declared the goal of creating a Palestinian state not instead of Israel, but beside it. The current position of the UAE and Bahrain, entering the era of peace with Israel, is based on this principle: the most important condition of the agreements is the refusal of the Netanyahu government to annex part of the West Bank of the Jordan River.

However, the leadership of the Palestinian Authority, not to mention the extremist group Hamas, which seized power in the Gaza Strip, consider the position of Abu Dhabi and Manama to be insufficient pressure on Israel and even almost a betrayal of the "Palestinian struggle." Nonetheless, their attempts to revive the policy of boycotting their "Arab brothers", as was the case with Egypt from 1979 to 1989, this time failed: at their meeting on September 10, the Foreign Ministers of the Arab League members rejected the Palestinian request to condemn the then in preparation UAE peace treaty with Israel. "The discussion of this issue was serious and comprehensive, it took time. But we failed to reach an agreement on the text of the resolution proposed by the Palestinians," Assistant Secretary General of the Arab League Husam Zaki told Al-Jazeera TV. Something unique happened: the Palestinians were isolated in the Arab League.

At the same time, the number of countries wishing to follow in the footsteps of the UAE began to increase: on the eve of the ceremony at the White House on September 15, the leadership of Bahrain volunteered to join its participants. Donald Trump, presenting what was happening as his personal victory, seemed to be happy to announce the "line" of Arab countries ready to start creating a new security architecture in the region. Among those mentioned is Saudi Arabia, whose leadership does not deny the possibility of formalizing peaceful relations with Israel.

First of all, we are talking about the bloc of countries of the Arab conservative community (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain), which, due to tradition and inertia, postponed normalization with Israel longer than others. Breaking this vicious circle, the UAE and Bahrain took a step that will undoubtedly affect the military-political situation in the Middle East and especially in the Persian Gulf. This is another (after 1979) breakthrough to a new situation in the region, which, of course, will not become calmer in the foreseeable future than it has been until now. However, something else is important: from now on, many political processes there will proceed according to rules different from those of today. As the signatories say, according to the "commandments of Abraham" - the forefather of all Semitic tribes. Immediately, we note that these do not include the Persians (Iranians) and Turks. It is no coincidence that the process of establishing peace between Israel and the Arab countries was called the "Agreement of Abraham" (option - "The Abraham accords").

                                                     According to the precepts of Abraham

Regarding what is happening, two questions are most often asked: why exactly the UAE and Bahrain are making a breakthrough, and why now?

Indeed, on the one hand, the UAE and Bahrain are the same monarchies as their Arab neighbors, with the prevalence of the same interpretation of the Sunni doctrine of Islam (except for Qatar, whose leadership respects the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood), with an economy built mainly on the export of hydrocarbons. On the other hand, the UAE and Bahrain have long-standing (since the early 1970s) constitutional traditions that have created systems for coordinating the interests of various strata of society while maintaining the privileged positions of the ruling clans in them (the UAE, we note, is a federation of seven equal principalities). Another difference from the neighbors is the stake of the leadership of both monarchies on economic modernization combined with the preservation of national and religious customs. These countries were the first in the region to open up to foreign tourism. Abu Dhabi and Manama have become prestigious venues for major international forums. Seaports and air ports there have become important transport hubs between Asia, Africa and Europe. Western companies, specialists and experts with their advanced technologies and experience have flooded Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Manama since since long ago.

To maintain the effectiveness of "islands of modernization" in these two monarchies a special socio-psychological atmosphere was formed long ago, in which foreigners were allowed to lead their usual way of life (in the Western, liberal style), but in such a way that it did not undermine the foundations of traditionalist society. In fact, we are talking about the coexistence of two civilizational spaces, which is unthinkable in other monarchies of the Gulf. The population of the UAE and Bahrain is imbued with the spirit of tolerance: despite the fact that Islam remains an important culturally forming element, it is not practiced in rigid forms and is not considered the only norm that determines the everyday life of citizens. For many years, interreligious forums have been held in Abu Dhabi and Manama, at which representatives of Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism discuss common problems for all people in the refraction of the corresponding religious dogma. Each of these two countries has its own special religious landscape: if in the UAE it is created by the numerical predominance of Sunni Muslims, then in Bahrain - in the majority of Shiites. In addition, the Jewish community has been living there for centuries and even quite flourishes.

We can say that the state and social systems in the UAE and Bahrain, based on the postulates of moderate Islam, have begun to represent a special intercivilizational phenomenon. Not surprisingly, this example is rejecting by the fundamentalists in the region. And their geographical proximity to Iran makes itself felt: in Bahrain, conspiracies of Iranian special services are periodically exposed. Note that many in Tehran see this country as a historical part of Iran.

                                                      "Arc of stability" versus "arc of resistance"

Why just now (August-September) a new wave of recognition by the Arab countries of Israel and the signing of peace agreements has spilled out? It would seem well known that frequent contacts between Israel and the monarchies have been going on for many years. And if so, then first of all it is worth mentioning the fundamental (long-term) factors. Among them - the aggravation of the Sunni-Shiite confrontation, in particular, in connection with the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, the outbursts of unrest in Iraq and Lebanon - all this as a direct result of the intensification of Iran's expansionist policy in the region; Turkey's leadership has also stepped up the implementation of its strategies (re-establishing influence within the former Ottoman Empire, its policy towards Syria and Libya), which are perceived by the Arab monarchies as hostile. Simply put, Iran and Turkey are expanding their presence in the Arab space, moreover, to the detriment of the Arab community. All this put the monarchies in a difficult position and forced to begin de facto coordination and partial military interaction with Israel, the most powerful militarily state in the region.

Medium-term factors are associated with the conclusion in 2015 by the permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany of the "nuclear deal" with Iran, as well as the policy of the Trump administration (since 2017) to disrupt this deal. The monarchies and Israel are outraged that the agreements with Iran were reached without their consultation and consent, and they themselves fear to become the first victims of the "excessive complacency" of the Western countries, Russia and China with regard to Tehran. For the increasing aggressiveness of Iran is seen in the Gulf as a direct consequence of this deal. Fears of the US Middle Eastern partners that after the November 3 elections, Washington's position may return to the times of Obama (one of the main initiators of the deal), is pushing them to formalize the already established relations behind the scenes. The Trump administration's diplomacy was also aimed at such an outcome from the very beginning, for which the fact of signing the agreements on September 15 becomes a significant bonus on the eve of the elections.

    Церемония подписания "Авраамовых соглашений" в Белом доме 15 сентября 2020 года

Finally, the immediate factors. These include a combination of circumstances such as, firstly, Trump's presentation of the Palestinian-Israeli settlement plan ("Deal of the Century"), which was generally positively perceived by the US Middle East partners, and secondly, B. Netanyahu's threat to annex part of the West Bank, which, according to this plan, should go to Israel. The third component of the puzzle was the attempts of monarchies to urgently prevent this annexation, which, in the opinion of the UAE leadership, will make it impossible for the monarchies to further rapprochement with Israel. The cost for Netanyahu’s "abstaining" from annexation turned out to be the agreements with the UAE and Bahrain.

As a result, a consensus of interests of the Arab countries, Israel and the United States has been shaped, which can change the current military-political trends in the Middle East fields. The parties to the agreements claim that an "arc of stability" is being created in the region - a term, let us note, designed to become an antipode to the concept of "arc of resistance" introduced into circulation by Tehran. The Iranian leadership considers the latter to include the zones of its expanded influence - the Shiite communities in Iraq, Lebanon, the Palestinian group Hamas, and now also Syria. By joint efforts with Israel, the Arabs intend to curb Tehran's expansionist appetites. And at the same time to demonstrate muscles to Ankara. Until R.T. Erdogan is on the top there.

Shumilin Alexander, Head of the Center "Euro-Atlantic - the Middle East"
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