Abu Dhabi-Tel Aviv relations: From cold to warm times

Alwaght – Past months witnessed fresh media revelations on the behind-the-scenes relations between Israeli regime and some Arab countries, giving the notion that the former enemies are moving step by step towards diplomatic normalization.

The Israeli newspaper Maariv in a report has revealed that the UAE is buying Israeli arms, and under a new weapons deal Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv ties have strengthened. The Israeli daily added that the the occupying regime also supplied drones to Egypt and the head of Libyan National Army General Khalifa Haftar, both allied to the UAE.

Maariv also pointed to the Israeli-Emirati agreement based on which two Israeli arms makers Albeit and Aeronautics provide Abu Dhabi with advanced drones.

The United Arab Emirates gained independence from Britain in 1971. Before independence, Arabs fought three wars against the Israeli regime in 1948, 1956, and 1967 that could not end Israeli regime’s occupation of Palestine. However, Abu Dhabi was not a party to any of those three battles as it was under London’s yoke.

Two years after the Emirati independence, the Arabs once again engaged in a conflict with the Israeli regime, with Egypt and Syria this time spearheading the engagement. In the fourth war too, the UAE declined to involve directly. It only went on board of a bloc of Arab states that banned oil exports to the Tel Aviv patrons, especially the US. The embargo saw Abu Dhabi, along with others, cutting its oil production and supply by 25 percent.

Post-war period

The UAE, a country of small size, population, and power, for years failed to take an independent policy in the face of Israeli regime. It, at best, designed its Israeli-related policies in line with the policies of the other fellow Arab states. Due to defeats in wars against Tel Aviv and the American influence over the Arab world’s policies the post-war positions of Arabs, both within the Arab League and the (Parisian) Gulf Cooperation Council ((P)GCC), in relation to the Israelis have been largely passive and disunited.

At the present time, the six-nation Council officially has no diplomatic ties with Tel Aviv. Nevertheless, its members for years have been pursuing an unofficial secret relationship with the Israeli regime. Yitzhak Rabin, Israeli prime minister from 1922 to his assassination in 1995, visited Oman in 1994 and met with the sultanate’s ruler Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said. The Israeli prime minister reportedly signed business deals with Muscat and afterwards with Qatar, another state in the (P)GCC. These two Arab states’ economic interactions with Tel Aviv emboldened leaders of Abu Dhabi to conservatively seek trade ties with the Israelis. However, after the Israeli wars against Gaza in 2008 and 2009, Abu Dhabi cut off business relations.

Nature of new Israeli-UAE ties

Since 2010, the UAE resumed its trade cooperation with Israeli regime in an all-new form. Formerly, the Emirati rulers showed some sensitivity towards the Palestinian cause and for example cut ties with Tel Aviv when it waged a war on the besieged Gaza. But in recent years, the UAE embarked on an indifferent approach in relation to the Palestinian case. In an open shift of policy in 2014, UAE’s Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan met with his Israeli counterpart in France. He, sources familiar with the meeting noted, suggested to the Israeli FM that the Persian Gulf sheikhdom was ready to provide financial support to the future war against Gaza. Two years earlier, bin Zayed had discussed bilateral relations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly annual event. Reports revealed that the Emirati official was taken to the Regency Hotel, where the Israeli PM was resting, through a parking door of the New York hotel, all to make sure that the bilateral will be kept secret, or at least unofficial. Yosouf Al Otaiba, the Emirati ambassador to Washington, accompanied bin Zayed, later disclosed to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

According to the Middle East Eye website, the ambassador called the Uzi Rubin, the Israeli military engineer who is dubbed the father of the Israeli advanced anti-missile system Iron Dome, to assess the damages of Israeli 2012 war on Gaza, identified as 8-Day War. Otaiba and Rubin exchanged emails for three days in a row. The contacts took place a month after the end of the Operation Pillar of Defense or Pillar of Cloud in which Israeli air force fighter jets unceasingly pounded Gaza for eight days. The revelation of the Emirati overture to Israeli regime unveils the new Abu Dhabi attitude of cherishing warm ties with Tel Aviv and detaching from an innate duty to back the Palestinian cause.

Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi break relations’ ice

The more time passes by, the more presumptuously the UAE heads to deeper interaction with Israeli regime. In 2015, Dore Gold, the director-general of the Israeli foreign ministry, visited Abu Dhabi to take part in the biennial conference of the International Renewable Energy Agency. During the visit, he told of the Tel Aviv intent to open a representation office in the Arab emirate. But the Emirati officials tried to attach little importance to the issue on the domestic public stage. The foreign ministry’s spokesperson played down the office opening as simply a move to broaden international cooperation on renewable energy. This conservatism and cover-up, to a large extent, was caused by fear of home objections as well as international backlash from entities like the BDS (Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions) movement, which means to put strains on Tel Aviv to end occupation of Palestine.

Military cooperation

In March 2017, the UAE in an unprecedented move held joint air force drills, codenamed “Act with Awareness”, with Israeli regime, along with the US and Greece. The maneuvers saw the Emirati F-16s practicing alongside the Isreali F-15s. The fighter jets simulated over-the-sea engagement as well as the situation of dealing with the Iranian S-300 anti-missile and aircraft systems, delivered to the Islamic Republic in 2016. The military partnership did not stop to these drills as the two sides inked arming deals. Among the other Cooperation Council members, the UAE is the major purchaser of Israeli weapons, specifically the air defense and electronic warfare systems.

Such relations explain Netanyahu’s remarks who told British PM Theresa May that many Arab regimes find Tel Aviv a crucial ally, not an enemy. He also, participating in annual Davos Economic Forum, said: “There is an alliance between Israel and other countries in the Middle East that would have been unimaginable years ago. I’ve never seen anything like it in my lifetime.” The Maariv also revealed that the UAE has also used Israeli defense systems to protect its oilfields following its airstrikes on Libya in support of General Haftar’s forces.

Why strategic partnership?

Having their policy influenced by the US, the Persian Gulf Arab states consider Islamic groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas, and Muslim Brotherhood as radical movements. This provides the UAE with a motivation for an alliance with Israeli regime, the same path taken by Egypt. Abu Dhabi has often attempted to engage in long-term strategic arrangements in the face of Iran’s regional strategic position. Abu Dhabi, for instance, opened an oil pipeline bypassing the Iran-dominated Strait of Hormuz, world’s most important chokepoint, with about 40% of global seaborne-traded crude oil and other liquids. The country also struggles to block foreign investments in Iran after the nuclear deal. All of these measures are on the same page with the Israeli goals and interests. Tel Aviv thinks that the UAE makes a strategic ally in anti-Iranian pressure campaign. So, it goes to great lengths to get a military toehold in the UAE.

The important question is that are the Emirati measures based on sound-mind calculations and understanding of the threat? Does Abu Dhabi rationally calculate the pros and cons of its behavior?

Tehran has always emphasized its openness to peaceful coexistence with its Arab neighbors, stressing that its security is tied to the security of the Persian Gulf region, hence the Arab states’ security. Iranophobia and tensions between Iran and Arab neighbors only come to the benefit of Tel Aviv’s strategic interests. By promoting an Iranophobic atmosphere in the region, Washington and Tel Aviv sell more and more weapons to the Arab states. However, regarding Tehran as a threat only has damaging effects on the Arab regimes and leads to domestic dissent and anti-regime social activism. An ambitious party with the dangerous dreams for the region, Tel Aviv has proven it is not a reliable ally to the Arabs, and in many cases pursues its interests at the expense of them. The most efficient way to secure the region is independence from Washington and formulation of collective security model with Tehran and other regional countries, which is the most reliable and cheapest way for the states to keep secure and stable.