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The Abraham Accords changed the rules of the game in the Middle East

Peace agreement named after the father of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity is a step towards stability in Israeli-Arab relations in the Middle East.

Just over a year ago, on September 15, 2020, Israel signed peace agreements with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan. These agreements were called the Abraham Accords. The agreement came 72 years after Israel proclaimed independence, and normalized diplomatic relations between the nations. Embassies and ambassadors were exchanged and they began to cooperate in a wide range of fields, including tourism, education, health care, trade and security. It was a step towards reshaping and rebuilding the Middle East. The Abraham Accords bring political, economic, scientific and tourism benefits to all these countries.

The U.S. ambassador to Israel during the administration of former U.S. President Trump said: “Abraham, as many of you know, was the father of all three great religions. He is referred to as “Abraham” in the Christian faith, “Ibrahim” in the Islamic faith, and “Abram” in the faith of Judaism.” No one symbolizes the possibility of unity among these three great religions better than Abraham, which is why this pact is made in his name.

The predictions we made

I have been a commentator on Israeli television, Russia Today, and some Western media since 2018. When these agreements were signed last year, analysts like myself began to ask: Will the agreements be a game-changing event? There were two opinions: first, to minimize the significance of the event and believe that there was nothing new, because the agreements were a continuation of old relations that existed before (albeit informally). Researchers who took this opinion, who believed the Accords wouldn’t bring change, considered that the signatory nations are marginal countries without great influence, particularly on events and developments in the Middle East.

Others, however, including myself, predicted that the agreements would have a serious future impact on the states of Abraham, especially the United Arab Emirates and Israel, and perhaps on the entire Middle East as well. I believed that the old rules of the game in the Middle East will change by Israel’s penetration into the depths of the Arab world. For example, I predicted that Iran and Turkey would lose much of their weight and influence against the opposing bloc that had begun, that Israel must strengthen its military presence in the Middle East, and that new regional alliances would succeed in filling the void left by the United States in the region.

Some analysts claimed that the breakthrough achieved in Israel’s relations with the Arab world would also lead to a breakthrough in its relations with the Palestinians. Their claim was based on the assumption that it is possible, by breaking the fait accompli, to create a new reality and to put forward a new equation saying that “the Arab world is first,” which could lead to the formation of new relations between Israel and the Palestinians through regional mediators, and not only through Western mediators.

Implications for Israel

One of the first repercussions of these agreements was the increase of Israel’s legitimacy in the Arab world. After many years of political isolation, Arab boycotts, non-recognition of its sovereignty and relations that were forced to be kept secret, Israel received a powerful boost to its position in the Middle East with the Accords. The legitimacy granted to Israel was two-fold: public recognition by the signatory countries, and public recognition embodied in the support the agreements received from other Arab countries in the Middle East, including Oman and Saudi Arabia, for example. This newfound legitimacy outweighs all other repercussions in terms of importance.

On the economic front, the agreements have brought many benefits to Israel on various levels. The trade turnover (export and import) between Israel and the United Arab Emirates amounted to nearly 500 million USD in 2021 as of this November. With this, the UAE became, in less than a year, one of the 20 most active trading countries with Israel.

In the end, the effects of the Abraham Accords at the local level of the partner countries have been reality-changing and game-changing for Israel, which is reflected in Israelis thinking differently about everything related to the Middle East, acting differently, and defining Israeli strategies in a completely different way from what they were until last year.

Implications for the other signatories

On the other hand, the effects of these agreements on the UAE and other countries has been much less. The United Arab Emirates is the only country that has a warm peace with Israel, unlike other Arab countries that have a cold peace including Egypt and Jordan. It is true that the UAE was able during this period to strengthen its regional position and turn into a leading country, at the expense of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, but it seems that this development has put Saudi Arabia in front of a challenge. Saudi Arabia now has to return as a leading country in the Arab affairs, which may push Saudi Arabia to normalize in the future with Israel as well.

On the regional level, the most important and dramatic impact of the Abraham Accords was to appeal to the vision of the “common Iranian enemy.” On the eve of the signing of these agreements, the trend was towards forming a united front and future alliance of Arab countries with Israel against Iran.

Looking forward

In the end, I conclude that the Middle East is on the verge of major changes, one year after signing the Abraham Accords. These accords represented a blow to the Iranian and Turkish project in the region and a breakthrough at the level of Arab-Israeli relations, which will contribute in the future to resolving this conflict, especially if the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia signs a similar peace agreement. This agreement will be followed by a flock of countries that will normalize its relations with Israel, which will contribute to limiting the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel. We do not forget that the accords contributed to stopping Israel’s expansion in the West Bank after the agreements prevented the annexation of the West Bank to Israel.

  • Rami Dabbas is a writer and political analyst specializing in Middle Eastern affairs, human rights and freedoms. Since 2019, he is the correspondent of Israel Today newspaper for Arab affairs, and has appeared on television many times as a political analyst on Israeli and Arab channels.

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