Fear of Iran, US role in the Middle East shrinking, driving adversaries together

Monday’s first official meeting between Israel’s prime minister and the leader of the United Arab Emirates was the latest in a spate of explosive diplomacy reshaping the Middle East’s geopolitics in the Middle East. amid fears that the Iran nuclear talks will fall apart and concerns that America is shrinking. role in the region.

Talks in Abu Dhabi—the first meeting between the leaders of Israel and the UAE since two countries establish diplomatic relations last year – gave Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan their first chance to work individually on their common regional rival, Iran, and the country’s expanding nuclear program. this.

It was also an opportunity for the two leaders to discuss the budding business relationship between the two countries, which normalized relations late last year after 50 years without formal diplomatic relations. This deal led to agreements with several other Arab countries known as the Abrahamic Agreement, and billions of dollars in new business.

On Monday, Mr Bennett and Sheikh Mohammed spent more than four hours speaking, both with larger delegations and in a two-and-a-half hour face-to-face meeting at the prince’s palace.

A joint statement called Mr Bennett’s visit “another important milestone in the development of the warm relationship and close partnership between the two countries” and said a variety of economic and civil matters. has been discussed.

Mr. Bennett invited Sheikh Mohammed to visit Israel and he accepted, according to the Israeli leader’s office. They are also discussing a free trade agreement next year, the office said.


The Israeli Ministry of Defense first participated in the Dubai Airshow in November as bilateral trade between the two countries soars.


Andrea DiCenzo / Getty Images

The two countries increased registered bilateral trade by 10 times year-on-year in the first 10 months of 2021 to $874.5 million. That amount doesn’t reflect some of the biggest deals that have occurred between Israel and the UAE, including Israel’s Delek Drilling’s $1 billion sale of a stake in its Tamar gas field to Emirati Mubadala wealth fund United Arab Emirates.

Monday’s meeting takes place after Sheikh Mohammed traveled to Turkey at the end of last month to begin mending relations with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a supporter of Muslim political movements that the UAE considers a national security threat.

In addition, Qatar is mediating negotiations between Saudi Arabia and Turkey for the once-unthinkable meeting between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Mr. Erdogan, who are familiar with the efforts. This force suggests a potential player in the fractured relationship that has divided the region for years. Qatari officials unsuccessfully tried to bring the two men together in Doha last week, when the two passed each other within a day and officials were searching for the right time and place in the coming weeks, people said.

Middle East diplomats say they are talking to opponents they have alienated for years amid uncertainty over the Biden administration’s commitment to the region after it abruptly pulled out of Afghanistan and foreign policy pivot towards China. After an allegation Iran attacks with drones about two Saudi oil installations in 2019 that remain largely unanswered and the US role in Iraq diminished, Washington regional officials say aspire to participate in the region shrinkage.

Although Iran says it is not trying to build nuclear weapons, an examination of its main facilities suggests it could develop the technology to make them. The WSJ disrupts Tehran’s ability as it hits new milestones in uranium enrichment and restricts inspectors’ access. Artwork: George Downs

“There is a question of American policy in the Middle East and the perceived image that they want to get out of hell here,” said Yoel Guzansky, a senior researcher focusing on Persian. They say so much.” Gulf politics and security at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.

Gulf and Israeli officials expressed dismay as the United States, Russia, China and the European Union held talks in Vienna with Iran to restore the 2015 nuclear deal that lifted sanctions. sanctions against Iran in exchange for limits on its nuclear program. There has been little progress for two weeks, and Middle Eastern officials Fear that the negotiations might fall apart and caused a regional crisis with Tehran.

“All the players – Israel, UAE – everyone is vying for places,” said Joshua Teitelbaum, a professor of Middle East studies at Bar Ilan University outside Tel Aviv. “There’s a new administration with a policy that we’re still guessing and Iran is on the verge of getting a nuclear weapon, that’s forcing everyone to renew relations.”

With dialogue renewed across the Middle East, Israel remains at a disadvantage. Despite the Abrahamic Agreement, it has little and mostly informal coverage over the rest of the Persian Gulf, making it more dependent on the UAE. Israel has no official relations with Saudi Arabia, although secret desert meeting last year between Crown Prince Mohammed and then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The emirates see their partnership with Israel, which has increasingly supported Iran’s right to strike nuclear targets, as a way to enhance their security credibility with advanced weapons. of Israel, observers said. But the Emirates are also concerned that any uncoordinated military action could lead to a broader conflict.


Negotiators met in Vienna last week to try to revive the Iran nuclear deal.


REMOVE EU IN VIENNA / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images

“What the Gulf states are trying to do differently in this new phase is to keep their relationship with the great powers intact,” said Sanam Vakil, deputy director of the Middle East North Africa program at Chatham House. or argue more closely and try to cut Iran.”

The renewed dialogue is also giving a new impetus to ease the conflicts that arose in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings. Saudi Arabia is reducing its military footprint in Yemen as the kingdom has all but lose the war there for Iran-aligned Houthi rebels.

Several Arab countries have begun promoting the idea of ​​recognizing the legitimacy of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the hope of ending nearly a decade of brutal fighting. The UAE foreign minister met Mr. Assad last month in Damascus and Syria could attend the Arab League summit in Algeria in March for the first time since its membership was suspended in March. 2011.

At the same time, Saudi Arabia has held several rounds of talks this year with Iran, with Iraq as a mediator, aimed at restoring diplomatic relations for the first time in six years. Sheikh Mohammed’s brother, UAE National Security Adviser Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed Al Nahyan, arrived in Tehran this month where he met Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and invited him to visit the UAE.

Analysts say the hope of various dialogues is not to mend relations with adversaries but to restore communication channels in the event of a breakdown in nuclear negotiations.

For Mr. Erdogan and Crown Prince Mohammed, a meeting offers an opportunity to clear up the problems that have poisoned relations between Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Among them: The murder of writer Jamal Khashoggi by a team of Saudi government agents at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. Crown Prince Mohammed wanted a promise that Mr. Now mentioning Mr. Khashoggi’s death again and being applied by the Turkish media. According to Saudi and Qatari officials, stop searching this topic.

For Mr. Erdogan, the calculus may be more about money than geopolitics. With Turkey affected by a currency crisis, he searched for economic lifelines.

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