One year ago to the day, more precisely on September 15, 2020, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain became the first Gulf countries to publicly normalize their relations with Israel.
Until last year, Egypt and Jordan remained the only two Arab countries to recognize the Hebrew state, thanks to agreements, signed under the aegis of the United States, putting an end to the wars waged against him. One year after normalization, what about relations between Israel and its new Gulf partners, in particular the Emirates?
In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, Israel and the Emirates hope to reap economic benefits from their new honeymoon. After the normalization of their relations, the two countries concluded numerous trade agreements.
This Tuesday, September 14, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, via his Twitter account, welcomed the first anniversary of normalization with the United Arab Emirates
– יאיר לפיד – Yair Lapid🟠 (@yairlapid) September 14, 2021
Israeli startups storming the Emirates
Since then, the number of Israeli startups working in the field of artificial intelligence, financial technologies and agriculture, has increased in the wealthy Gulf state, which does not hide its ambitions in these areas.
The volume of trade amounted last August to 500 million dollars (more than 423 million euros), excluding investments, after several agreements relating to tourism, aviation and financial services.
“The main advantages for the Emirates have been economic,” confirms to AFP Elham Fakhro, Gulf specialist at the International Crisis Group. These advantages were, according to her, particularly significant in “tourism, cybersecurity, cultural and diplomatic exchanges”.
About 200,000 Israelis have visited the Emirates since relations were established, according to Israel’s consul general in Dubai, the most popular of the seven principalities that make up the Gulf state.
In the field of Defense, the United States has agreed to sell more than 23 billion dollars (nearly 19.5 billion euros) of F-35 fighter jets and drones to the Emirates after their diplomatic normalization with Israel.
Will Saudi Arabia take the plunge?
After the Emirates and Bahrain, eyes have for a time been riveted on Saudi Arabia, the first Arab economic power, land of the holiest places of Islam and a close partner of the United States. But Riyadh rejected any normalization without a settlement of the Palestinian question.
The Israelis and the Saudis, however, share the same regional adversary: Iran. In this context, unofficial relations have warmed and strengthened, analysts observe.
“It is unlikely that Riyadh, led by King Salman, formally normalizes relations with Israel,” said Hugh Lovatt, researcher at the European Council for International Relations (ECFR).
“But it is clear that the two countries already share an important level of political and security dialogue,” he told AFP.
And if Saudi Arabia decides to take the plunge, “it will do it on its own terms and according to internal calculations,” notes researcher Elham Fakhro.
As for the other Gulf countries, Qatar and Oman also maintain discreet relations with Israel but have not announced their intention to formalize them. Kuwait, for its part, has taken a firm stand in support of the Palestinian cause.
The Palestinians condemned the normalization agreements as “stabbing in the back”, claiming that they legitimized the occupation of the Palestinian Territories by Israel, recognized as illegal by the UN.
In the eyes of the Emirates, in exchange for this agreement, Israel agreed to renounce the “annexation” of Palestinian territories. But Benjamin Netanyahu said the project was postponed, not canceled.
In May, Israel’s new Arab allies found themselves in a difficult position, more or less strongly condemning the Jewish state after hundreds of Palestinians were injured in clashes with Israeli security forces.
The violence around the sacred site of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Israel-occupied East Jerusalem was sparked by the possible eviction of Palestinian families from a part of the city, for the benefit of Jewish settlers.
But, analysts say, these events had no lasting impact on the normalization agreements, as they “never focused on the Palestinians,” according to Elham Fakhro.
“They are based on important bilateral interests which, in reality, have nothing to do with the Palestinian question,” confirms Hugh Lovatt.