The Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security

Col. (res.) Dr. Eran Lerman of JISS: The UAE-Israel agreement is not simply of only bilateral interest, but, rather, significantly strengthens one of the regional “camps” over the others in their struggle that reaches across the length and width of the Mideast, from Yemen to Lebanon, Iraq to Libya.


The Jerusalem Post 21.08.2020

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s reaction to last Thursday’s announcement that Israel and the United Arab Emirates would normalize relations was as angry as it was predictable.

“The move against Palestine is not a step that can be stomached,” he said, adding that “we may also take a step in the direction of suspending diplomatic ties with the Abu Dhabi leadership or pulling back our ambassador.”

On the surface, this just seems like Erdogan being Erdogan – furiously waving the “Palestine” banner, thereby casting himself in the role of champion of the Palestinian cause as a way to boost his stature in the eyes of the Arab and Muslim worlds. This has been the default mode throughout his 17-year rule over Turkey.

But there is more here than meets the eye. Erdogan’s Turkey is the centerpiece of one of the camps currently vying for dominance in the Middle East – the Muslim Brotherhood camp – and the Israel-UAE deal significantly strengthens one of the opposing camps. Thus the pique.

The “camps” model for understanding all the developments in the Middle East was developed some four years ago by Eran Lerman, a former senior official on the National Security Council who is now vice president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies.

At the time, there were four camps vying for control of the region: Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Camp of Stability and ISIS. Since ISIS has pretty much been neutralized, this leaves three camps standing: Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Camp of Stability.

The Muslim Brotherhood camp includes Turkey, Qatar and Hamas, while the Camp of Stability includes, Israel, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Jordan, Egypt and Morocco.

Of the Sunni states in the latter camp, Lerman said the UAE is the strongest in its opposition both to Iran and Turkey. “The Egyptians are murky about Iran, the Saudis have not been very active on the Turkish front, the UAE has come out loud and clear against both.”

While keeping Iran at bay has been widely viewed as the main force driving Israel and the UAE together, Lerman said that Turkey has been equally important, and the actual timing of the announcement may have been affected more by developments over the last few weeks surrounding Turkey than by Iran.

On August 10, Turkey sent a research vessel – escorted by a fleet of ships – to conduct a survey of a seabed in an area in the Eastern Mediterranean that is inside the borders delineated by a maritime agreement signed days earlier between Greece and Egypt. These claims conflicts with those of Turkey, which signed a maritime deal of its own earlier this year with the internationally recognized government in Tripoli, delineating this area as part of its Exclusive Economic Zone.

The UAE is firmly in Egypt’s corner, and the deal with Israel sends a message to the Turks, according to Lerman, not to “overplay” their hand.

Seen in this context, the UAE-Israel agreement is not simply of only bilateral interest, but, rather, significantly strengthens one of the camps over the others in their struggle that reaches across the length and width of the Mideast, from Yemen to Lebanon, Iraq to Libya. Turkey’s anger at the Israel-UAE deal is less out of concern for the Palestinians, and more out of a sense that it weakens the Muslim Brotherhood in this game of camps.

LERMAN, WHO was in favor of partial annexation in the West Bank and believes that the Jordan Valley should be set as Israel’s eastern border, said nonetheless that the Israel-UAE deal, even as it put an end to annexation, is a positive “game changer.”

“This really signals in a dramatic fashion that the Palestinians are losing their veto power,” Lerman said, referring to their historic ability to keep other Arab countries form moving forward with Israel until their demands are met.

The accord is also important in the context of moving forward on US President Donald Trump’s “Deal of the Century,” which was rolled out in January, and ensures that even if Trump is not reelected, some “remnants of the plan” will still be on the table when a new administration takes over in January.

In this regard, he said, the UAE-Israel accord serves the same purpose as annexation would have: advancing the Trump plan, moving it from mere words on paper to facts on the ground.

“We need the concept behind the Trump plan – peace to prosperity – to take hold,” he said. “One way to do this would be for Israel to move toward unilateral implementation of part of the territorial aspect of the plan,” which would be to extend its sovereignty to at least part of the 30% of the West Bank that would remain under Israeli control under the plan.

Another way to get the plan to take hold is for the Arab world to begin normalization, another key element of the deal. This is part of a concept known as the outside-in approach to peacemaking: first make peace with the Arab states, and then it will be easier to reach an agreement with the Palestinians.

The Israel-UAE accord is “another way of putting the Trump ‘truck’ on the road,” Lerman said. “They could have done it through unilateral application of Israeli law, but this is another way of going in the same direction – of breaking the Palestinian assumptions about the rules of the road.”

Lerman said he supported partial annexation as a way to enshrine “in a nearly irreversible manner” the governing conceptual framework of the peace deal. But the deal with the UAE, he said, does the same thing.

WHILE NOTING that Israel has treaties with Egypt and Jordan, and once had a full-fledged relationship with Mauritania and a short-lived agreement with Lebanon, Lerman said this is the first time that Israel will be signing a treaty with a wealthy Arab country, something both new and significant.

“The UAE is a country with a trillion-dollar sovereign fund, with a range of investments and economic capacity that goes well beyond oil by now, with the most innovative culture in the Arab world. So the range of compatibility between our economies is pretty dramatic.”

Joshua Teitelbaum, a professor in Bar-Ilan University’s Middle East studies department, also noted the economic aspects of the accord, and how they may ensure that this peace with the UAE is warmer than what emerged between Israel and both Egypt and Jordan following the peace treaties with each of those countries.

“I think this will be different; there is no baggage like there was with those guys,” Teitelbaum said. “We didn’t kill each other.”

People-to-people contacts, so important in building a warm peace, will be easier to develop with UAE, he maintained: “They want to do business, they want to be a hi-tech hub, they are already there to some extent. They seem to be less sentimental, it seems, about politics – these are merchants and traders going way back.”

Teitelbaum said that the Emirates are not a “hugely politically active people,” nor are they known as those who oppose their government in any significant manner, meaning that they will likely take their cues on Israel from what the government is saying.

The Persian Gulf countries as a whole, he said, were never really part of the Arab nationalist narrative that so drove Arab unity and Arab solidarity since the time of Gamal Abdel Nasser.

“They were never big into this – they paid it lip service, but it was never really a part of their founding ethos.”

As a result, Teitelbaum said, the Israeli people-to-people ties with the Emirates are likely to be much better than they are with either the Egyptians or Jordanians. Besides, he added, “there are tons of Israelis there already; they have been going there for years.”