The UAE-Israel deal could mark a new dawn for relations in the Middle East

The warmth with which Israel and the UAE appear to have embraced one another represents a possible game changer for the Middle East.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (photo credit: CANVA.COM)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed
(photo credit: CANVA.COM)
Israel’s momentous and unprecedented relations with the United Arab Emirates reached new levels this week with the first commercial flight between Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi. With the support of US President Donald Trump’s adviser Jared Kushner and National Security advisor Robert O’Brien, Israelis flew to the UAE on Monday – flying through Saudi airspace, another first. On Tuesday, a Torah scroll was brought by the local community for morning prayers.
This is an emotional moment for Israel, the Jewish people and the Middle East. So much of the last decades has been about bad news and conflict. The warmth with which Israel and the UAE appear to have embraced one another therefore represents not only an achievement but possibly a game changer for the region.
We are at a crossroads in history because of several converging issues. Extremism, which reared its head in the 1980s and 90s, is being defeated with the decline of groups like ISIS. Nevertheless, other types of extremism, such as the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen and Hezbollah, continue to threaten the region.
At the same time, the challenge of the changing role of American power in the region is having its effect. Israel and the UAE need each other because countries that share interests must now work together, with the United States, to ensure security in the coming years. This means working to improve economic relations and to take the economies of the Gulf and Israel to new levels.
Never have two states been so well suited to work together in the Middle East than the dynamic economies of Israel and the UAE. All they needed was access to one another, an issue that many who supported relations have spoken about for years.
Security is also important. Israel has faced terror attacks as well as the Iranian missile and drone threat. The UAE has also faced off against Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen, who use the same Iranian drone and missile technology.
This shows that Israel and the UAE are two fronts in regional conflicts. These are frontlines that neither country wants to live with but which they are forced to endure because of extremist threats emanating from Tehran. The recent decision by the United Nations to end an arms embargo on Iran may inflame tensions even more.
The new dawn that is the UAE-Israel relationship is not just built on practical issues such as economics and security. It is already being built on human relationships. Whether it is stories about kosher deli service for the Expo in the Emirates, or the small but thriving Jewish community, we can see that there is a very real human warmth that is emerging in Abu Dhabi and Dubai towards Israel.
This warmth goes both ways. Israelis have lit up their buildings with the UAE flag, and opened their hearts to the possibilities of peace. This is welcome news during the COVID-19 crisis and the way that the world’s nations and citizens have become isolated and cut off from one another. The symbolic visit to the Western Wall by Kushner prior to the historic flight and the morning prayers in the UAE bookend this phenomenal trip.
However, we must not glory only in success and fanfare. Too often our presumptions, and sometimes arrogance, have clouded reality. There is a long road ahead in the UAE, just as there have been hurdles in the Jordanian and Egyptian peace agreements.
There are questions about US F-35 sales to the Emirates. Israel is divided on whether the sales would erode its qualitative military advantage. It will take years for F-35 sales to materialize, even if approved in the US. By that time, Israel will have several squadrons of the advanced aircraft.
There may be other hurdles as well, such as the UAE wanting to see some progress on issues in the West Bank, or Iran and Turkey seeking to throw a spanner into the process. Israel and the UAE have dangerous enemies, from Tehran to the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is a part. Navigating the US election and Washington’s increasingly partisan foreign policy will be difficult.
We can face the future together with the UAE. This week began what should be a beautiful friendship.