I can’t predict how it will all play out, but when the most technologically advanced and globalized Arab state, the U.A.E., decides to collaborate with the most technologically advanced and globalized non-Arab state in the region, Israel, I suspect new energies will get unlocked and new partnerships forged that should be good for both Arab-Israeli and Jewish-Muslim human-to-human relations.
If successful, it will create an alternative model for emulation to the Iranian permanent resistance model, which has only helped spawn failed states in Lebanon, Syria, Gaza, Iraq and Iran.
Why is this happening now?
First, because America is sharply reducing its military presence in the Middle East, and, as a result, new alliances are being forged to fill the vacuum. There is the Iran-Hezbollah Shiite axis in Lebanon, Syria, parts of Iraq and Yemen. There is a Turkish-Qatar alliance. And, countering both is this new tacit Israel-U.A.E.-Bahrain-Saudi axis, alongside a budding Iraqi, Egyptian, Jordanian, moderate Sunni axis.
The second trend is that ever since the Arab spring, the collapse of oil prices and the surge in Arab youth populations, moderate Sunni Arab states understand that they can no longer retain their legitimacy by outbidding one another on the Palestine question and offering government jobs and subsidies.
Their future stability depends on their providing their youth the educational tools, the trade relationships, the global connectivity — and the religious, gender and educational pluralism — they need to thrive. While they refuse to include political pluralism or dissent in that mix, in time they’ll have to. For now, though, their modernization model is China, not America.
There were also critical tactical considerations for the Emirates, argues David Makovsky, an expert on Arab-Israeli relations at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “On one hand,” he told me, “the U.A.E. felt its leverage with the Trump administration would never be higher than now — when Trump faces an uphill re-election effort and is looking for a Mideast diplomatic breakthrough. As such, if there was ever a time the U.S. would sell the U.A.E. advanced F-35 stealth jets, after refusing for eight years, it’s now.”
Making peace with Israel, Makovsky added, was also good “political risk insurance” for the U.A.E. should Joe Biden win the presidency, as “it could offset strains with congressional Democrats over the U.A.E.’s hostility to Obama’s Iran nuclear deal and its involvement in Yemen.”