March 9, 2021

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No, Reuters, the UAE/Israel agreement is not only about Iran

In a story about how the Palestinian Authority has watered down its criticism of the Israel/UAE agreement for a draft Arab League resolution, Reuters writes:

Announced on Aug. 13, the accord was the first such accommodation between an Arab country and Israel in more than 20 years, and was forged largely through shared fears of Iran.

This is one of those statements that seem so obvious to supposedly professional observers of the Middle East – and a little bit of thought shows it to be just as obviously false.
Yes, Israel and the Sunni Arab states in the Gulf have a shared interest in countering Iran. But that does not explain – at all! – the UAE’s normalization with Israel. After all, Israel and most Gulf states have been quietly cooperating on security and intelligence for quite a long time now, and that can go on indefinitely. It isn’t like Israel is going to tell the Arabs, “sorry, we won’t help you defend yourself against Iran any more until you recognize us.”
And the UAE could have gone the Egypt/Jordan route of a minimal recognition and a cold peace. So far, not only has the UAE made it clear that it wants a warm peace, but it has pushed back hard against Arab critics of the agreement.
Clearly, Iran is only one of many factors behind the UAE’s actions.
The UAE wants to partner with Israel on business and banking initiatives. It wants to become a gateway for Israel to trade with the larger Arab world. It wants to take advantage of Israeli technology, especially water tech. It wants to share expertise on medical technologies. It wants Israeli tourists. It wants to attract branches of Israeli businesses as well as businesses that have been reluctant to go to the UAE because of the weakened but still official Arab League boycott. The UAE views itself as a progressive, tolerant Arab state and Israel is a natural partner. It wants to position itself for a time when oil is no longer enough, and Israel is a leader in energy tech. The UAE wants F-35s from the US. It is even possible that the UAE admires Israel’s mix of religious and secular culture as a possible model for its own people. 
There are probably a dozen more reasons real experts could come up with, as well as secret deals no one knows about that would be mutually beneficial for the two nations. 
But one thing is certain: Iran is not even close to the main reason for the two countries to want to become full allies.

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