The Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security

In recent years there has been much talk in Israel and the US about the “moderate/pragmatic Sunni camp” as a potential regional ally for dealing with Iran and even for pursuing a “creative” solution to the Palestinian issue. However, this “camp” is not really a unified player, but more an expression of Saudi and Emirati aspirations for hegemony. There is also a lack of identity of interests and agendas between these states and Egypt and Jordan, which have long been important strategic partners of Israel. Although Israel should pursue any opportunity to strengthen ties with Arab and Muslim states, it should not rely on an incoherent  “bloc” headed by an unstable and problematic leadership, even if doing so would correspond with the interests of the US Administration.

Since the outbreak of turmoil in the Arab world in 2011, and increasingly so since 2015, politicians and commentators in Israel and the US have been speaking of a “moderate” or “pragmatic” Sunni camp as an important regional ally in challenging the spread of Iran’s influence in the region.1 Some observers in Israel as well as Washingon have also suggested that interaction with this camp could provide a platform for ending the Arab-Israeli conflict. This would offer   an “indirect approach” for resolution of the Israeli-Palestintian struggle by providing an Arab umbrella for measures proposed by the US, while simultaneously marginalizing and neutralizing the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas.2 This essay explores a number of issues: Does a “moderate Sunni camp” indeed exist? Who are its constituents and what is the nature of their mutual relations? Do they have common objectives and interests, and if so, what are they? And finally, can reliance on such a camp constitute an important element of Israel’s national security policy including, specifically, resolution of the Palestinian issue?

What Has Changed in the Regional Landscape?

The year 2015 saw (further) change in the already turbulent strategic landscape of the Middle East. From Israel’s perspective, the major development took place in September, with Russia’s military intervention in Syria’s civil war on the side of the Assad regime. In doing so, Russia changed the course of the four-year-long war in Syria, which led to the present state of affairs. With Russian air support, alongside ground support provided by Hezbollah, Iran, and Shiite militias from Iraq and Afghanistan, the regime has recaptured most of Syria’s territory and appears to be firmly in control.  However, 2015 saw another strategic development in the region: a “generational transition” occured in Saudi Arabia’s al-Saud dynasty, with the appointment of the founding monarch’s grandson, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, as crown prince, marking the rise of the “third generation”. The Crown Prince is the second most powerful position in the kingdom, and throughout most of Saudi history, its holder has in effect been the day-to-day ruler. King Salman then appointed his own son, Mohammed bin Salman, already the defense minister, as deputy crown prince. In June 2017, Mohammed bin Salman (known as MbS) replaced his cousin as crown prince and became heir apparent to the Saudi throne. He was also the architect of the Arab military intervention in Yemen, launched in 2015 in response to the threat that victorious Houthi rebels posed to the regime of Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, whom the Saudis support. The Shitte Houthis, despite differences in religious outlook, had gradually become strategic allies of Iran.  Upon assuming office, US President Trump, who had harshly criticized Saudi Arabia in the past, found a common language with Mohammed bin Salman and the UAE de facto leader, Mohammed bin Zayed, whom some see as the “mentor” of his young Saudi counterpart. Their common interests center on adopting a joint stance against Iran, as indicated during the President’s visit to Riyadh, his first destination outside the US. In recent months reports have emerged3 about American diplomatic efforts to promote the White House’s plans for a summit with states in the region in October, preparatory to launchinga “Middle East Strategic Alliance” (MESA) in January. The alliance would comprise the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states,4 Egypt, Jordan, and possibly the US itself, and its aim would be to address the Iranian threat in the region. Presumably, part of the attraction that such an alliance holds for the Trump administration is that it would reduce the costs of American involvement in the Middle East, after two decades of intensive military engagement in the region. Some have termed this proposed alliance an “Arab NATO,” although the original NATO is not particularly dear to Donald Trump’s heart. Evidently there are no plans to include Israel in this alliance but, rather, to work in cooperation with it.

The Two “Cold Wars” of the New Middle East

There are currently two regional struggles between blocs in the Middle East, which may be termed “two regional cold wars.” The common denominator between them is that one camp is led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, or more precisely by the powerful crown princes of the two countries, Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) and Mohammed bin Zayed (MbZ), the crown prince of Abu Dhabi. Likewise, both campaigns are being waged “on the backs” of weak or failing Arab states, the bitter fruit of the “Arab Spring.”  The older of these is the campaign against Iran. Saudi Arabia, characterized for some decades now by Sunni religious extremism, has been a sworn ideological and religious enemy of the Shiite Islamic Republic of Iran since the latter’s founding. The animosity stems in part from the inter-sectarian struggle within Islam and competition over Muslim hearts and minds, but also – perhaps primarily – from geo-strategic considerations. Persia/Iran is a hegemonic, non-Arab entity situated on the margins of the Eastern Arab world (al-Mashreq), and during various periods it dominated major portions of Iraq, the Persian Gulf states, and Central Asia. Moreover, for the past century Iran and Saudi Arabia have been among the leading energy producers in the world (and the two largest producers in the Middle East), a fact that necessitates their cooperation yet also positions them as rivals.  For decades Saudi Arabia served as “the banker” in the struggle waged by conservative Arab countries (and Iraq under Saddam Hussein) against Iran and Shiite Islam. Its lack of military power and experience, as well as of a “critical mass” of politicians, experts, and military leaders, meant that Saudi Arabia’s power and interests were manifested primarily through economic (influence on the energy market, such as through the oil embargo of 1974, and grants to other states) and ideological-religious means (playing a key role in fostering Salafi Sunni extremism), leaving others to lead the strategic operations that required military force. When crises broke out in Syria and Yemen at the start of this decade, and given Egypt’s and Iraq’s continuing preoccupation with their own domestic problems, these two historical leaders and major powers and shapers of the Arab world were sidelined. Saudi Arabia was then compelled to play a significantly stronger operational leadership role in the Arab world than that which it had been accustomed. Towards this end, it works very closely with the UAE and to a large extent even relies on the latter’s ability to set the course. The regional profile of the UAE the past decade far exceeds its geo-political weight, and its proactive engagement throughout the Arab world has earned it the nickname “Little Sparta.” Outside of these central arenas, Saudi Arabia has also been active in Lebanon, where it seeks to curtail Iran’s efforts and neutralize the power and influence of Hezbollah, including through a failed attempt to apply pressure on Prime Minister Saad Hariri. Likewise, it has recently begun to seek inroads into the hearts and minds of the population and Shiite elites in Iraq, in order to reduce Shiite-Sunni tensions and reinforce anti-Iranian elements.5 It is neither accurate nor useful, however, to portray the ongoing regional struggle in simplistic terms of “Shiites against Sunnis”, even if this depiction has some basis in reality. There is a second “cold war” taking place in the Middle East. This war commenced with the start of the “Arab Spring,” when the conservative monarchies of the Arab world, led by the UAE and Saudi Arabia, united against the wave of popular uprisings.6 Their effort and animosity were directed primarily against the Muslim Brotherhood, which they regarded as the covert instigator of the turbulence afflicting the Arab world, and against the two Sunni states that supported the Brotherhood and the popular uprisings – Qatar and Turkey (which, like Iran, is a geo-political rival of Saudi Arabia for supremacy in the Muslim world).7 This anti-revolutionary alliance conducted its first military intervention in March 2011, when forces led by Saudi Arabia entered Bahrain to suppress the popular revolt. Subsequently the UAE and Saudi Arabia, on the one hand, and Qatar and Turkey, on the other, struggled for control over the Sunni world by supporting local proxies in Libya, Syria, and most prominently and significantly, Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood, led by Mohammed Morsi, seized power in Egypt on June 30, 2012, in what appeared to be a victory for Qatar and Turkey, but were ousted in a counter-revolution in June-July 2013, with massive support provided by Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The most recent peak of this cold war took place when Saudi Arabia and the UAE declared an embargo against Qatar, in July 2017. The rationale for instigating this crisis was Qatar’s alleged covert relations with Iran, and more to the point, its explicit support for the Muslim Brotherhood, but its actual roots are deeper. They stem from Saudi Arabia’s anger at Qatar, since 2011, for not aligning itself with Riyadh’s ambitions of leading the Arab monarchies in supporting the existing order, and turning back the wave of popular uprisings across the Arab world. This was compounded by an even more deeply rooted frustration on Saudi Arabia’s part surrounding the Al Jazeera network, owned by the Qatari royal family, which is critical of the Saudi regime and voices support for popular and democratic elements in the Arab world. Saudi Arabia convinced six Arab Muslim countries to support its embargo against Qatar. Notably, Qatar still enjoys good relations with the United States and hosts its most important airbase in the region, Al-Udeid. Qatar currently appears to be coping relatively well with its  second year under the Saudi- and UAE-led embargo, which has actually solidified its ties with Iran and Turkey. The latter has in fact deployed forces to Qatar as a deterrent against Saudi Arabia and its agents. One of the main outcomes of the embargo is the paralyzing effect it has had on the GCC – the “Arab NATO alliance” in its previous anti-Iranian incarnation – which was founded in 1981 and on which the US administration plans to base the new MESA (although it remains unclear how it intends to bridge the rift that has developed in the organization). The grueling campaign against Iran and its satellites, which is exacting a bloody daily toll from the Saudis and Emirates in Yemen and has even led to missile strikes against Saudi cities, remains a high priority with perceived existential implications for Saudi Arabia. At the same time, however, Riyadh also attributes great importance to attaining supremacy in the Sunni camp against Qatar, Turkey, and the Muslim Brotherhood.

The “Moderate Arab Camp”and the Palestinian Issue

According to media reports, the Trump administration believes that Arab states will play a key role in what has been termed the “outside-in” approach. This strategy is based on the presumption that Arab states’ participation in the peace process would reduce and eclipse the importance of the most difficult issues for Israelis and Palestinians – borders, Jerusalem, and refugees (some of which the Trump administration has already “taken off the table”). According to this approach, the Gulf states would improve relations with Israel as a prelude to a peace agreement. The Trump administration’s formula for a solution, as reported, is based on an assessment that the Sunni Arab states have grown tired of the Palestinians and are prepared to see them dragged into a deal, and that Abbas would have no choice but to agree for fear of being left behind.8 Moreover, the Emirates are reportedly promoting Mohammed Dahlan, possibly to replace Abbas or perhaps as a means of pressuring him. Mohammed bin Salman certainly fits into these American plans and reportedly even contributed some of the ideas. According to a report leaked by Israeli sources in 2018, he expressed contempt for and harsh criticism of the Palestinian Authority’s president, Mahmoud Abbas, during a meeting with Jewish groups. He was quoted as saying, “In the last several decades the Palestinian leadership has missed one opportunity after the other and rejected all the peace proposals it was given. It is about time the Palestinians take the proposals and agree to come to the negotiations table or shut up and stop complaining.” He was also cited as explaining that the Palestinian issue is not a high priority for the Saudi government or among the Saudi public. It was further reported that bin Salman proposed to Abu Mazen in December 2017 that the village of Abu Dis, rather than East Jerusalem, serve as the future capital of Palestine.9  Subsequently, in what was seen as a rare rebuke of his son, King Salman reiterated “the kingdom’s firm stance regarding the Palestinian issue and the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people to an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital.” Later, in July of this year, following the transfer of the American embassy to Jerusalem, King Salman made it clear that his country was still committed to the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which includes a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders (with land swaps) with East Jerusalem as its capital.10

Who Belongs to the “Moderate Arab Camp”? To What Extent Is It Really a “Camp”? 

The “moderate Arab Camp” presumably comprises five states: Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain (which should be viewed since 2011 as a Saudi satellite), Egypt, and Jordan. It does not include Qatar, which is one of the camp’s rivals; Oman and Kuwait, which are members of the GCC but did not participate in the embargo against Qatar and are trying to mediate between the two rival Arab camps; the Maghreb French-speaking states; or Yemen, Libya, and Syria, which are not actors in the camp but, rather, theaters of war in which the camp operates militarily and politically.Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority are also outside the picture, each for its own reasons. Iraq, as noted, is currently mainly a playing field rather than a player in the wrestling match between these camps, with the Iranian camp “ahead by points.” Iran will probably remain in the lead there, in part because of the intense suspicion among Iraq’s Shiite community, including anti-Iranian Shiites, towards the anti-Shiite Wahhabi regime of Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, Egypt and Jordan have a somewhat ambiguous relationship with the camp under Saudi and UAE hegemony. For Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Iran poses a clear and present danger, and both ascribe lesser priority to problems such as the Palesetinian issue and the threat posed by radical Islamist groups. For the Egyptian and Jordanian regimes, however, the order of priorities is reversed. They are certainly not fond of the Islamic Republic and are troubled by its subversive regional activities (it was King Abdullah II who coined the term “Shiite crescent”). But far more severe and imminent in their view is the threat of Salafi Sunni terrorism, which Saudi Arabia and the UAE also reject but do not prioritize. Similarly, the Palestinian issue is one of immediate geographic proximity and great public resonance for Egypt and Jordan, requiring a sensitive, multifaceted approach rather than a “creative” remedy. For these reasons, there is more than a little friction between these two states, on the one hand, and Saudi Arabia and the UAE, on the other. Continuing instability and domestic challenges in Egypt, as well as the costly cumulative lessons learned over years of exerting leadership, currently prevent Egypt from fulfilling its traditional role as leader of the Arab world (one of every four Arab speakers is Egyptian). It maintains ties with Saudi Arabia and the UAE because of its conservatism and, in particular, its need for financial support: since 2013 the kingdom has provided Egypt with more than $10 billion in grants and soft loans, in addition to many shipments of fuel worth tens of millions of dollars. It participates in the embargo against Qatar and, alongside the UAE (and Russia), is deeply involved in providing assistance to General Khalifa Hafter, eastern Libya’s leader, in his campaign against the regime in Tripoli, which has close ties with the Muslim Brotherhood. After the counter-revolution of 2013, the Egyptian regime made significant and unusual gestures to the Saudi Crown Prince, including the return of the islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi sovereignty in 2016. This move triggered a wave of anti-Saudi criticism and protest among the Egyptian public, who regarded their country, given its stature and glorious past, as having “sold its birthright” to a country of “nouveaux riches.”11 Nevertheless, the Egyptian regime is not fully committed to the proactive anti-Iranian agenda of its partners. Egypt currently maintains a conservative foreign policy, the essence of which is a firm stance, at the ideological level, against radical Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood in particular, as well as respect for state sovereignty, in contrast to the revisionist Saudi stance in Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen (this corresponds well with Russia’s position).12 Although Egypt has declared its support for the campaign against the Houthis, it has refrained from sending ground troops to Yemen, in part because of its bitter experience in the 1960s; al-Sisi has in fact asserted that “the Egyptian army is intended [to serve] Egypt.” Furthermore, Cairo currently supports the Assad regime. Evidently it is more troubled by developments in its immediate neighborhood, in the context of which it is engaged in clandestine military cooperation with Israel against ISIS elements in Sinai, intervention alongside the Russians in Libya, and the vital issue of Nile water rights under dispute with Ethiopia and Sudan. There is also the matter of national pride. Saudi-Egyptian tensions peaked in October 2016, when Egypt voted in favor of a Russian-sponsored UN Security Council resolution supporting the Syrian government. The Saudi delegate to the Council accused Cairo of “breaking with [the] Arab consensus” and Riyadh subsequently suspended several oil shipments to Egypt. In an angry statement, al-Sisi responded that Egypt “bows only to God.”13 Jordan, for its part, has quite a few points of dispute with the “two Mohammeds.” It has refrained from joining the land forces in the war in Yemen. It is not engaged in a struggle against the Muslim Brotherhood, which is perceived in Jordan as a relatively legitimate player in the political arena and enjoys representation in the parliament and local authorities, as part of the king’s delicate balancing act on the domestic front. On the matter of Qatar, Jordan has curtailed its relations and reduced its diplomatic representation in Doha, but has not expelled Qatari citizens,as instructed. Although a fiercely active opponent of the Assad regime at the start of the civil war in Syria, Jordan is now taking measures towards reconciliation with Assad’s continuing rule and resumed control over areas along the Jordanian border; the Nasib border crossing between the two states has just reopened after being closed for three years. Reports that Saudi Arabia had requested special status on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem during exchanges with the Trump administration came as a surprise and sparked concerns for the Jordanian leadership. It sought urgent clarification from Jerusalem and Washington as to whether there were plans to undermine the Hashemite Kingdom’s historical standing in Jerusalem.

The Woes of the Saudi Magician

MbS continues to encounter obstacles in pursuing his ambitious plans to use controlled economic and social reform so as to recast the kingdom in his image expeditiously while maintaining absolute political control (he is said to admire what is termed the Chinese model). First he encountered international and Arab criticism for arresting hundreds of Saudi princes and wealthy citizens in order to demonstrate his power and extort money, and for arresting Saudi activists who were promoting some of the measures that he himself had advanced. Then came his harsh response of severing diplomatic relations in reaction to the Canadian Foreign Minister’s expressions of concern over the arrests of civil and women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia. Western public opinion was further outraged when the Saudi Prosecutor sought the death penalty for five Shiite activists, including one woman, who had been held in detention for two years without legal representation, after engaging in non-violent action. The most recent and most serious misstep is the murder of oppositionist journalist Jamal Khashoggi during a visit to the Saudi Embassy in Istanbul, and the Saudi attempts to blame it on an “operation gone wrong. This is another indication of bin Salman’s severe approach to expressions of opposition,his willingness to take extreme authoritarian measures and apparently, his impulsiveness and lack of strategic thinking. This has led to calls in the U.S., including from Republicans, to reexamine the closeness of the two countries’ ties. The Saudis have also retreated from plans to make a public offering for shares in the national oil company Aramco, in light of weak market interest. This reflects the collapse of a central pillar of MbS’s “Vision 2030.” Here, too, it was a decision taken by King Salman that thwarted his son’s plans. Direct foreign investments in the kingdom dropped from $7 billion in 2016 to $1.4 billion in 2017, while increasing in the UAE and even in Qatar. According to a report by J.P. Morgan, capital exports by Saudi residents are expected to reach $65 billion in 2018, or 8.4% of the GDP (after having skyrocketed to $80 billion in 2017). Standard Chartered reported that during the first quarter of 2018, $14.4 billion flowed out of the kingdom for investment in foreign securities, the largest increase since 2008. It would appear that the market is losing confidence in the “magic touch” of the crown prince. Although ambitious, the foreign policy of MbS is not skillfully conducted or particularly successful. The embargo against Qatar has, as noted, not changed that country’s policy or bent its will. The large sums of money that the Saudis (and UAE) invested in Syria did not prevent victory on the part of Assad and his Iranian and Shiite supporters. The four-year-long military campaign in Yemen has failed so far to achieve a decisive victory over the Houthis (who responded with rocket strikes against Saudi targets) and has drawn increasing international condemnation for causing massive civilian casualties and destroying the country’s civilian infrastructures, leading to famine and epidemics of catastrophic magnitude. As for Lebanon, the attempt in November 2017 to alter its political landscape by pressuring Saad Hariri to resign, to the extent of placing him under house arrest in Saudi Arabia, was unsuccessful. In fact, it ultimately enhanced Hariri’s prestige in Lebanon and became a public relations and political fiasco for MbS. The crisis surrounding the Khashoggi affair will only exacerbate preexisting trends.

Implications for Israel

It would therefore appear that despite certain operational commonalities among its constituents (and between them and Israel), the “moderate Sunni camp” is essentially a theoretical construct representing the current activities and striving for hegemony of Saudi Arabia and the UAE. In contrast to the “Shiite camp” high-handedly controlled by Tehran, this is not a unified actor capable of meaningfully shaping regional politics, both because of Saudi Arabia’s lack of means and abilities and MbS’s questionable judgment in particular, and because of a lack of congruence between the interests and agendas of Egypt and Jordan, on the one hand, and those of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, on the other. The openness on the part of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states towards Israel undoubtedly presents an important strategic opportunity. Relations between Israel and the Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, have advanced significantly in recent years, boosted dramatically by their common struggle against the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action during the Obama administration, and are based on interests rather than values. They and Israel are united by concerns over Iran’s aggressive policy and by uncertainty regarding the extent of protection they can expect from the United States. It is important that Israel proceed wisely and discreetly to take advantage of this opportunity and cultivate bilateral ties with each and every one of the relevant Arabs states. The impulse to regard them as a single “package” and interact with them as a bloc is admittedly enticing, but would be unproductive in the long run. Nor does it accord with reality, given that this “bloc” is not an actual entity and has no definitive leadership. Such an approach is likely to hold relations  with each of the various constituents hostage to the those with the others and, in particular, dependent on relations with Riyadh. It is preferable to maximize the ranges of shared interests and understandings with each state separately, keeping in mind that these will shrink to a lower common denominator, as more players are taken into account. In this regard, the interests and policy of the US administration differ from those of Israel. The administration aims to establish a regional alliance that can do the “heavy lifting” for the US in the region vis-à-vis Iran (both in terms of blocking its influence beyond its borders and destabilizing it domestically), while sharing the financial burden. This would, in the president’s view, enable retrenchment back into the North American ”bastion”. Towards this end, he needs an organization that would mainly serve as a “front”, rather than a genuine, solidified entity. History is littered with the skeletons of American attempts to create such bodies, from the Baghdad Pact and Central Treaty Organization in the 1950s to Reagan’s “strategic consensus” and the regional alliance of the first Gulf war, which also excluded Israel. The American public and political climate tends to support international efforts based on coalitions and “burden sharing.” MESA, too, is destined to fail, both because of its weak lynchpin – Saudi Arabia – and its members’ suspicions over the Saudi agenda, and because of clashing interests among the members of this supposed alliance. In addition, the US administration is seeking new ways of resolving complex, “wicked” international issues that have plagued it for a long time. In some cases its efforts have been quite successful. But the notion that it is possible to “resolve” the Israeli-Palestinian issue by sidelining and bypassing the Palestinians, dealing instead with distant, rich, authoritarian Arab leaders, is illusory. For years Israel has refrained from engaging in peace processes with groups of states and instead focused conscientiously on bilateral negotiations in order to avoid rigid positions stemming from “posturing”, as well as attempts at coercion or dictation of the negotiating terms. Furthermore, it is unrealistic to expect that any Arab leader would “circumvent the Palestinian hurdle” and establish relations with Israel without regard for the Palestinian issue, or officially accept a solution that does not include a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital and Palestinian sovereignty over most of the 1967 territories. Every failed initiative or attempt to resolve the Palestinian problem leaves scars and “bad blood”, that only make it more difficult to reach a solution further down the road. Both Egypt and Jordan have for years been engaged with Israel in discreet yet extensive cooperation on political and security matters, regardless of their affiliation with any “camp” and irrespective of Saudi policy or Saudi Arabia’s relations with Israel. Israel’s first priority is to preserve and, as much as possible, strengthen and deepen its ties with these two peace-treaty states. They are also its nearest neighbors and share its longest borders. As noted, Israel should pursue any opportunity to cultivate relations with Arab and Muslim states, particularly when there are shared interests and a willingness to engage in genuine, peaceful cooperation. At the same time, Israel should not base its policy on one person or on a desire to please a supportive, but not always responsible, US administration. Most importantly, genuine and effective cooperation requires discretion, consideration of the other side’s interests, occasional concessions, and attention to sensitivities surrounding the issue of Israel in Arab regimes’ relations with their own publics. The trend in recent years has been to “brag” about developments, and this is not helpful in the long run.

[1] See, for example, Moshe Ya’alon and Leehe Friedman, “Israel and the Pragmatic Sunni Camp: A Historic Opportunity,” Strategic Assessment 21(2), July 2018; Eli Ben-Meir, “Donald Trump and the Sunni Axis,” Times of Israel Blog, August 27, 2017; Charles Krauthammer, “Why Middle East Peace Starts in Saudi Arabia,” Washington Post, May 25, 2017.

[2] The platform of the Yesh Atid party, for instance, includes several statements in this regard, [emphasis added]:

The joint struggle against the radical Islamist axis and the shared need to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear threshold state allows Israel to join a coalition of moderate countries in the Middle East along with Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States in conjunction with the Arab League. . . . For that to happen, Israel needs to initiate and lead an opening move towards regional negotiations with the moderate states in the region. The aim should be to achieve a long term and sustainable diplomatic agreement which will include normalization of relations between Israel and the moderate Arab states and the Arab League, strict security measures, regional economic cooperation and separation from the Palestinians. . . . Israel, the moderate Arab states and the Palestinian Authority will open negotiations which will include discussion of the outlines of a regional agreement and a separation from the Palestinians.

[3] See, for example, “Nato for Arabs?” The Economist, October 6, 2018; “US Working to Set up ‘Arab NATO’ as Bulwark against Iran,” Times of Israel, July 28, 2018; Mina Al-Oraibi and Joyce Karam, “MESA to Include Nine Countries While Prioritising Iran Threat,” The National, September 26, 2018; Hassan Ahmadia, “Why Iran Isn’t Concerned over US Plans for ‘Arab NATO’,” Al-Monitor, August 9, 2018; Yara Bayoumy, Jonathan Landay, and Warren Strobel, “Trump Seeks to Revive ‘Arab NATO’ to Confront Iran,” Reuters, July 27, 2018.

[4] The GCC includes Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, UAE, Qatar, and Oman.

[5] Rasha el Aqeedi, “Saudi Arabia’s New Realism in Iraq,” FPRI E-Note, August 9, 2018,

[6] See Sean Yom, “How Middle East Monarchies Survived the Arab Spring,” Washington Post (the Monkey Cage), July 29, 2016.

[7] See Mehran Khamrav, “Multipolarity and Instability in the Middle East,” Orbis, August 2018.

[8] See, for example, Aaron David Miller and Richard Sokolsky, “Why Trump Won’t Find Salvation in the Middle East,” Politico, May 19, 2017.

[9] “Bin Salman to Palestinians: Accept US Deal or ‘Shut Up’,” Middle East Monitor, April 30, 2018.

[10] Amir Tibon, “Saudi King Tells U.S. That Peace Plan Must Include East Jerusalem as Palestinian Capital,” Haaretz, July 29, 2018.

[11] The issue was under deliberation in Cairo courts for two years, until the Constitutional Court issued a final decision in March of this year, overturning the rulings of lower courts, and approving completion of the transfer.

[12] Michael Wahid Hanna and Daniel Benaim, “Egypt First: Under Sisi, Cairo is Going Its Own Way,” Foreign Affairs, January 4, 2018.

[13] Yasser El-Shimy, “Egypt: Wildcard,” in European Council on Foreign Relations, The Middle East’s New Battle Lines,

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