The recent peace agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, brokered by President Donald TrumpDonald TrumpFormer chairman of Wisconsin GOP party signals he will comply with Jan. 6 committee subpoena Overnight Defense & National Security — Pentagon tells Russia to stand down Billionaire GOP donor maxed out to Manchin following his Build Back Better opposition MORE, could be compared to the 1977 Camp David Accords, except that it simply formalizes a growing relationship between the Jewish state and one of the Gulf nations that has been ongoing for some time. Both Israel and the UAE have Iran as a common enemy. Both countries are also technologically advanced and will benefit from closer commercial ties.
Israel and the UAE are also emerging space powers. The UAE recently launched a probe called Hope to Mars. After a private Israeli group made an unsuccessful attempt to land a robotic probe called the Beresheet on the lunar surface, German company OHB joined forces with Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI) to attempt a moon landing in 2022 using Beresheet technology.
Israel’s and the UAE’s experience in robotic planetary missions suggests that an opportunity exists for a joint effort, But to which target? Another moon landing? A follow-up to the Hope mission with a Mars lander?
The recent discovery of a subsurface ocean on the dwarf planet Ceres suggests an opportunity for both countries to mount a robotic space mission that would expand new frontiers in space exploration. A Ceres lander would be a logical next step after the successful Dawn mission that orbited the dwarf planet in 2015 for an extended science mission. Ceres also is a great target because it is still geologically active. A joint Israeli-UAE Ceres mission would almost certainly get NASA cooperation and could be launched with a commercial rocket such as the SpaceX Falcon.
Both Israel and the UAE have flown astronauts in space. Israel’s Ilan Ramon tragically went down with the space shuttle Columbia in February 2003. A UAE astronaut, Hazzaa al-Mansoori, spent eight days on the International Space Station last year at the behest of the Russian Space Agency.
Both Israel and the UAE have signed space cooperation agreements with NASA. NASA is preparing to mount the return of humans to the lunar surface with the first expedition comprising two Americans, “the first woman and the next man” planned for 2024. Subsequent expeditions would consist of four astronauts, leading eventually to a base at the lunar south pole.
NASA will certainly bring along astronauts from other countries on Artemis expeditions. The European Union, the UK, Canada, Japan and India would likely contribute astronauts willing and eager to walk on the moon. However, the new Israeli-UAE pact and the fact that both countries are emerging space powers provides an opportunity to strike a blow for Middle East peace that would be witnessed by the entire world.
Imagine an Artemis mission to the moon that included both an Israeli and an Arab astronaut. The sight of citizens of two former enemies working together on the moon, broadcast and live streamed on a billion screens across the planet would impart a lesson of the benefits of peace that would be more compelling than any politician’s speech or demonstrator’s slogan. The landing site would have the American flag, the Israeli flag and the UAE flag raised side by side. The image would possibly be the most iconic since the one of Buzz Aldrin saluting the American flag at Tranquility Base over 50 years ago.
The message to people who still imagine the death of Israel would not be starker. Become Israel’s friend, become America’s friend, and everything is possible. Israel, a vibrant, technologically advanced country, is here to stay. The chants of “Palestine will be free, from the river to the sea!” are already seen as deranged and divorced from reality. The slogan will be even more so with a joint American, Israeli, Arab voyage to the moon.
Israel as a smoldering corpse, the dream of too many in the Middle East in the councils of the Palestinian Authority, terrorists such as Hamas and Hezbollah, and, of course, the Iranian mullahs, will never become reality and would be horrible beyond human imagination if it did. Israel as a friend and trading partner would lift many peoples of the Middle East out of squalor and degradation.
A joint American, Israeli, UAE mission to the moon could be the spark that changes hearts and minds to the possibilities of peace and away from the nightmare of war. Perhaps someone in the American government (maybe NASA Administrator Jim BridenstineJames (Jim) Frederick BridenstineBill Nye promotes infrastructure, social spending bills with Biden NASA can facilitate the commercial space station race SpaceX all-civilian crew returns to Earth, successfully completing 3-day mission MORE) could make the mission happen. A Middle East peace mission to the moon would, incidentally, provide another reason to return to the moon sooner rather than later.
Mark Whittington, who writes frequently about space and politics, has published a political study of space exploration entitled Why is It So Hard to Go Back to the Moon? as well as The Moon, Mars and Beyond. He blogs at Curmudgeons Corner. He is published in the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The Hill, USA Today, the LA Times, and the Washington Post, among other venues.