Israel may be drawn into more Gulf media innuendoes with UAE deal

Israel may now find that media in the Gulf, which not only thrives on rumors but seeks to cater to local regimes, will highlight sensitive issues relating to Israel as a way to embarrass rivals.

Agreement between Israel and UAE on normalizing relations (photo credit: MUSSA QAWASMA/REUTERS)
Agreement between Israel and UAE on normalizing relations
Before the United Arab Emirates and Israel announced that they would normalize relations, the general trend of coverage of Israel in the Gulf states fit several narratives. Media mostly highlighted Israel’s role in confronting Iran and also Israel-Palestinian issues. Now that Israel is working more with the UAE officially, there will be more coverage of Israel, but that could come with a cost as media will also seek to expose Israeli actions that could be controversial.
An example of the recent coverage can be found at Al-Ain media in the Gulf. This is generally a pro-UAE media outlet that covers issues from Iraq to Libya and now has an interest in the UAE-Israel deal. Recent stories looked closely at US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to the region. Coverage was especially interested in how Pompeo and the US might work with Bahrain on peace issues with Israel.
There is nothing controversial in the highlighting of Pompeo’s discussions with the UAE or Bahrain. The goal is to show that Israel and the UAE have common interests and may pursue joint strategy.
The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia broke relations with Qatar in 2017. Qatar is a close ally of Turkey and works with Iran. It also has supported the Muslim Brotherhood and hosted Hamas, which is linked to the Brotherhood. Turkey’s ruling party is also linked to the Brotherhood and therefore Qatar is part of this alliance. It is opposed to the policies of the UAE and Saudi Arabia, from Yemen to Libya and elsewhere. This potentially puts Israel in the spotlight, as media in the Gulf seek to use stories about Israel for their own ends. This might be as simple as spreading rumors about Mohammad Dahlan, who is based in the UAE, and Israel.
More controversial is a piece at Al-Ain on Wednesday that highlights Israel-Qatar relationships. Qatar does not have normalized relations with Israel, but Qatar does help fund the Gaza Strip. In the past, former defense minister Avigdor Liberman mentioned a Mossad chief flight to Qatar in February. Qatar sent an envoy to the Gaza Strip on Wednesday as well. Of interest to Al-Ain media in Arabic was neither of these issues but, rather, what the outlet called Qatar’s hypocrisy. “The regime always raves through its misleading media that it rejects relations with Israel.” However, Al-Ain says that a French intelligence website has “revealed” that Doha works with “technology and security services provided by Israeli companies.”
The article is of interest not particularly because of the “revealing” story, since that story can be found elsewhere, but more about media in the Gulf being used on both sides to try to portray Israel controversially. Israel may now find that media in the Gulf, which not only thrive on rumors but seek to cater to local regimes, will sometimes highlight sensitive issues relating to Israel as a way to embarrass rivals. This could mean that Israel’s otherwise quiet dealings in the region will get more of a spotlight and be subject to more rumor-mongering than in the past. For instance, there are many interests in Qatar to try to embarrass the UAE in its work with Israel.
Qatar’s media have powerful backing and also long arms that include lobbyists and allies in the West. In the past, these media were accused of even trying to infiltrate pro-Israel groups in the US and UK.
There are also hacking scandals and other scandals that have been at the heart of disputes in the Gulf, and these disputes have gone as high as trying to conduct influence peddling in Washington. For instance, pro-Israel voices were even flown to Qatar in the wake of the 2017 crisis.
Some of these agendas were pushed by those who believed that Israel has allies in Washington that could somehow help various Gulf states in their disputes, to get them closer relations in the US. This is largely an illusion because the US already has bases in Qatar and the UAE, on both sides of the dispute, and the US official policy is for the Gulf to reduce its internal tensions.
Nevertheless, media can be used as a tool in these disputes, and following the portrayal of Israel-Gulf dealings in Gulf media will be important in coming months as UAE-Israel relations grow.