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Impact of the UAE-Israel Agreement on Iran
Will the new relations between UAE and Israel keep Iran expansive strategy at bay? This is a question that requires some political realism to answer. The political reality of the Middle East is that the various Sunni and Shia states of the Arab world have overlapping interests as well as conflicts; the situation is fluid, never static. This paper will discuss the impact of the UAE-Israel Agreement on Iran and its expansive strategy to show that in all likelihood the Abraham Accords will do little to alter Irans position.
The Trump Administration had envisioned an Arab NATO in the Middle East, but this vision failed to materialize. The current UAE-Israel Agreement, called the Abraham Accords (signed by Bahrain as well in Washington, D.C., 2020), exists mainly as a type of American-Israeli insurance policy (Levy, 2020). The policy is one that will ensure military support to the signees from the US. It can also be said to exist as a hedging strategy, for while an agreement of cooperation has been reached between the UAE and Israel, both states have maintained open channels of communication with states deemed hostile to their respective signees: UAE still is in contact with Iran, and Israel still is in communication with Qatar (Levy, 2020).
UAE has also renewed diplomatic ties with Qatar, what had been previously cut off (Arabian Business, 2020). Moreover, Qatar and Iran have close connections, economically and politically, as both are part of the Non-Aligned Movement. Even though the UAE often criticizes Iran, Qatar withholds criticism of Iran and routinely discusses security matters with the Iranian government (Fulton & Farrar-Wellman, 2011). So while Qatar and Iran are aligned, and UAE and Israel are now formally aligned, UAE and Qatar are also maintaining open channels and Israel too has hopes of working directly with Qatar (Aloni, 2021).
To understand the impact of the Abraham Accords on Iran, it is necessary to understand Qatar. Qatar is a close ally of Iran. The relationship between Qatar and the UAE has been severely strained in recent years. Cohen (2021) describes the situation in these terms: The Qatari Diplomatic Crisis began in June 2017. It was a sophisticated plan to isolate Qatar politically and economically, in order to bring it to a breaking point and force it to succumb to the demands of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the UAE. Qatar has been at odds with the other Arab states for years, partly because of its success on the worlds stage and partly because of its support of the Muslim Brotherhood and partly because of Al-Jazeera, which it hosts and which provided coverage of the Arab Spring (Cohen, 2021). As Qatar was cut off, with the KSA closing the Sloa PassQatars only border-crossingit turned to Iran and Turkey for logistical assistance. Thus, the close alliance between Iran and Qatar is partly a result of the other Arab states ostracizing Qatar. In return for its support of Qatar, Iran received billions in investment and praise for its top General (Cohen, 2021).
Yet at the annual summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the leaders of the KSA and Qatar embraced and seemed to set aside differences. At the GCC, the Saudi Crown Prince also called for unified opposition to Iran. The KSA opened the Sloa Pass for Qatar, so now it remains to be seen what Qatar will do for the KSA (Cohen, 2021). The hope among the Sunni Arab states is that Qatar will move closer to them and away from Iran. The Abraham Accords could be the first step in achieving that hope, but time will tell.
The fact of the matter is that Qatar is not necessarily to be considered an ally of Iran but rather more of a diplomatic neighboring state that pursues its own interests first and foremost. Because of clashes with the GCC, Qatar found it expedient to work more closely with Iran (Al-Tamimi, 2018). It has been a pragmatic relationship and a respectful one, but now with the Saudi blockade lifted Qatar may find it expedient to work more closely with the GCC. In the Middle East, Arab alliances are fluid and complex. Even the UAE has had relations with Iran (Cheon, Di Paola & Sergie, 2018). The UAE has also been rumored to be restoring its diplomatic offices in Syria in an effort to renew relations with Assad (Xinhua, 2018). What all of this means is that the relationships between Middle Eastern states are not always what they seem: they can be strained, broken, and seemingly beyond repairyet there are always geopolitical factors at play…
The situation is always dynamic to say the least.
The Abraham Accords
From this perspective of a dynamic Middle East, the Abraham Accords may be seen as a play to woo Qatar away from Iran and Turkey, similar to the KSAs lifting of its blockade on Qatar. As the GCC made clear, opposition to Iran remains the goal and the GCC wants total commitment on this matter from its member states. The problem here is that Iran is unlikely to be affected by any hard-line opposition from the GCC. Iran, for one, has cultivated relationships with states outside the Arab worldincluding Russia and Chinaand this is especially the case since the Trump-approved American assassination of General Solemimani (Shamkhani, 2021).
As Shamkhani (2021) observes, strategic cooperation between Iran, Russia, and Chinacome with benefits for each one of thm, the value of which is not yet clear. But what is certain is the more beneficial the alliance is for the eastern side of the equation, the heavierprice the western side has to pay. The UAE-Israel Agreement should, therefore, be considered within the framework of the larger geopolitical gambit playing out among the world powers of Russia, China and the US. Russia and China have long made clear their intention to develop a multi-polar world order, which the US views as a threat to its unipolar world vision (Turner, 2009). The US has no intention of ceding influence in the Middle East to either Russia or China. But it may not have any choice but to see its influence wane, as Russia has become a dominant player in Syria and its missile defense shield system is coveted by numerous states, including Iran (Al-Monitor Staff, 2020).
Thus, Levy (2020) states that to imagine that the Iranian-led axis or Turkish-led axis would look at this weeks developments and conclude that they had better fold, withdraw, and pursue a Versailles Treaty of surrender is to be either Pollyannaish or plain ignorant of regional realities. Iran is not going to see the Abraham Accords as a crossing-the-Rubicon type of moment. When it comes to the power plays being conducted in the Middle East, Iran does not look to be broken by a new formal agreement between two states that have long held a working relationship with one another. Irans position and strategic vision have not been directly impacted.
For that reason, it is unlikely that the Abraham Accords will alter Irans expansive strategy. Levy (2020) notes that the Abraham Accords are best understood as reflecting and formalizing rather than changing realities in the region. The realities in the region are that Israel and the UAE have been close for years, with the former selling military hardware to the latter and working conjointly on intelligence matters. Thus, it is logical to predict that the repercussions emanating from these accords are minimal (Levy, 2020). However, this does not mean the Abraham Accords will have no impact whatsoever. On the contrary, the agreement between the UAE and Israel will most likely further entrench Iran in its oppositional stance to the Sunni states, its support of Palestine and Hezbollah, and its antipathy toward Israel. As Levy (2021) concludes, to the extent that the impact may be more widely felt, it is likely to be negative, both with regard to the deepening fault lines and conflicts in the region as a whole and vis–vis Israels treatment of the Palestinians. From this perspective, the Abraham Accords should be seen as little more than a formal announcement of an already implicit reality. Will it, therefore, have much of an effect on Irans expansionist strategy?
What Will the Abraham Accords Produce?
In all actuality, the Abraham Accords will be a continuation of a pre-existing policy of cooperation between the UAE and Israel. That relationship is not one that will change Irans strategy, for Iran is somewhat unique in the Middle East: it is Iran which stands out as the country which possesses a clear strategic vision of what it wants the Middle East to be, ambitions rooted in the countrys history, the above mentioned geography and, to a certain extent, in the revolutionary zeal (tied into religious intentions) following 1979 (Avdaliani, 2020). What is Irans expansionist goal? Simply put, it aims to have reach all the way to the Mediterranean Sea: Historically, various Iranian dynasties vied to reach this economically and militarily important sea. No wonder that Iran, after the revolution of 1979, worked prodigiously to reach this strategic goal (Avdaliani, 2020). General Soleimani worked tirelessly to extend Irans influence in that direction, and his assassination was a stark reminder to Iran that the US and its Israeli allies will not permit such a goal to be reached on their watch.
Nonetheless, as Avdaliani (2020) reiterates, one of the major goals of the current decision-makers in Iran will likely be to preserve the existing network which covers Yemen, Lebanon, Syria and large parts of Iraq. Iran wants to maintain this network of military and economic support so that it can continue the work that Soleimani was so instrumental in accomplishing. It is part of Irans Strategy of 2036 to see it through: as reported by the London-Information (2016), the main component of its 20-year strategy is for Iran to boost its support for the so-called Lebanese Hezbollah within a new strategy it has put to maintain its political leadership which includes Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. A strengthened Lebanon, Syria and Iraq is an objective that goes directly against Israels own intentions in the region (Yinon, 1982). And because it is a threat to…
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