How Trump’s election hurts Israeli-Arab relations

In August the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan participated in a joint military exercise with the US, alongside Israeli participants.

January 23, 2017 20:29
3 minute read.
WILL THE new administration change relations between Israel and the Arab world?

WILL THE new administration change relations between Israel and the Arab world? . (photo credit: Courtesy)


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Unquestionably, Israel would be more comfortable if the United States took a more aggressive posture toward Iran, and if Iran’s nuclear infrastructure were dismantled more extensively and more permanently than what was provided for by the Iran- Obama nuclear agreement. That said, by motivating a limited yet nonetheless unprecedented Israeli- Arab détente, Iran has paradoxically become one of Israel’s greatest strategic assets.

In August the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan participated in a joint military exercise with the US, alongside Israeli participants.

The first permanent Israeli mission in the UAE, which is officially a delegation to the International Renewable Energy Agency whose headquarters are in Abu Dhabi, is now about a year old. Though formal acts of diplomatic détente come in small steps, these and other developments that have occurred in recent years would have been unimaginable just a few years ago, and their significance should not be discounted.

Other changes in Israeli-Arab relations can be seen in the public statements of officials and in messages that have made their way into the Arab press, which is not exactly free and open. The impact of Israel’s improving relations with the Arab world has reverberated, especially in an Israeli diplomatic rally in majority Muslim African states including Chad and Guinea.

Guinea reestablished ties with Israel in July, after a summit Netanyahu held earlier that month in Uganda with seven other African states at which Tanzania also indicated its intention to open an embassy in Israel.

More recently, events such as the passing of UNSC Resolution 2334, US Secretary of State John Kerry’s December 28 speech and the Paris Peace Conference have given rise to a chorus of voices saying that further Israeli diplomatic gains will not be possible without advancing Palestinian statehood.

But the impasse in Palestinian statehood did not preclude the gains in Israeli-Arab relations that Iran has already inspired. Forecasts about the future of Israeli-Muslim relations should not be made without accounting for Iranian influence.

US President-elect Donald Trump’s disdain for the Iran- Obama nuclear agreement is clear.

He has called it, “the stupidest deal of all time” and “a one-sided transaction where we are giving back $150 billion to a terrorist state.”

He has said that, “Certainly the deal is not long enough. Because at the end of the deal they’re going to have great nuclear capability.”

“It could’ve been a much better deal.” “When the other side knows you’re not going to walk, it becomes absolutely impossible to win.” “And then we watched them ignore its terms, even before the ink was dry.”

What he plans to do about the agreement, however, remains unclear. In the same speech given in March at the Policy Conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Trump vowed both to “dismantle the disastrous deal” and to “enforce it like you’ve never seen a contract enforced before.”

Regardless of the details of what will become of American-Iranian relations, both Israel and the Arab states are now feeling a sense of relief. Therein lies a danger. Will gains in Israeli-Muslim relations hold with an American administration more aggressive toward the Iranians and whose security assurances will be more reassuring? Trump’s election does not itself change the nature of the Iranian regime, erase Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism or its destabilizing activities across the region, or neutralize the remaining Iranian nuclear infrastructure, but the anxiety that has motivated Arab-Israeli détente is easing while simultaneously much of Trump’s rhetoric has alienated Muslims from Israel’s ally. Though there is little reason to reverse gains that have already been made in Israeli- Muslim relations, the diplomatic momentum that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has championed and proudly worn around as his victory medal could already be stalling.

The author grew up in Pennsylvania and has been living in Jerusalem for eight years.

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