Gulf States Weigh Israel Options
By Norman A. Bailey*
Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017 @ 11:42AM
Fear of Iran and Distrust of the Obama Administration have been pushing the Gulf States closer to Israel
By this time it is a commonplace to mention that because of a common fear of Iran, Israel and the countries of the Arabian Peninsula, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, organized in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are improving their relations, particularly in the spheres of defense and security, albeit quietly and with no publicity, so as not to disturb the “Arab Street”, which by and large continues to demonize the “Zionist Entity”.
In addition, during the presidential campaign last year, Donald Trump excoriated the GCC countries for not pulling their weight in the fight against ISIS and al-Qaida, despite their oil riches. This after the eight years of the Obama administration, which ended the bi-partisan support for the GCC countries.
Fear of Iran, neglect by the US and the fall in oil prices had convinced the GCC states that they needed to diversify their external contacts and look for security and defense support in places other than the US and Europe, generally thought of as “The West.” Russia and China were approached and at least in the case of Russia, responded with alacrity, supplying weapons systems to supplement or replace those no longer obtained from “The West.” Those contacts could be openly engaged in and their fruits openly acknowledged.
Not so with Israel, although there is plenty of secret cooperation in defense coordination and intelligence-sharing. At least in the case of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) acceptance of the Israeli connection was more or less openly admitted. All was looking rosy until Trump won the election and was inaugurated president on January 20, 2017.
Suddenly, denouncing the GCC countries as international slackers was no longer engaged. In fact, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was received in Washington with all the ceremonial bells and whistles, and the Saudi connection was proclaimed resurrected and to be made stronger than ever.
Not that there is anything new with politicians saying one thing in campaigns and doing the opposite when in office, but Trump was supposed to be different; in fact, he was supposed to be the anti-politician.
Israel has been put on notice that the president it greeted with such joy now has no intention of moving the embassy any time soon or abandoning the surrealistic “peace process” between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The resulting return to reality on the part of the Israeli political class must now include the likelihood that the GCC countries, feeling loved once again by the US will correspondingly feel less urgency in courting other countries, emphatically including Israel, which was always embraced in private and not allowed to affect voting behavior in the UN and other international fora.
So far this is not true with reference to Egypt, the most important of the Arab countries and which has also been cooperating closely with Israel, particularly with reference to the Sinai and Gaza, but al-Sisi is scheduled to visit Trump soon, and there is every likelihood that the hostile attitude towards his regime by Obama will be reversed 180 degrees. Still, given the geographic realities of the border areas between Egypt and Israel, it is expected that security and intelligence cooperation will continue.
Not so the Gulf. Perhaps the unpredictable nature of President Trump will encourage the GCC countries to continue to engage the Israelis. But perhaps not. Oman and Qatar are already in Iran’s pocket, and the ayatollahs are openly romancing the rest, assuring one and all that they have no intention whatsoever of disturbing Arab interests.
It would behoove the Israeli government to proceed warily with its contacts in the understanding that they may not be as positive in future as they have been in the recent past.
* Norman A. Bailey, Ph.D., is Professor of Economics and National Security, The National Security Studies Center, University of Haifa, and Adjunct Professor of Economic Statecraft, The Institute of World Politics, Washington, DC. He was formerly with the US National Security Council and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.