There is a growing camaraderie between Israel and a number of Sunni nations in the Gulf region.
What does this mean for the future of Middle East?
Israel is the world's only Jewish state. The Jews staked claim for a land of their own due to religious reasons. They trace their origins to Abraham, who they consider as their patriarch. In the immediate aftermath of the creation of Israel, a war between Arab nations and Israel took place. The Arabs were initially on the offensive but their military resources dried up when the UN declared an arms embargo on the region.
Major wars such as the War of Attrition, Yom Kippur War and the Gaza War have been fought over the years. Nearly every effort by the international community to establish peace in the region has failed.
However, Israel’s relationship with Iran in particular is adversarial in nature. The two nations started fighting in proxy wars against one another during the tenure of Mahmud Ahmedinijiad, the President of Iran from 2005 to 2013. In 2006, reports emerged that Iran had provided aid to Hezbollah fighters (a group that Israel considers a terrorist outfit) during the Lebanon War.
In 2017, Mossad chief Yossi Cohen said, "As long as the current regime exists, with the nuclear agreement or without it, Iran will continue to serve as the main threat to Israel's security.”
Sunni nations like Saudi Arabia also share an acrimonious relationship with Iran.
In the recent years, there appears to be a thawing in the ties between Israel and a number of Gulf nations. In 2015, Israel opened its first every diplomatic mission in the United Arab Emirates. Even though Saudi Arabia and Israel do not have any diplomatic ties, officials from both nations have engaged in meetings in 2017. In June 2017 Israel's intelligence and transportation minister, Yisrael Katz, called on Saudi Arabia's King Salman to invite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Riyadh to establish full diplomatic relations.
At the time, he elaborated on the trade benefits that diplomatic ties would offer. He said, “I saw research on what the result of a regional agreement and full economic relations would mean between Israel, the Gulf countries and Saudi Arabia. This would mean an additional revenue of $45bn for Israel. That's the potential. We have to clearly say what our priorities are.”
Most recently, it was reported that Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa was opposed to the boycott initiated by the Arab nations on Israel. The nation will reportedly allow its citizens to visit Israel freely in the near future.
Experts note that many Gulf nations like Saudi Arabia share common goals with Israel and a boycott is a hindrance. Some of these goals have to do with developing technologies in the energy, water and agricultural sector.
However, perhaps the biggest motivation behind Sunni nations striking a partnership with Israel is Iran. Reports have emerged that Iran is boosted its financial support to Hezbollah to $800 million a year, a dramatic increase from the $200 million a year. This is in part due the fact UN has lifted majority of the sanctions it had imposed on Iran in 2016. The Hezbollah poses a clear threat not only to many Sunni nations but also Israel.
Our assessment is that the new camaraderie between Israel and many of the Gulf nations is based on self-preservation. The nations are following the old adage – ‘the enemy of my enemy is a friend’. If the Arab nations are successful in establishing ties with Israel, it will completely transform the dynamics of the region. We feel that this new relationship will make Iran more hawkish and this could lead to more proxy wars fought between these nations.