Israel and the Gulf monarchies, led by Saudi Arabia, have no formal ties.
However, this has not stopped a covert and sustained campaign of cooperative measures and socioeconomic linkages between Israel and the Gulf nations. Tamara Nassar, an assistant editor at Electronic Intifada, has written that political and economic connections between Tel Aviv and its Gulf partners has been justified under the rationale of encouraging inter religious cooperation between Muslims and Jews.
Israel and the Gulf states are pushing towards a normalisation of ties, entrenching cooperative measures that go back decades. By solidifying relations with the Gulf monarchies, Tel Aviv aims to isolate the Palestinians, score diplomatic and economic victories, and formalise an anti-Iranian alliance. Saudi Arabia has been advocating an anti-Iranian axis since the early 2000s, and is being encouraged in this course by US President Donald Trump.
In October 2018, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the Sultanate of Oman, with the goal of boosting relations with that country. Oman has maintained cordial ties with Israel, and has provided a sympathetic voice for Tel Aviv among the Gulf nations. This visit comes on top of extensive back channel ties and communications between the Gulf states and Tel Aviv.
In February this year, two senior Israeli intelligence figures visited the nation of Qatar, for talks about security cooperation between the two nations. Qatar has hosted pro-Zionist political operators in the past, and has provided a platform for pro-Israeli evangelical Christian groups to advocate their millenarian apocalyptic visions for the Middle East.
Back in 2015, journalist and political commentator Murtaza Hussain, writing for The Intercept, noted that the extent and depth of the burgeoning and clandestine Israel-Gulf states alliance was gradually being revealed. With the Arab uprisings, and the removal of the Ba’athist regime in Iraq, the GCC nations and Israel stepped up their cooperative outreach.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has maintained longstanding security and economic connections with Tel Aviv. In the wake of the pandemic crisis, Abu Dhabi sent a plane load of COVID-19 medical aid to Tel Aviv, the first direct flight between the two countries. The Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, hailed this step, and expresses his hope that this would accelerate the normalisation process.
Warming business relations and security arrangements are increasingly coming into public view. Israel intended to open its own pavilion at the World Expo 2020, slated to be held this year, but postponed due to the pandemic. Ties have been promoted under the cynical excuse of interfaith dialogue and Muslim-Jewish understanding. Such a rationale is a perverse deployment of a commendable goal to disguise coldly calculated political and economic objectives.
In fact, portraying the Israel-Palestine conflict as one originating primarily in religious differences between Jews and Muslims only serves to obscure the settler-colonialist ideology of Zionism, the underpinning which motivates the Israeli ruling class’ measures to create a Jewish-only state. Rather than some nebulous, historic ages-old animosity between Judaism and Islam, the conflict is underscored by the colonialist mentality and programme of the Zionist political project.
Ian Black, scholar and former Middle East editor for the Guardian, wrote an article elaborating why Israel and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations, led by Saudi Arabia, are quietly cozying up to each other. He wrote:
Evidence is mounting of increasingly close ties between Israel and five of the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – none of which have formal relations with the Jewish state. Trump highlighted this accelerating change on his first foreign trip as president – to the Saudi capital Riyadh – by flying on directly afterwards to Tel Aviv.
Black notes that since the founding of the Zionist state in 1948, involving the expulsion of 700 000 Palestinians from their homeland, the Arab states have shared a collective opposition to Tel Aviv. Israel, for its part, has attempted to break out of this hostile environment by forging alliances with Gulf nations that are historically supportive of Anglo-American interests and imperial objectives. In this way, the Zionist state acquires friendly Arab allies, and isolates the Palestinians.
Outreach measures by Tel Aviv are neither new nor original. Since its inception in 1948, Israeli ruling circles have made concerted efforts to find allies in sub-Saharan Africa. Reaching out to non-Arab African states, with promises of security and technological cooperation, has been a crucial programme. Falsely portraying itself as an ‘anti-colonial’ venture, Israel has formed relationships with numerous African countries as they declared independence in the 1950s and 60s.
While sub-Saharan African nations have been supportive of the Palestinians, this has not stopped Israeli PM Netanyahu from establishing friendly relations with numerous African states. Ramzy Baroud, Palestinian journalist and scholar, noted that breaking Afro-Arab unity is a primary objective of the Israeli administration. It is no secret that Israel supports moves towards an independent Iraqi Kurdistan, as a reliable non-Arab ally in that region.
Never has the aphorism “you are known by the friends you keep” been more relevant and applicable.