The Trump administration continues to score victories in Middle East diplomacy. On Friday, Sudan and Israel agreed to normalize relations, and Sudan paid $335 million in compensation for terror attacks against Americans, in exchange for Sudan to receive debt relief and be removed from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list. An Israeli delegation will travel to Khartoum to finalize the deal “in the coming days,” according to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Sudan will also reportedly recognize Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, following in the footsteps of Serbia, Estonia, and Guatemala earlier this month. Sudan and Israel will enter talks for the repatriation of at least some Sudanese migrants living in Israel. Israel will also send $5 million worth of wheat to Sudan. Further deals between Israel and Sudan will be negotiated in Khartoum on trade, aviation, and agriculture “in the coming weeks.”
President Trump predicted that Saudi Arabia and four other countries will soon normalize relations with Israel, and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows predicted that “four or five additional countries” may normalize ties with Israel. Additionally, the Trump administration has brokered first-round talks between Israel and Lebanon to delineate their maritime border, with a second round scheduled for October 28.
The relationships between Israel and the UAE and Israel and Bahrain, both brokered by the Trump administration, continue to grow since my last American Spectator article on this topic. The Trump administration can also contribute to further victories on the road to Middle East peace, although these efforts will most likely bear fruit after the presidential election.
In diplomacy, the UAE has requested that the two countries establish embassies “as soon as possible.” Israeli and Emirati foreign ministers met in Berlin, which also included a visit to the Holocaust Memorial. A senior Emirati delegation met their Israeli counterparts in Israel. Israel’s Knesset approved the normalization agreement with the UAE by a vote of 80-13 with no abstentions and 27 MKs not participating. The 13 votes against were all from the Arab Joint List party. The UAE’s cabinet also approved the normalization agreement.
In aviation, Israel and the UAE signed an aviation agreement for 28 commercial and 10 cargo flights per week between the two countries, in addition to unlimited charter flights from Israel’s Ramon Airport to the UAE. The commercial flights, at least, will begin in the coming weeks. Etihad Airways landed the first commercial flight from the UAE to Israel (Abu Dhabi to Tel Aviv). (This follows two cargo Etihad flights that landed in Israel for coronavirus aid to the Palestinians, aid that the Palestinians rejected.) Etihad Airways also achieved the honor of having the first Emirati flight to fly over Israeli airspace, and also set up a webpage in Hebrew. Israeli airline Arkia announced that it would start flying direct to Dubai in early January, while Israir Airlines announced its direct flights to Dubai would begin in early December. A Dubai-based company is seeking to purchase Israir Airlines, Israel’s third-largest airline.
In trade, the two countries, along with the U.S., agreed to a $3 billion regional investment fund in energy, infrastructure, agriculture, and trade. Israel Export Institute and Dubai World Trade Centre also signed an agreement, seen as a precursor to a much larger trade accord. Israel’s OurCrowd venture capital firm signed a business and tech–related agreement with business development company Phoenix Capital LLC, which is based in Dubai. Members of Al-Dahra Agriculture met with members of Israeli irrigation company Netafim in Israel to discuss cooperation in agriculture. An Israeli investor has identified 20 companies that will help the UAE with food security. The first cargo ship arrived in Israel from the UAE.
In security, UAE has already scored significant wins from this deal. Israel has dropped its objection to the U.S. selling the UAE F-35s. The UAE also announced that it will be seeking a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council for 2022–23, a move that the United States and Israel would most likely support.
In matters of religion, the UAE will now have a second full-time rabbi (who was born in Lebanon and currently lives in New York City), and Chabad appointed an emissary to the UAE. The Jewish community in Dubai also erected a publicly visible sukkah at the base of the Burj Khalifa. The agreement with Israel and the UAE is also said to allow Emiratis to visit the Temple Mount, although these provisions are currently not published. Perhaps meant as a test run of these provisions, the Al-Dahra Agriculture delegation mentioned above took a tour of the Temple Mount, but several Palestinians hurled insults at them. (This was reminiscent of more serious events in July 2019, where Palestinians attacked a Saudi blogger visiting the Temple Mount. In an act of revenge, a group of Saudis beat up a group of Palestinians on the Temple Mount shortly after.)
In travel, Emiratis are now able to stay in Israel visa-free for 90 days. The two countries are negotiating more visa exemptions for both nations. The Mandarin Oriental Emirates Palace became the first hotel in Abu Dhabi to be certified kosher, and other hotels will likely follow suit given a new kosher certification process.
Israel and UAE also signed an oil pipeline deal, where UAE oil will be hooked up to the Eilat-Ashkelon pipeline, so that UAE can sell its oil more directly to Europe.
Israeli and Emirati club soccer teams will also play a “Game of Peace” in Abu Dhabi, UAE with a potential follow up game in Haifa, Israel. And a Dubai sheikh threw Israeli pop singer Omer Adam a birthday party in Dubai. Adam has been in Dubai for two weeks, appears to be having a great time, and has not indicated when he is returning to Israel.
Israel and Bahrain are also continuing to develop their new relationship.
In diplomacy, Israel and Bahrain signed a joint communiqué and eight memoranda of understanding (MOUs) in Bahrain. Israel’s cabinet approved the Israel–Bahrain normalization agreement and sent it to the Knesset for a vote. News recently broke that Israel and Bahrain had a secret diplomatic mission, disguised as a consulting agency, in Bahrain for over a decade.
Additionally, Israel and Bahrain signed an aviation agreement providing for 14 commercial and five cargo flights per week between the two countries, in addition to unlimited charter flights from Israel’s Ramon Airport to Manama. Bahrain pledged to reopen the old synagogue of Manama in time for Purim in February 2021. The United States and Bahrain also signed an MOU stating that they will jointly fight anti-Semitism in the Middle East and, specifically, that demonization or de-legitimization of Israel is anti-Semitism.
There have been several positive developments suggesting that the Trump administration will continue to broker other normalization agreements with Israel.
Oman. A recent report cited unnamed “Israeli officials” predicted that Oman will be the next country to normalize relations with Israel. However, these officials believe that this will occur after U.S. presidential elections. Reportedly, talks between Israel and Oman, mediated by the Trump administration, are on the verge of a “breakthrough.”
Saudi Arabia. Mossad Chief Yossi Cohen believes that Saudi Arabia, too, will normalize relations with Israel after the presidential election. Reportedly, Saudi–Israel normalization will also be tied to a U.S.–Saudi arms deal of some kind, with some Israeli defense officials expressing concerns that this will include F-35s. President Trump recently predicted that Saudi Arabia would normalize relations with Israel “very soon,” and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have recently wished that Saudi Arabia would be next to normalize ties with Israel.
Saudi Arabia continues to send mixed messages. On the one hand, Bandar bin Sultan, former intelligence chief and Saudi ambassador to the United States, recently called Palestinian leaders “failures” in a comprehensive interview critical of the Palestinians’ role in peace negotiations. This would seem to indicate a Saudi opening to Israel. Additionally, a recent poll shows that almost 80 percent of Saudi citizens favor normalization with Israel. However, some have interpreted remarks by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud on October 10 stressing the importance of Israeli–Palestinian negotiations as an indication that Saudi Arabia is unlikely to move forward with normalization soon.
Morocco. Some think that it might be best for Morocco to normalize relations with Israel before the U.S. presidential election in November. In late September, Michael Rubin, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Pentagon official, wrote a piece in the Washington Examiner arguing that Morocco would likely get a better deal if it negotiated normalization with Israel before the November election, should President Trump lose. The deal currently being envisioned is widely understood to include Moroccan normalization with Israel in exchange for American recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara. However, Rubin points out that in the recent past, Democrats like President Obama, Susan Rice, and other progressives have shown sympathies with the Polisario Front, a “Marxist and autocratic proxy which Algerian and Cuban intelligence created in order to pursue Sahrawi [Western Saharan] nationalist claims.” If Joe Biden becomes president, he too might be more willing to side with the Polisario Front against Morocco.
Mauritania. Some believe that Mauritania could be one of the four other countries President Trump mentioned, although there is little public information to support or refute this claim. Mauritania publicly supported the UAE in its decision to normalize relations with Israel. Israel and Mauritania had diplomatic relations from 1999 until 2010, when Mauritania cut ties in response to Israel’s 2009 war in Gaza.
Qatar. It is possible that Qatar would normalize relations with Israel in exchange for Qatar being allowed to purchase F-35s from the U.S. Qatar reportedly has requested permission from the United States to purchase F-35s. Israel has opposed the sale to Qatar, and it is currently unclear whether Israel will eventually drop its opposition as it had with a similar sale to the UAE.
Not the Palestinians. Given continued momentum towards Middle East peace, it is highly unlikely that the Palestinian Authority (PA) will change course at least in the short term. True to form, the PA is rejecting the news on Sudan, just as the PA rejected UAE’s and Bahrain’s decisions to normalize relations with Israel. PA President Mahmoud Abbas stated that he “condemns and rejects” the deal, while PLO official Wasel Abu Youssef called the deal “a stab in the back,” a trite statement from Palestinian leaders that they also used to describe the UAE and Bahrain deals. It looks like the Trump administration will still push the ball towards more peace deals with Israel, but the PA will continue to miss out due to its stubbornness.