In the absence of any disclaimers in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) press it is clear that reports, which first appeared in the New York Times two weeks ago, about Israeli President Shimon Peres participating in the Gulf Security Conference in Abu Dhabi must be true, writes Abdelbari Atwan.
This development confirms our concern that a gradual “normalization” process between the Gulf States and Israel has begun, leading to a new alliance against Iran. This follows America’s recent moves away from its Gulf allies and its rapprochement with Tehran.
Normalization with Israel always starts with the country concerned extending an invitation to Peres in his guise of “Dove of peace,” the moderate Israeli. Thus did Qatar when it invited Peres to Doha fifteen years ago. He sparkled and smiled, and walked out to meet Qatari citizens, offering plenty of photo ops for eager local reporters and photographers.
The late Moroccan King Hassan II took the same course when he hosted an “economic peace” summit in Casablanca, November 1994: Bill Clinton, Boris Yeltsin and representatives from 61 Middle Eastern and North African countries attended as did “special guest,” Shimon Peres. The outcome of the gathering effectively lifted the Arab world’s economic embargo against Israel.
Peres opened this year’s Gulf Security Conference via satellite, speaking from his office in Jerusalem and flanked by Israeli flags. The Times of Israel excitedly noted that “nobody walked out” while he spoke. Peres mentioned the threat of a nuclear Iran and Israeli concerns over the nuclear limitation agreement reached between Iran and the 5+1 powers more than once, drawing warm applause from several delegates including a “Saudi Prince.”
Twenty nine foreign ministers from Arab and Muslim countries were present including those from Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, Yemen, Jordan and Qatar. Peres was interviewed by UN Under Secretary-General Terje Rød-Larsen who also chaired a question and answer session.
This latest development, which sees an apparent rapprochement between Israel and the Gulf States, is not entirely surprising and is based on the theory of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend.” Who would have thought, however, that one day the Gulf Arabs would see Israel no longer as an enemy, but as an ally, and that Israel would become an alternative to the US as a protector and garrison for the Gulf States?
I have been genuinely surprised by the number of tweets I have received from people in the Gulf saying that if the Arabs had to choose between an alliance with Iran against Israel, or an alliance with Israel against Iran, they should choose the latter.
I have also received insulting tweets in response to articles by me expressing the opinion that Israel will not be able to provide a security umbrella for the Gulf States, and cannot defeat Iran alone. If Iran were to be attacked by some kind of Israeli-Gulf coalition a new sectarian war would erupt that can never be solved. We have only to look at Iraq and Afghanistan to see the endless cost and ineffectiveness of military interventions to change regimes.
If Israel chose the military option against Iran, it would actually be a disaster for the Gulf States which would pay with their security and stability if they backed it. Their alliance with Israel would provoke Iranian retaliation and they have much to lose. If Iran destroyed the Gulf States’ water desalination and energy plants they would be crippled. It would not be difficult for Iran to carry out such attacks whether with its huge arsenal of missiles or tiny suicide boats which can evade sophisticated radar.
The Gulf governments are playing with fire, in our opinion, if they place all their eggs in the Israeli basket. America changed its bellicose approach to Iran and started, instead, to seek a lasting and workable peace because Washington realized that a military solution to the problem of Iran’s nuclear capacity was not only extremely expensive, in both dollars and lives, but was not guaranteed to succeed and would certainly have disastrous side effects and unintended consequences.
The Gulf states are being lulled into a false sense of security by the dove-like image of 90 year-old Nobel peace laureate Shimon Peres. We have to remind them that here is a man responsible for horrendous war crimes. Peres was responsible for the Qana Massacre of 1996, he was an architect of Israel’s nuclear weapons program and he is part of the current government that has killed thousands of Arabs both in Palestine and Lebanon, using several illegal weapons in the process.
We have to remind those rulers too that Israel has made a mockery of the peace process and has made zero concessions in the course of twenty years’ negotiations since Oslo agreement; Israel is planning to split the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem by establishing a fixed area for Jewish worship and implementing alternate prayer arrangements for Muslim and Jewish worshippers. On 2 December Saudi Arabia’s highest religious council, the Majlis al-Ifta’ al-A’ala, threatened a jihad if these arrangements went ahead.
A political and military alliance with Israel would fly in the face of all religious integrity and many scholars and imams have ruled that it is not permissible.
The biggest irony is that the UAE was founded by Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan in 1971 with the stated aim of becoming a beacon of unitary resistance to Israeli aggression and occupation. Sheikh Zayed famously said that “oil is one of the weapons of the battle and it is not more precious than Arab blood.”
He cut off supplies to the US and said it would be “used against all governments which support Israel.” The UAE’s foreign policy was based on the Palestinian question and an insistence that there can be no peace without self-determination for the Palestinians and the total withdrawal of Israel from Palestinian territories. The UAE has channelled more than $20 billion to the Palestinians and opposed both the Camp David Accords and the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty.
Yet it was the UAE who invited Peres to speak at last month’s Abu Dhabi conference and, back in May, allegedly agreed to host a secret Israeli diplomatic mission to pave the way for unity against Iran. The biggest paradox is that, just as the West and the USA decide to lessen their support for Israel because it has become an unbearable moral and financial burden on them, the Arabs step in to take their place!