On September 15th, 2020, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) signed normalization agreements with Israel. These normalization agreements are officially recognized as the “Abraham Accords”. The Abraham Accords establish full diplomatic relations between Israel and the two Gulf States and mark a significant shift in the Arab Israeli peace process. The UAE and Bahrain are the third and fourth states to officially recognize Israel after Egypt and Jordan formally normalized relations with Israel in 1979 and 1994 respectively. However, unlike the Egyptian and Jordanian peace deals, the Abraham Accords largely ignore the Palestinian question.
The signing of the Abraham Accords is a large victory for the United States, which has been working to ease relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors for years. The decision of the UAE and Bahrain to recognize Israel is the first big success the American government has seen since Jordan’s normalization agreement with Israel. As such, the Abraham Accords have reinvigorated the American commitment toward peace in the region. The American role in the Abraham Accords has also increased American credibility on the world stage and is one of the greatest accomplishments of the Trump administration’s four years.
The Abraham Accords also benefit Israel, and Prime Minister Netanyahu. The Abraham Accords help Prime Minister Netanyahu appear to be a great statesman, negotiating peace with formerly staunchly pro-Palestinian states. Cooperation with Bahrain and the UAE also gives Israel access to the Arabian Gulf that it did not previously have. This is great for Israel, which is highly concerned about bolstering its security in the face of a growingly hostile and expansionist Iran. The Israelis, did however, make a concession to the UAE that they would not formally annex any more Palestinian land, for the time being.
Like Israel, the UAE is strongly against Iran’s growing influence in the region. Luckily for the UAE, the normalization of relations with Israel came with a large weapons package from the United States to bolster Emirati security capabilities. The Emirati cooperation with American goals in the region, also, strengthens ties between Abu Dhabi and Washington, a move that the Emiratis wanted after their strained relationship with President Obama.
As a close ally of the United States and UAE, Bahrain also benefits from the Abraham Accords. Being the fourth country to normalize relations with Israel distinguishes Bahrain as a leader in fostering stability and cooperation in the region. Bahrain’s normalization agreement with Israel also strengthens its relationship with the United States, as the American government is a close ally of Israel. Normalizing relations with Israel may increase Bahraini economic prosperity, as it tries to diversify its economy and move away from oil and toward foreign investment, trade, and tourism possibilities. Bahrain can also help to facilitate a political channel between Saudi Arabia and Israel.
The decision of the UAE and Bahrain to normalize relations with Israel in the same month has created a sense of momentum in the region regarding the Arab Israeli peace. The recent establishment of official Israeli embassies in the UAE and Bahrain, and likewise the plans of the UAE and Bahrain to establish embassies in Israeli show each country’s commitment to diplomatic relations. Following the Emirati and Bahraini lead, Oman and other Gulf countries may be more likely to move toward officially normalizing relations with Israel. Morocco has also normalized relations with Israel, and Tunisia may follow suit. This would be a major step in resolving the Arab Israeli conflict and would bring greater stability to the region overall.
Perhaps most significant to the countries involved in the Abraham Accords is the strengthening of the regional alliance between the Gulf States and Israel against their common adversary, Iran. Through establishing full diplomatic relations, the UAE, Bahrain, and Israel have increased their ability to cooperate and act as a cohesive unit to counter Iranian aggression in the region. The increase in weapons technology to the UAE should also facilitate this effort. It will be interesting to see in the future if the growing coalition against Iran helps achieve more stability in the region. In theory, weakening Iranian proxies and terrorist funding could create a stabilizing effect in the region.