After nearly 75 years, Israel finally finds acceptance in the Middle East
Even as the left wing of the Democratic Party continues to blast Israel — to the degree that the Squad opposed the sale of the Iron Dome defense system that protected women and children against Hamas rocket attacks — Jerusalem continues to become increasingly enmeshed with the half-dozen Arab states with which it has formal diplomatic ties.
Earlier this week, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, a former chief of staff for the Israeli Defense Forces, signed a memorandum of agreement with Morocco that provides for expanded intelligence cooperation, joint exercises, defense industrial cooperation, and Israeli arms sales to the kingdom. Israel long has had unofficial ties to Morocco, which briefly became official in the aftermath of the 1993 Oslo Accords, but the MOU is the first of its kind between Israel and any Arab state.
Morocco was not a signatory to the 2020 Abraham Accords, but Israel’s ties with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain, the two Arab states that did sign those accords, likewise continue to expand. Israeli investors, businessmen and tourists have been pouring into Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and UAE investors have begun to place bets on Israel’s high-tech sector. In March, the UAE created a $10 billion fund for investments in Israel; a month later the UAE’s sovereign wealth fund, Mubadala, announced plans to buy a $1 billion stake in Israel’s Tamar gas field.
For its part, Bahrain reached an agreed framework for economic cooperation with Israel that would create a joint economic committee to spur the implementation of joint research and development projects, Bahraini investment in the Jewish state, and the reduction of trade barriers between the two countries.
Israeli military cooperation with Arab states once was limited to semi-clandestine activities. No longer is that entirely the case. This month the UAE, Bahrain, Israel and the U.S. Fifth Fleet conducted a joint maritime exercise in the Red Sea that was specifically geared to countering Iran’s aggressive behavior. More such exercises are likely to follow, as the Gantz visit to Morocco has made abundantly clear.
Israel also is part of what might be called the “second quad” — the “first” being that of Japan, Australia, India and the United States. The latter two countries have joined Israel and the UAE to form this Middle Eastern quad, which, like its Indo-Pacific counterpart, is not a formal military alliance but fosters closer cooperation among the four states. Indeed, since India participated in the eight-nation, Israel Air Force-hosted Blue Flag exercise in the Mediterranean, the new quad has at least as much military content as the U.S.-Australian-Indian-Japanese arrangement.
Israel’s military relations with the two countries with which it has peace agreements — Egypt and Jordan — is less public but of longer standing. Jordanian fighter aircraft participated in the Blue Flag exercise, though neither Amman nor Jerusalem formally confirmed Jordan’s role.
Similarly, Jerusalem and Cairo both are loath to discuss Israel’s support for Egyptian operations against terrorists in the Sinai Peninsula. Nor do Israel and Saudi Arabia comment on the extent and nature of their military cooperation.
Israel’s leaders, of course, would prefer that their cooperation with all of their Arab counterparts — indeed, with additional Arab states — be as open as it is with its three newest Arab partners. That development may not happen anytime soon. Nevertheless, there can be little doubt that the process of Israel’s integration into the region, which policymakers and analysts alike term “normalization,” is on a positive trajectory, even if the Jewish state’s enemies, both in the region and in the U.S. Congress, would very much wish otherwise.
Dov S. Zakheim is a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and vice chairman of the board for the Foreign Policy Research Institute. He was under secretary of Defense (comptroller) and chief financial officer for the Department of Defense from 2001 to 2004 and a deputy under secretary of Defense from 1985 to 1987.