Can Israel Obtain a Non-Belligerence Agreement with Arab States? (Part 1)

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Yossi Ben Menachem, a senior Israeli official, has written here about Israel’s current attempts to further a non-aggression agreement with Arab states.

According to senior diplomatic sources in Jerusalem, Israel is trying to advance a non-aggression agreement with four Arab countries that do not currently have diplomatic relations with Israel. These countries are Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Morocco.

Such an agreement would be a stepping-stone toward full normalization between Israel and these four countries, which already have ties behind the scenes.

The proposed agreement includes maintaining friendly ties between Israel and these Arab countries based on UN treaties and international law, and the adoption of steps required to prevent hostile actions, such as the threat of war or terror activities, violence, or incitement.

The agreement prohibits the signatories from joining or assisting alliances or organizations with a third party of a military nature.

The United States is trying to help Israel with this process. American sources state that US Deputy National Security Advisor Victoria Coates met with the ambassadors of the UAE, Bahrain, Oman, and Morocco in Washington, where she explained the new Israeli initiative to them and asked for their response. The ambassadors told her that they would convey the message to the political leaderships in their countries, and would respond as soon as possible.

None of the four countries mentioned above denied the media reports on this issue.

Why was Saudi Arabia left out of this initiative? Everyone knows that the Saudis are already cooperating with Israel, which shares its intelligence on Iran with Riyadh. Furthermore, Crown Prince Muhammad last year declared that the “Jewish people had a right to their own land” – a clear sign of warming relations. Was Saudi Arabia left out of the meetings with Victoria Coates because there was no need for its ambassador to attend; the Saudis were already well along in their improved relations with Israel?

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz initiated the process in coordination with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in September 2019, when Katz met with Oman’s Foreign Minister Yusuf bin-Alawi and UAE Foreign Minister Anwar Karkash.

An Israeli delegation, comprised of representatives from the Foreign Ministry, the National Security Council, the Defense Ministry, and the Justice Ministry then set off for Washington for talks to try to advance the initiative.

President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” peace plan is currently in deep freeze because of the political situation in Israel. At the moment, Israel has a transitional government, and it may well need to conduct a third round of elections. However, foreign policy does not exist in a vacuum, and Foreign Minister Katz is still attempting to advance his initiative.

No one should expect the “Deal of the Century” to ever be accepted by the PA. It is not “in deep freeze” just because of political uncertainty in Israel. No matter who is in charge in Israel, the intransigent PA has repeatedly insisted that it will have nothing to do with any proposal coming from the Trump Administration. The Palestinians refused to attend the Manama meeting even though the only subject to be discussed were the large sums — $50 billion – in potential aid for the PA. That’s cutting off a nose worth $50 billion to spite your face.

There is a “window of opportunity” open at the moment for everything connected to Israel’s relations with the Gulf States, with whom it shares interests in the face of the Iranian threat. This threat is all too real, as was demonstrated by Iran’s attack on Saudi oil installations on Sept. 14.

The attack on Saudi oil installations on Sept. 14 has drawn the Saudis still closer to Israel as an ally against Iran. For while the Americans did not retaliate against Iran, as the Saudis were disturbed to discover, there is one country – Israel – that has been relentlessly and fearlessly attacking Iranian installations all over Syria, as well as bases of Iranian ally Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Iranian missile bases in Iraq as well. Israel’s intrepid behavior in taking on Iran has been noticed with admiration in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, where Israel’s worth as an ally against the Islamic Republic is reconfirmed every day by the Israeli Air Force.

Israel is not concealing its efforts to achieve normalization with Arab countries; Netanyahu announced in November 2019 that Israel maintains covert ties with at least six Arab countries. On Dec. 1, the Foreign Ministry issued an official announcement that a delegation would pay an official visit to Dubai to arrange Israel’s participation in the “Expo 2020” international exhibition there.

Israeli athletes have been welcomed to take part in sports competition in the UAE. And when they win, the Hatikvah is played in the sports stadium without any fuss. Israeli diplomats and intelligence officers have long been meeting with Saudi, UAE, and Bahraini counterparts, sharing intelligence about their common enemy, Iran. Israelis have shared intelligence, too, with Egypt, about both Islamic State and Muslim Brotherhood forces in the Sinai; Israel has also joined Egypt in fighting both groups; General El-Sisi admitted to this alliance on “60 Minutes.” Israel is now to participate in the Expo 2020 international exhibition in Dubai. The boycotts and the barriers are coming down as, little by little, relations between Israel and certain Arab states steadily improve, and perhaps may lead, as the Trump Administration and Israel both fervently hope, to non-belligerence agreements.

An additional path to normalization with the Gulf states is via discussions on security and freedom of transit in the Persian/Arabian Gulf.

Arab sources report that Saudi Arabia is supporting Bahrain on the diplomatic and media fronts regarding this issue. On Oct. 21, Bahrain held a committee meeting on the issue of freedom of transit in the Gulf, attended by an Israeli delegation.

This committee meeting took place following the “Warsaw Committee to Promote Peace and Security in the Middle East” in February 2019, which was led by the United States and attended by 60 countries, including Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, and Oman. The meeting’s agenda was listed as “terrorism and extremism, missile development and proliferation, maritime trade and security, and threats posed by proxy groups across the region.”

Of course Israel is not directly affected by Iranian threats to shipping in the Gulf; Israel neither imports oil through the Gulf, nor are any Israeli ships transporting goods through the Gulf. But Israel does have a stake in thwarting Iranian aggression everywhere; this further demonstrates its value as an ally to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. At the moment, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have no better friend in the long war against Iran than the previously-shunned Jewish State.

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