Abraham Accords dividend: Better relations with Britain

JPost One-on-One Zoomcast, Episode 40: Herb Keinon and former ambassador Mark Regev: This is why UK and Israel are closer than ever.

Abraham Accords dividend: Better relations with Britain

The Abraham Accords are not only good for Israel and the Arab countries involved, but has also led to an upgrade of Israel’s relations with third countries no longer concerned about how close relations with the Jewish State will play in the Persian Gulf, former ambassador to the United Kingdom Mark Regev said.

Regev, in a Jerusalem Post One-on-One Zoomcast, said that this effect was actually felt in Britain even before the accords were formally signed in 2020, but after Israel was discretely building relationships with various countries in the Arab world. 

In 2018, Regev -- currently a senior visiting fellow at Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv --  recalled that he went to a RAF airbase for the first-ever joint exercise between the IAF and the RAF, and the first time IAF pilots ever flew over British soil.

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“In the British military there was always a respect for Israel, for the IAF, for Israeli intelligence, and the elite Israeli combat units, and in Israel, there was always respect for the British,” he said. “But in the past, there were political constraints on the relationship, and those political constraints were based on the reality that Britain had some very strong friends in the Arab world, countries where they have very lucrative economic relations, and historical friendship and partnerships.”

Over the last decade, Regev said, that part of the Arab world that was closest to Britain, also happened to be the part of the Arab world most open to relations with Israel. “So if in the past part of the British government put their foot on the brakes to prevent the Israeli-British relationship from moving ahead too quickly because they were concerned there could be a backlash from Britain's traditional partners in the Mideast, what we have now is that those Arab partners of Britain were suddenly Israel's best friends.” 

This, even more than Brexit, accounts for the strengthening of ties between the two countries over the last decade.

 “There are people in the British government who were worried that if they got too close to Israel, it would impact their relations with the Arab world. And when that ceased being a problem, that allowed other things to move ahead, and allowed for Israeli-British relations to move ahead in a very natural way.”

Regev said the positive trajectory in the relationship began before the 2016 Brexit vote, and while Brexit may have helped strengthen the trend, it was not a result of Brexit. He also said that when it comes to political issues such as the diplomatic process with the Palestinians and the status of Jerusalem, there are not many differences between the positions taken in London and those taken by the EU in Brussels.

Nevertheless, Regev said that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson talked about his great friendship with Israel every time they met, always mentioning the three weeks he spent as a volunteer on Kibbutz Kfar Hanasi in his youth. 

“There is a warmth there, a friendship toward Israel, and I think also a friendship toward the Jewish people as well,” he said. “Does that always articulate into policy where we see eye to eye on every issue, obviously not.”