Abraham Accords to drive progress across the Middle East

Experts in security and strategy see gains in prosperity and conflict resolution

epa08671211 Flags of the United States, Bahrain, Israel and the United Arab Emirates during a signing ceremony of the 'Abraham Accords' on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, USA, 15 September 2020.  EPA/Chris Kleponis / POOL
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The UAE and Israel are poised to play the role of “regional influencers” across the spheres of economy and security, and even on the challenges posed by Iran-sponsored terrorism, according to leading think tank directors.

The signing of the Abraham Accords has been received as an act of “political courage and imagination”, a webinar heard. The accord also had the considerable economic potential for the wider Middle East, especially after Sudan, Oman and Morocco signed up.

“It's helping to set a new tone,” said John Raine, of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “I think that Israel and its new partners have it within their powers to make each other both more secure and richer.”

With America pivoting towards the Indo-Pacific region there was also a possibility that the accords could make the two countries the “powerbrokers” in normalising regional politics.

“They could potentially be regional influencers in the Middle East in trying to powerbroker a number of regional conflicts [and] manage transnational threats from Islamic groups or non-state actors sponsored by Iran,” said Dr Sanam Vakil of Chatham House, the London-based think tank.

The Abraham Accords, signed six months ago, was arguably the most significant foreign policy achievement of the Trump administration leading to the normalisation of relations between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain.

“It has changed something which 10 or certainly 20 years ago looked as though it could never be changed,” said Mr Raine, a former British diplomat. "Let's not forget the potential financial and commercial relationships. We cannot but wish them well."

He considered that the military and economic power of Israel and the UAE could give the region confidence to have “strategic autonomy” following an American drawdown.

That would provide a strong alliance to act as a buffer against Iran’s ambitions, particularly as the Israelis viewed Tehran’s nuclear ambitions as the “principal threat” to regional stability.

“I think there is an understanding that everybody needs to live with each other whether they like it or not because, otherwise, they will get weaker and specifically under a Biden administration, there is maybe not the security umbrella anymore,” said Sebastian Sons of the Centre for Applied Research in Partnership with the Orient.

The Centre for Geopolitics webinar also heard from Ms Vakil, a Middle East specialist, on the potential trade benefits. “What we're seeing in terms of trade and tourism, between the UAE and Israel in particular, that will spread beyond those two countries into others around the region.”

There was also a chance they could de-escalate tensions around the broader Middle East with moderation from Turkey and the Biden administration bringing calm. “There is a huge agenda for normalisation,” said Ms Vakil with Washington “shepherding the de-escalation” of the Yemen conflict and renegotiating a robust nuclear deal with Iran.

She also suggested that there had been a “generational shift” leading to a more “pragmatic, transactional national interest”.

“I see the UAE, in particular, taking the lead in this process,” she said. “It has a very robust and activist foreign policy and it sees itself as a role model for the broader Middle East.”