Sat 20 Apr 2024 9:05 am - Jerusalem Time

Foreign Policy: Why did the Arab countries not cut off their relations with “Israel”?

The American magazine Foreign Policy published a report in which it discussed the reason why the Arab countries continue to maintain their relations with the Israeli occupation state and normalize relations with it, despite the overwhelming anger that the Arab peoples feel at the occupation.

The magazine said that for many, the news that Jordanian pilots defended the Israeli occupation during the attack launched by Iran last weekend was a surprise. While the occupation and Jordan have had diplomatic relations for 30 years, peace between them has been cold even in the best of times. Since the outbreak of war in Gaza, it has entered a state of deep stagnation.

However, Jordan was not the only Arab country to contribute to defending the occupation that night. According to the magazine, the Royal Saudi Air Force shot down Iranian missiles flying in its airspace, and Saudi Arabia and the UAE reportedly provided important intelligence information before the attack.

The magazine explained that there were a number of reasons that prompted the Arab powers to choose to play a role that night, the first of which was that if the Iranian operation had ended with significant loss of life or destruction, the occupation would have responded forcefully, increasing the risk of a regional war.

In fact, the occupation's apparent retaliation early Friday against Iran appears to have been limited. The other reason is that the concern of many Arab countries about Iranian interference in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen is no less than the concern of the occupation itself.

But what is no less important is that the occupation is a major economic partner for some Arab powers, and this provides a clear explanation for the failure of Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE to take almost any tangible steps against the occupation six months after the war in Gaza. When Turkey finally did something, announcing on April 9 that it would ban a wide range of exports to the Israeli occupation, no Arab country followed suit.

The magazine pointed out that Jordan is the most dependent on the occupying state among these countries, not for ordinary matters such as cross-border trade or investment, but for obtaining basic water and energy.

Jordan is one of the countries in the world that suffers from water scarcity, with only 950 million cubic meters available annually to meet the demand of about 1.4 billion cubic meters. Under the peace agreement signed in 1994, Jordan has the right to purchase 50 million cubic meters of water annually from the Israeli occupation.

This number has since doubled as Jordan's population has grown. In contrast, the occupation has developed so much desalination capacity that it has a stock of fresh water, and water dependence is likely to increase: if a deal to swap more Israeli water for solar energy from Jordan goes through, Amman will begin importing 200 million cubic meters. additional.

Jordan also lacks domestic energy resources and relies on natural gas imports from the Israeli occupation for its electrical power and chemical industry. Gas accounts for more than 70 percent of Jordan's electricity production, almost all of it coming from Israel's Leviathan field.

Egypt also needs Israeli gas because domestic reserves are being depleted faster than new sources can be found. When the occupation reduced exports for a short period after the outbreak of war in Gaza, Egypt was forced to double the periods of power outages to two hours per day and import liquefied natural gas.

Egypt's demand for Israeli gas exceeds domestic needs, and with its limited supplies, it is no longer able to export its gas as LNG to Europe. Instead, it re-exports Israeli gas, and this did not earn Egypt the hard currency it desperately needed. Not only does it ensure its role as an emerging gas hub in the eastern Mediterranean that includes Israel and is likely to include Cyprus one day.

The magazine added that the UAE's economic interests in its relations with the occupation revolve around something completely different: trade and investment, enhancing the UAE's role as a global logistics hub, leveraging Israel's prowess in advanced technology to build its own technology industry, and partnering to solve the threat of climate change in the region. Since the 2020 Abraham Accords, the UAE has also emerged as a major buyer of Israeli weapons, and Israeli arms exports to countries that signed the Abraham Accords have risen from nothing that year to $2.9 billion in 2022.

In dollar terms, the economic relationship between Israel and the UAE remains relatively small for both countries, but it represents something larger and more ambitious: an effort to reshape the Middle East from a zone of war and extreme politics to one focused on economic development. The UAE, Qatar and Bahrain have taken the path of prioritizing the economy, and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is following in their footsteps in his Vision 2030 plan to transform his kingdom from an oil economy into a center for technology, economic reform, tourism and entertainment.

However, the Saudis appear to be less convinced than the Emiratis that the occupation has an important role in the new Middle East, but as the normalization talks that began last year showed, Riyadh is willing to recognize “Israel” as part of a broader deal with the United States, something that was not the case. unimaginable a decade ago.

While the war in Gaza has disrupted the talks and raised the price the Saudis are demanding from Israel over the Palestinian issue, Riyadh has indicated it remains ready to move forward.

According to the newspaper, the economic imperatives that drove these relations are facing strong headwinds. Even before the Gaza war, public opinion, even among Israel's peace partners, was largely hostile to Israel.

According to a poll conducted by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy a year ago, only 15 percent of Jordanians said they would support trade deals with Israel if they would help their country's economy, and although their country would suffer without Israeli gas and water, ordinary Jordanians often call for cutting off relations with Israel and canceling import agreements. Under tremendous popular pressure after the outbreak of war in Gaza, Jordan last November canceled the water-for-energy deal with Israel.

In Egypt and Saudi Arabia, about 38 percent of survey participants agreed with the idea of doing business with the occupation. When the Washington Institute recently asked the Saudis whether they should be allowed to “establish commercial or sports contacts with Israelis,” only 17 percent said yes, down from 42 percent in the summer of 2022.

The magazine stated that it is not surprising that the business conducted by Arab countries with Israel is an elitist affair, limited to deals between governments and major state institutions, as normal ways of doing business do not exist, and they are often one-way.

But the UAE was somewhat of an exception to this rule. Israeli executives and tourists flocked to the Gulf in the honeymoon period following the signing of the Abraham Accords, companies were signing investment and partnership deals, Abu Dhabi's Mubadala Petroleum acquired a 22 percent stake in Israel's Tamar gas field, and several other investment deals were under discussion.

In 2023, bilateral trade reached $3 billion, up from $190 million in 2020. But the popular response shown by the Emirati side was lukewarm, as the Washington Institute poll found that a minority of Emiratis believe that dealing with Israel is “acceptable.” The Emiratis did not visit Israel except for the purpose of work.

The magazine noted that although Emirati leaders affirmed their commitment to economic and political partnership with the occupation, there has been a noticeable decline since the beginning of the war in Gaza. Last month, Abu Dhabi's national oil company, ADNOC, suspended a deal to buy a 50 percent stake in the Israeli energy company NEOMED, with BP. They invoked the “external environment” in the decision, and most likely they meant war.

Fortunately for the future of these relations, the war in Gaza appears to be coming to an end. But it is not certain that the conflict will not ignite again with the attack on Rafah, as Israel threatened, or that the low-intensity conflict between Israel and Hezbollah will not develop into a comprehensive war. For now, as evidence of the prioritization of realpolitik and economic interests by Arab leaders, these relations have stood the test.


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Foreign Policy: Why did the Arab countries not cut off their relations with “Israel”?