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Israel normalisation deals will not usher in peace. Just more US arms sales

The new 'peace agreements' will ensure confrontation and fuel an arms race, while providing an Israeli security umbrella to Gulf rulers
The prime minister of Israel, foreign affairs minister of UAE and foreign minister of Bahrain participate in the signing ceremony of the Abraham Accords on the South Lawn of the White House on 15 September (AFP)

The recent peace agreements between Israel, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain, brokered by US President Donald Trump's administration, represent a major change in Middle East politics.

Geopolitical alliances and interests in the region are re-shaped and redefined by internal and external forces. Although this geopolitical order has been in the making for many years, recent regional changes have formalised and advanced it.

These regional changes include the "Arab Spring" uprisings; the re-emergence of Islamist movements and the subsequent contest over the legitimacy of existing political regimes in the Middle East; the rising power of old and new actors such as Iran and Turkey; the perceived US retreat by its regional allies; and the US signing - and then withdrawal from - a nuclear treaty with Iran in 2015. 

These critical developments have advanced the coming of the current normalisation deals with Israel.

A new regional order

In the past decade, these events have produced a significant level of insecurity among authoritarian governments in the Middle East motivating them to seek unprecedented alliances to ensure regime stability.

The goals of the emerging regional order have their roots in regime stability and further militarisation

Apart from security and military cooperation, the new alliances between Israel and major Gulf states are based on a common interest in maintaining the status quo in the region and challenging the rising Iranian power across a number of key countries, including Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon.

The goals of the emerging regional order have their roots in regime stability and the further militarisation of an already heavily militarised region, itself a major market for external military and security industries. 

In 2019, the region's military spendings reached $100bn. In the wake of the 2011 Arab uprisings, countries like Saudi Arabia increased its military spending from $53bn in 2011 to $85bn in 2015. And despite a 6.5 percent decrease in its military spending between 2017 and 2018, Saudi Arabia remained the third-largest spender in the world, with an estimated total of $67.6bn in 2018. In 2019, the UAE raised its defence spending by around 41 percent.

Unlike in the past when these countries were largely satisfied with the protection provided by the US and former colonial powers like France and Britain, the ruling elites in many Arab states now, including the UAE and Bahrain, firmly believe that in the midst of sweeping changes, their regime survival is increasingly derived from normalisation and a strong military alliance with Israel.

 Palestinian woman shouts slogans equating "normalisation with treachery" during a rally against the US-brokered UAE-Israel deal to normalise relations in the centre of the West Bank city of Nablus on August 26, 2020.
Palestinian woman shouts slogans equating "normalisation with treachery" during a rally against the US-brokered UAE-Israel deal on 22 August (AFP)

The Trump administration has pushed for greater openness and alignment between the Gulf leaders and Israel under the so-called "deal of the century" to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and confront Iranian power in the region.

It has exploited the fears and the changing interests of key actors in the Arab ruling class by promising the provision of advanced military capabilities and unprecedented weapons if they proceed with the normalisation process with Israel. 

Elaborating on this reality, the former US diplomat and Middle East negotiator, Dennis Ross, wrote that the UAE "understood from conversations with the administration that formal peace [with Israel] would give it access to previously off-limits US weaponry, such as advanced drones. Until now, these weapons had been denied to them because of the US commitment to preserving Israel’s qualitative military edge."

'Peace for armament'

The active role of the US in the militarisation of the Middle East is not surprising. The American academic, Stephen Zunes, documented well the US militarisation of the Middle East in his book titled Tinderbox.

The US continues to account for the largest and growing share in the arms trade in 2020, with more than half of its weapons delivered to the Middle East

One of his well-researched conclusions is that the primary US export to the Middle East region is weapons and their delivery systems.

While the US has been willing to allow the Gulf states to build up their own military power and engage in direct military action, or indirectly through proxies, in places like Yemen, Libya and previously Syria, it remains the main source of military supplies and training. Hence, it continues to control the level of armament and armed engagement according to US interests.

Thus, not only are such agreements between Israel and the Gulf states built with the policy principle of "peace for armaments", but the US is continuing with a long record of maintaining Israel’s regional dominance and contributing to a state of increasing militarisation and conflict in the Middle East in the name of peace.

The US continues to account for the largest and growing share in the arms trade in 2020, with more than half of its weapons delivered to the Middle East.

Israel is also benefiting from the emerging regional order and the convergence of state interests. Aside from distracting attention from domestic opposition and corruption charges, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ultimate goal is to bring about the complete defeat of the Palestinians and their national cause by seeking to break the regional link with the Palestinian issue and normalise relations with Middle East powers.

Meanwhile, the process of institutionalising permanent occupation in the Palestinian territories, maintaining the siege of Gaza and removing the prospects of Palestinian statehood is rapidly progressing.

There is also a line of historical continuity in Israel’s policy.

Ditching the Palestinians

Netanyahu is not the only Israeli leader who sought normalisation and peace agreements with Arab states while consistently rejecting Palestinian national rights. Under Menachem Begin in the late 1970s, Israel insisted on a separate peace agreement with Egypt, which materialised in 1978 and became known as the Camp David Accords.

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This policy, then and now, has been concerned with isolating the Palestinians from the regional equation and compelling them to submit to Israel’s power and terms of "peace". 

After all, instead of promoting peaceful change, these "peace agreements" will have the opposite effect. They will largely ensure confrontation, fuel arms races and prevent the prospect of demilitarisation in the Middle East.

They also send a message of abandonment to the Palestinian people and undermine the existing UN resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative, which insist on the historical link between the achievement of a comprehensive and just peace in the Middle East and the attainment of Palestinian rights.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Yaser Alashqar
Yaser Alashqar is adjunct Assistant Professor in International Peace Studies at Trinity College Dublin, the University of Dublin, Ireland. His teaching and research fields include conflict resolution, mediation and Middle East politics .