The historic deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, sponsored by the US, is a resounding success of US President Donald Trump’s presidency, but the question remains whether it will have a positive effect on future relations between the Arab world and Israel.
The weakness of the Arab world
The Arab world is assumed to enjoy cultural, religious, geographic and political cohesion. This cohesion was supposed to produce a convergence of interests and a united strategic effect. However, Arab countries continue to serve as pawns in international relations between the great powers, because they are countries which have no capacity of influence apart from their raw materials like oil and gas.
This lack of influence of the Arab world pushes each Arab state to seek its own fate and seize it stake of the new world situation. The influence of a particularly country abroad depends, in part, on its internal situation. A strong country at home is predisposed to have a greater capacity for negotiation abroad. This indeed poses the problematic nature of the link between the foreign policy and the internal policy of a country.
The Arab world faces a whole series of problems that block its economic development, including weak gross domestic product, food dependency, debt burden, illiteracy, international trade imbalances, terrorism, Islamist radicalization and the conflict among Arab states – without discounting the disorder caused by the movements of the Arab Spring that allowed certain Islamist parties to win elections and wield power.
The Middle East has one of the highest fertility rates in the world, and has an annual population growth of 2.3%, compared to 0.6% on average in industrialized countries and 1.9% in developing countries. The fertility rate is 3.7 children per woman, compared to the world average of 2.8. As a result, the population is expected to reach more than 330 million people by the end of 2020. One of the demographic characteristics of this region is the youthfulness of its population, with 40% under the age of 15.
While the neglect of human capital and the non-development of human resources do not favor any prospect of development, this situation has immediate and direct effects on Israeli-Arab relations. Indeed, a state like Israel with democracy and technological development cannot have a peaceful relationship with its neighbors without a real change by Arab countries toward democracy. It is in this sense that the weight of Israel is incomparable.
Israel as a regional power
Today, one or more states can intervene in a conflict to assert or amplify their power, or even their preponderance in a specific region in which they are located. Regional power is based on the construction, conservation and growth of four complementary dimensions: Economic, political, military and cultural.
One example of the capacity of Israel’s power to push the Arab states to review their relations with it is the question of gas. As economist Jacques Bendelac pointed out, “Gas will revolutionize the entire Israeli economy to such an extent that it will become its main engine of growth during the decade to come.” This means that the resources that the Arab countries use in their international political games – namely oil and gas – are no longer a means of coercion or deterrence, since Israel in the years to come will become an independent gas state.
Israel’s weight as a regional power is on the rise. Its highly developed industrial and technology sector, its shrewd decision to support national cybersecurity and its sophisticated infotech economy have placed it at the center of the technical revolution of the 21st century. Its military might and the control and management of information are among the strengths of this relatively new superpower in the Middle East. The rise in Israel’s power is undoubtedly an element in the reorganization in one way or another of the global balance of power.
In the current context of the withdrawal of the US from the Middle East, we are now witnessing the emergence of a new group of highly competitive major powers. The most important among these emerging powers are the EU, Russia, China, Turkey and Iran. Faced with this situation, the rise of Israel as a regional power backed by the US has direct effects on the Middle East and North Africa, and especially on counterbalancing Turkey and Iran.
Turkey and Iran
The growing power of Iran in the Arab region and the interventionism of Turkey in the Middle East conflict and North Africa – strengthened by the ongoing crises in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya – are a matter of concern for the conservative Arab leaders of the Persian Gulf who see Tehran and Ankara as “subversive” regimes.
To this must be added the aspirations of both regimes, Turkey and Iran, to turn into hegemonic powers of the first order. As a result, the feudal monarchies of the Arab countries and dictatorships are turning to Israel to provide the military umbrella offered previously by the US.
The Turkish game is played at various levels and may threaten the new approach of some Arab countries to open formal relations with Israel. It may also encourage other reluctant Arab countries to take more rigid positions.
We are witnessing a war of religious expression between Shi’ites and Sunnis, as Turkey and Iran replace the rest of the Arab world in being the most prominent countries defending the Palestinian cause under the flag of Islam. This could be a real threat to Israel, in addition to the entire Arab world, as new geopolitics emerge based on religion.
A fragmented regulatory system
The new context of the global game of nations, which is in the process of being reconstructed due to the coronavirus pandemic, appears to be marked by a combination of at least three structural elements: the status of the superpower is no longer just in America’s court but will become multipolar with China and Russia, the fragmentation of the strategic diplomacy field and globalization.
Today, there is a stark contrast between the center and the periphery. A developed and bourgeois center, relatively prosperous, liberal and peaceful, on the one hand, and on the other, a periphery made up of the countries in which war and revolutions are underway, as geopolitologist Pierre Hassner observed. The Arab countries undoubtedly enter the sphere of the peripheral countries while Israel enters the category of developed countries in the center.
An analysis of current trends in the evolution of the system of regulation in international relations based on the control of strategic preeminence reveals two dominant tendencies: first of all, the evolution of the international system towards a multipolar type, such as the rise of the power of several countries such as China and Russia on the one hand, and the emergence of regional groupings in trade and economic blocs such as the European Union, NAFTA, APEC, on the other hand. The Arab world, meanwhile, is still operating in the bipolar age against the course of world history, despite the existence of the Arab League.
All of these changes directly threaten the security of the Arab world. This is why we must understand the real reasons behind the normalization of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. The UAE and Bahrain want to worry about their own and internal affairs because they feel threatened not only by Iran or Turkey but also by their Arab brethren.
The political gloom experienced by the question of Palestine and the internal wars between Arab countries such as the war in Yemen created a notable void in the regulation of the Arab system.
We must read the Abraham Accords in the context of the US’s relaxation policy caused by the need to reorganize trade and economic relations due to globalization, the slow pace of the world economy, the political status quo affecting the Palestinian question and especially the emergence of Iran and Turkey as powers that rival Israel.
Feasibility of a new Israeli-Arab order
To inaugurate peaceful and lasting relations between the Arab world and Israel, several questions arise.
The first is the fragmentation of the Israeli-Arab system the result of the logic of loss of homogenization due to the diversity of the decision-makers and their diverging interests.
The second is defining the place of the Palestinians in the Arab world.
The third concerns the potential strength and speed of Turkey and Iran in confronting Israel on religious grounds.
The fourth concerns the place of the great powers, the US, Russia, China and the EU in the new Israeli-Arab chessboard.
The fifth question: What are the attempts to put into orbit a new international order which regulates Arab-Israeli relations?
The fragile nature of the system that governs relations between Arab countries and Israel is evident in the difficulty in answering all these questions.
The writer, an analyst and researcher in geopolitics based in Western Sahara (Morocco), has PhD in international relations and international law from the University of Casablanca, Morocco