President Donald Trump has just announced another historic normalization deal between an Arab country and Israel, winning yet another victory for his Middle East peace strategy.
On Friday afternoon, Trump tweeted that the leaders of Bahrain, a small kingdom in the Persian Gulf, and Israel had “agreed to the establishment of full diplomatic relations.” The announcement comes less than a month after the United Arab Emirates made the same move with Jerusalem.
The three-party joint statement does not include details of exactly what the deal entails, but it will likely mean the eventual establishment of embassies in each other’s countries and more open diplomatic, economic and security engagement.
Some details still need to be worked out and the deal may fail. The statement said Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani will join Israel and the United Arab Emirates for a signing ceremony at the White House on Monday, where the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain will each sign their respective agreements with Israel. .
Trump is already calling the pact a success.
“It’s a really historic day,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office after announcing the deal. “So interesting that it’s September 11,” he added. Friday is the 19th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
But not everyone is satisfied with the agreement: the Palestine Liberation Organization, the official national representatives of the Palestinian people, have reportedly condemned the decision as a “betrayal of the Palestinian cause”.
This is not so surprising, as Arab countries have long supported the Palestinians in their conflict with Israel, at least rhetorically if not always in practice. However, with more and more Arab countries like Bahrain joining Israel, the Palestinians risk losing some of that support.
Before the UAE-Israel deal was announced in August, Israel’s last peace deal with an Arab country was with Jordan in 1994 (it signed one with Egypt in 1979). Now Israel can claim that it has more friends in the region, perhaps reducing the pressure on it regarding its relations with the Palestinians.
But based on the changing dynamics in the Middle East and America’s relationship with Bahrain, he has always been one of the main candidates for normalization.
Why Bahrain has normalized its relations with Israel
Bahrain’s rulers have certainly considered many reasons before joining the US-led effort to improve Israel’s relations with its Arab neighbors, but two of them stand out.
First, regional policy in the Middle East has changed dramatically in recent years.
While the Israeli-Palestinian conflict once served as a major axis around which Middle East politics revolved, with almost every country in the region, from Iran to Saudi Arabia to Bahrain, aligned with the Palestinians against Israel that has now changed. What drives the foreign policy of Middle Eastern countries these days is the Arab-Israeli stalemate with Iran – which some have called a “cold war.”
While Iran has redoubled its efforts to establish itself as regional hegemony, notably by developing a robust nuclear program (but, for now at least, not a real nuclear weapon), rival Gulf countries have found their security interests much more closely aligned with Israel. .
Bahrain is on the anti-Iranian side, and it arguably has good reason to be. As Phillip Smyth, a fellow of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, noted, Bahrain suffered an Iranian-inspired coup in 1981 and an Iranian-backed insurgency threat. in the 1990s.
“The Bahraini government fully understands what the Iranians can bring to the table,” Smyth told me. If given the chance, Bahrain “will find unique and innovative ways to respond to Iran’s actions. And why not try to reduce [Iran] diplomatically with the ideological conviction he has: that Israel is a satanic entity that must be wiped off the face of the Earth?
Second, Bahrain and the United States enjoy a close relationship, especially under the Trump administration. The US Navy’s Fifth Fleet is based in the Small Kingdom, so they each have military and economic reasons for remaining friends.
But Jared Kushner, Trump’s main Middle East peace negotiator, has also made Bahrain a central player in his efforts. In June 2019, Kushner hosted his “Peace to Prosperity” workshop – intended to get ideas ahead of the unveiling of his Israeli-Palestinian peace plan – in Bahrain. When looking for a country to follow the UAE in normalizing relations with Israel, it was likely that he and his team would look to Bahrain.
The question now is whether more countries – like Oman and Sudan – will do the same. If so, it could prove that the Trump administration’s Middle East strategy has had some success and prove disastrous for Palestinian hopes for real power in future negotiations with Jerusalem.
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