Arab-Israel War ends: New strategic framework forged in reaction to Jihad, Iran, White House

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GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs

It is probable that history will mark early 2015 as the end of the Arab-Israeli war, a conflict which has lasted since 1948, when the modern State of Israel was proclaimed.

However, the end of “the Arab-Israeli war” by no means marks the end of the conflict being waged for the creation of a separate Palestinian state, or the ongoing conflict against Israel by non-Arab Turkey, non-Arab Iran, Qatar, and, to a strong degree, with the support of the U.S. White House (albeit not the U.S. Government per se).

The end of the general Arab-Israeli war is the result of a growing closeness of purpose between a number of Arabian Peninsula states and Israel, particularly over issues related to the containment of jihadist forces, and, more significantly, to the containment of Iran’s growing dominance of the region.

This has been developing over several decades, largely beginning with the very discreet Israel-Oman exchanges of contacts in the late 1970s, but blossoming particularly when the late Saudi Arabian monarch, King ‘Abdallah bin ‘Abd al-’Aziz al Sa’ud and the Israeli government had common, or overlapping, concerns over Iran.

The UAE largely followed Saudi Arabia in this regard. Jordan had consistently been pragmatic in its relations with Israel, and vice-versa.

The “Arab” hostility toward Israel was not reversed, or did not decline, in a uniform manner.

The Egyptian Government of President Anwar Sadat normalized relations with Israel, beginning with the Camp David Accords in 1978, but Israeli-Egyptian relations were formal but cool during the era of President Hosni Mubarak (1981-2011), and became more pragmatic during the interim government of Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi Soliman (2011-12), but moved back to outright hostility — albeit with continued normal diplomatic relations — during the Muslim Brotherhood government of President Mohammed Morsi (2012-13).

It not only reverted to a warm relationship with the removal of President Morsi by the Egyptian plebiscite of 2013 [the Egyptian Movement for Change collected 22-million signatures calling for Morsi’s resignation, ultimately led to installation of the Government of President Abdul Fatah Saeed Hussein Khalil al-Sisi]; it led to an Israeli-Egyptian relationship based on a multi-dimensional set of mutual strategic interests.

The ending of the U.S.-Egypt special relationship, with the election of the Sisi government in Egypt in 2014 and the rejection of the U.S. by Saudi Arabia that same year, helped re-establish the profound Saudi and UAE (and Kuwaiti) support for Egypt, given that all those Arab states shared Egypt’s rejection of U.S. President Barack Obama’s (and Turkish President Reçep Tayyip Erdogan’s and Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani’s) favored option in the region, the Muslim Brotherhood.

What has emerged is now a solid bloc of newly-allied states: Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the UAE, and, to a degree, Kuwait. Oman and Morocco have their own separate relationships with Israel. They are not all of one mind on all things. Oman is cautious, as ever, of Saudi Arabia, particularly at present, on Riyadh’s handling of the Yemen situation (and, indeed, the Ibadi Muslim Omanis act as a bridge to Iran on many issues; Ibadism pre-dates Sunnism and Shi’ism). Morocco is wary of Saudi Arabia’s history of support for radical, Wahhabist ideology. And so on.

Significantly, in the “anti-Israel camp”, Iran is firmly at odds with Turkey and Qatar, and wary of the Obama Administration on all issues. Iran’s hostility toward Israel was, in any event, a recent issue, and not one which — as with the “Arab-Israeli war” — sprang forth in 1948. Iran/Persia has had a profoundly important relationship with Israel going back some 2,500 years. It is likely to do so again, once the present unpleasantness passes:

Iran has always sought a strong foothold on the Mediterranean and managed this through what is now Israel, while also maintaining strong links with the Jews of the region, dating back to the sacking of the First Temple of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar II after the Siege of Jerusalem of 587 BCE. Captive Jewish tribes were gradually assimilated Eastward into the Persian Empire.

On the periphery of this is the strong Israeli relationship with Ethiopia, coming at a time a) when Djibouti is seeking to rejoin Ethiopia (to which it belonged until it was leased by Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia to France for 99 years); and b) a cautious working relationship is beginning to emerge between Ethiopia and Egypt over the sharing of the waters of the Blue Nile. Thus, Ethiopia seems logically set — reemerging as a Red Sea maritime factor — to join this new bloc.

What is emerging in this new strategic framework is creation of a newly empowered region, in which mutual investment and trade is already beginning to blossom.

The loans and investments of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Kuwait into Egypt in 2014-15 marked the start of true commercial investment in Egypt which would likely include the financing of the “new Cairo”, built between the existing old city of Cairo and the Suez Canal in the coming few years, also at a time when the Suez Canal’s great expansion is occurring: the broadened and more capable Suez Canal — which will be even more important in global shipping terms — is set to open in August 2015. Such a trading bloc, should it occur, would be stabilizing to the region, as well as to the Eastern Mediterranean as a whole, and to the Indian Ocean/Pacific sea linkages. And it may occur without a strong Western (ie: U.S.) influence.

Within all this, too, is the ongoing Turkish-Iranian mutual (but carefully subdued) hostility. How that plays out will determine the extent to which a surviving Turkey decides (almost certainly post Erdogan) to rejoin the region, or not.