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Israel - Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Relations

By at least the year 2005 there appeared to be a growing alignment of interests between Israel and the more moderate Sunni Arab states, such as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, who saw a growing threat in Iran. However, that the ongoing Palestinian conflict made it difficult for the moderate Arab states to cooperate with Israel. Some Israelis believed the moderate Arabs needed progress in the Palestinian arena in order to publicly collaborate with Israel. But other Israelis argued that the moderate Arabs did not need Israeli concessions to the Palestinians in order to work more closely with Israel against Iran.

The so-called Abraham Accords were signed in September 2020 to normalise ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain. Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said 04 December 2020 Saudi Arabia would only normalise ties with Israel within a plan that would deliver a sovereign state to Palestinians, quashing speculation that the kingdom may soon become the latest Arab country to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel. Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani also delivered Qatar’s take on the Abraham Accords to the Med2020 platform, saying Qatar did not consider them as helping the Palestinian cause. Al Thani said the Palestinian issue would have to be at the core of any normalisation agreement between Qatar and Israel. Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said on 06 October 2019 he was the initiator to sign a non-aggression treaty with the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf. "Recently, with the support of the United States, I have been promoting a political initiative to sign a non-aggression treaty with the Arab Gulf states. A historic step will put an end to the conflict and will promote civilian cooperation until peace agreements are signed", Katz wrote. The minister noted that he had already discussed the draft treaty with his colleagues from the Arab countries and presented the draft document to Donald Trump's special envoy for the Middle East peace process, Jason Greenblatt.

According to the Arutz 12 broadcaster, the idea of the initiative is to "use a common interest in Iran to normalise relations in the fight against terror and in the economic sphere". It also noted that full-scale peace agreements cannot be signed at the moment because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Earlier, Katz and Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel Jubeir criticised Iran from the UN rostrum, accusing it of terrorism. They urged the international community to unite in exerting pressure on Tehran. Iran has repeatedly refuted all accusations against it.

Israel's relations with the Gulf are a function of the Gulf Arabs' fear of Iran, but also as due to the Arabs' belief in Israeli influence in Washington. The Gulf Arabs believe in Israel's role because of their perception of Israel's close relationship with the U.S. but also due to their sense that they can count on Israel against Iran. They believe Israel can work magic. When considering a trilateral U.S.-Israel-GCC partnership, that Iran's nuclear program is the primary source of concern to the U.S. and Israel, while the Gulf Arabs also worry about Iran for a host of historic and sectarian reasons. Iran caused the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries to intensify their dialogues with Israel. They share the same views as Israel on Iran, Syria and Hamas.

Oman has its own definition of what poses a threat to the Gulf, partly due to Oman's geographical location. Qatar's policies were not a matter of a shift in ideology toward the radical camp, but linked to their rivalry with the Saudis and, by extension, with Egypt. The UAE has extensive trade and financial relations with Iran, including money laundering, and it was unclear whether they were ready to use these relations as leverage.

By lae 2018 a spate of welcomed public appearances by senior Israeli officials in Gulf countries, following a history of clandestine ties, unveiled a shift towards normalised ties with Israel. On 25 October 2018, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Oman for high-profile talks with Sultan Qaboos, days after talks with Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas. Netanyahu's visit came after four months of quiet discussions, and years of secret relations between Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency and Sultan Qaboos, who overthrew his father in 1970 and has ruled since.

His visit to Oman coincided with another visit by far-right Israeli Minister Miri Regev to the UAE. While Netanyahu was in Oman, Regev was on a four-day visit to Abu Dhabi. Regev, a hardline conservative with a reputation for racist, provocative statements even within Israel, attended the International Judo Federation’s Grand Slam in Abu Dhabi. She was welcomed by local officials and given a tour of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque alongside UAE officials the next day. The Israeli minister had often been the subject of controversy, posting a video featuring genocidal chants like, "may your village be burned", calling migrants "a cancer", and saying "If our children live in fear, Hamas should live in fear... We must go back to the policy of targeted assassinations of leaders". This is the same Miri Regev who described the Muslims call to prayer, Adhan, as the sound of the "crying dogs of Muhammad".

During Regev's visit Israel’s national anthem, Hatikvah, was played for the first time in the Abu Dhabi, a further sign of the ties becoming formalised. The United Arab Emirates still has no 'official' ties to Israel.“We made history. The people of Israel live!” Regev tweeted tearfully after the anthem was played.

At the same time, Israeli Communication Minister Ayoub Kara attended a conference in Dubai on 29 October 2018, while Transportation Minister Israel Katz attended a meeting in Oman in late November 2018.

The visits came as the Palestinian Central Committee voted to revoke recognition of Israel, and suspend security cooperation with Tel Aviv. The GCC's kings, sultans and princes only pay lip-service to the Palestinian issue. It's a means to an end. The Arab people want leaders who are anti-Israel. Their leaders deliver. But these royals couldn't care less about Palestine. It's all a smokescreen. Iran and its expansion were the only items on their agenda now. Ties with Israel are for sharing intelligence and cooperating militarily against Iran. Any mediation that comes from it is a side public relations benefit to leverage US support.

Calling the Israeli-GCC rapprochement a 'thaw in relations', might be an understatement, given that they have existed for some time but were simply kept clandestine. Recent events, however, hinted at a bolder move towards normalising ties with Israel, largely kept under wraps out of fear of public opinion. This has become all the more pressing in the post-Arab Spring Middle East.

In October 2018, UAE Ambassador Yousef al Otaiba spoke at a summit in New York, alongside Yossi Cohen, director of Israel's Mossad spy agency and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al Jubeir. "Gulf countries, Israel and the countries in the immediate vicinity are the ones at immedi­ate risk [from Iran]," he stated, finding common ground with Israel through shared anxiety over Iran's expanding geopolitical presence. Otaiba himself reportedly met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in May 2018 during a 'chance encounter', where they discussed Iran.

“I will say this for the first time: Israel is a state that is present in this region, and we all know this,” said Oman's Foreign Minister Yusuf Bin Alawi in Bahrain on 17 November 2018. "The world is also aware of this fact. Maybe it is time for Israel to be treated the same [as others states] and also bear the same obligations."

Saudi Arabia reportedly purchased over $250 million worth of spy equipment from Israel, according to an exclusive report from Al-Khaleej Online. The deal, mediated by the US and included training a Saudi team in operating the state-of-the-art espionage equipment, as well as strategic military exchanges. But the deal is by no means the first deal the Saudi Kingdom has entered into with Israel. A diplomatic source claimed in mid-September 2018 that Saudi Arabia had purchased the Israeli Iron Dome defence system to defend itself against Houthi rebel missile attacks.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has also previously stated that Israelis are entitled to live peacefully on their own land, in an interview. The statement contradicted Saudi Arabia's insistence that normalising relations with Israel requires Israeli withdrawal from Arab lands captured in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

In August 2018, the UAE contracted the secretive Israeli NSO Group to spy on dissidents, turning their phones into surveillance devices through the use of spyware. Bahrain itself publicly backed Israel's right to defend itself in a tweet by its top diplomat in May 2018.

By 2020 Israel saw an opportunity to make gains it could only have only dreamt about just a few years ago. The Trump Administration has handed it not only significant wins that it can offer but pushed the narrative to Israel’s neighbouring states that the greatest threat they pose is not from Israel, but Iran. This has all been allowed by the United States' unilateral decisions recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and recognising Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. The US Special Envoy for negotiations, Jason Greenblatt presented the Israeli prime minister with a map showing the Golan Heights as part of Israel. While these recognitions were only made by the US and the rest of the world has rejected it, Netanyahu was happy to bank these for now and to push for others to follow the American lead.

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Page last modified: 03-07-2022 15:25:54 ZULU