By Professor Ali Gunes
*Ali Gunes is professor of English literature at Istanbul's Sabahattin Zaim University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
ISTANBUL - When I read news of agreement between Bahrain and Israel, I recalled at once the so-called “normalization” agreement between the United Arab Emirates and Israel on Aug. 13, 2020, which was signed this Sept. 15 in the White House. The agreement, brokered by US President Donald Trump, who called it a “historic breakthrough” toward “peace,” aimed not only to suspend Israel’s “controversial plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank” but also to other interrelated bilateral agreements “regarding investment, tourism, direct flights, security, telecommunications, technology, energy, healthcare, culture, the environment, the establishment of reciprocal embassies, and other areas of mutual benefit” between the two countries.
At first glance, it sounds nice and promising in the sense that the longstanding conflicts between the Gulf countries and Israel, particularly the conflict between Palestine and Israel, might be resolved through diplomatic negotiations in the Middle East. According to the contemporary perception of international relations and politics, as well as according to the common-sense view of life, it is what is expected of the countries to solve their disputes through political dialogues. However, the ambivalent and untrustworthy attitudes of the US and Israel, which we all have witnessed for decades, never assure us that they are sincere and reliable in their attempts to bring peace to the already-wrecked region because everyone knows that the US and Israel have never complied with any resolutions taken against their atrocities in the region.
Also, it is impossible to count how many peace attempts have failed without a genuine and fair end so that no one believes any peace attempt initiated by the US and Israel, but we all laugh about it. As reported by Aljazeera on Aug. 13 for example, just after the announcement of the so-called "normalization” agreement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that “he had only agreed to "delay" the annexation, and that he would "never give up our rights to our land.” He continued to state that “There is no change to my plan to extend sovereignty, our sovereignty in Judea and Samaria, in full coordination with the United States.” Even today, Sept. 16, just one day after the signing of the UAE and Bahrain deal, “the Israeli military carried out a series of air raids on the besieged Gaza Strip” targeting “areas in Deir al-Balah, a city in central Gaza, as well as parts of Khan Younis in southern Gaza.” This is the picture. How could one trust this agreement which aims at bringing so-called “normalization” and “peace” to the Middle East?
If this agreement does not give a sense of confidence, what could be behind it? To me, there may be several reasons that the US and Israel may have wanted to put into practice. First, the agreement allows both the US and Israel to employ the imperial “divide and conquer” policy to control and condition Gulf countries under the guise of so-called “normalization” and “peace” in a position, in which these countries have no chance but to follow what is ordered – that is, they organize their policies in line with what they are ordered. This coverup policy is a well-known tactic, often applied by neo-imperial powers to control their interest in a country or a region because they do not like to see a strong unity or a resilient leader against them. Thus, the easiest way, which will not stir a hornet’s nest, is using a “divide and conquer” policy. For them, the weaker, the better.
The “divide and conquer” policy could also be seen in the so-called “normalization” agreement between the UAE and Israel. This policy has broken up further not only the already-shaking Arab Unity and regional balance but it has also left Palestine alone in its rightful struggle against the Israeli occupation. As we often read and listen to the news, for instance, Arab countries are divided among themselves. On the one hand, the UAE and Bahrain, and probably Saudi Arabia and Oman may join them very soon, are on the one side with a sense of enmity. On the other hand, other Arab countries such as Qatar and Kuwait, taking an opposite stance, prefer to remain silent and neutral, showing their reaction in different ways. They feel enmity towards each other as witnessed in the Qatar crisis in 2017, in which Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain not only cut off their relations with but also imposed sanctions on Qatar. Arab countries seem to have lost both confidence and a sense of unity; when the sense of confidence is seriously damaged, it will be easier to put them at odds, and this regional division, as everywhere, makes Arab countries and their leaders dependent on external forces for their security and existence.
Besides the “divide and conquer” policy, what is also of vital significance is that the so-called “normalization” agreement softens the Arab reaction against the Israeli occupation and gradually accustoms the Arab public to the new situation. Generally speaking, Turkey, Iran, and Arab countries have reacted strongly to the Israeli occupation of Palestine, which has brought about the confiscation of Palestinian land, and the death and immigration of millions of Palestinians since 1947. It is still an open wound. Previously, Egypt and Jordan signed peace accords with Israel, and recently the UAE and Bahrain joined them. Thus, the so-called “normalization” agreement may create a perception in the region that signing agreements and establishing diplomatic relations with Israel is not something scary but normal. Of course, peace is what people want, yet it may give rise to a perception that justifies Israeli’s legitimacy and occupation in the region. What about Palestine, suffering, tears, death, exile, immigration and so on? Who will compensate for all the suffering and injustice committed against the Palestinians?
Another result of the so-called “normalization” agreement between the UAE and Israel may be a veiled effort not only to expand the imperial space but also to form a bloc against Iran and Turkey in the Middle East. Iran is a non-Arab country and seems an arch-enemy of the US and Israel; Iran collaborates with Russia and China, the US’ arch-rivals, and sometimes with Turkey, which may threaten both the US imperial interest and Israeli security in the region. Hence Iran’s regional power and influence should be jettisoned and driven into a corner.
As for Turkey, it is very bizarre and interesting. Although Turkey is a NATO country and seems a close US ally, US policy towards Turkey in the region is ambivalent, unclear, and elusive in the sense that the US still continues to support the YPG/PKK terrorist group in Syria that has been carrying out terrorist acts against Turkey and killing civilians for decades. Moreover, the US and Israel, though they seem friendly, do not want a strong Turkey because a strong Turkey may influence Arab countries particularly using Islam and then turn them against the exploitation of the Middle East and its oil and resources by neo-imperial powers, yet the US and other imperial power will never allow Turkey to easily stand on its feet in the region. What they may prefer is that a weak and fragile Turkey, grappling with its internal conflicts, will always serve their purpose.
Moreover, the impact of the so-called “normalization” agreement may also be seen in Turkey’s Libyan initiatives. In recent months, for example, Turkey has started developing political and economic relations with the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) in Libya under the leadership of Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj to help the war-torn country restore itself. But Turkey’s well-intentioned endeavor has been met with immediate reactions in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere. Particularly the UAE and Egypt, probably taking courage from recent political maneuvers of the US and Israel in the Middle East, took sides at once with putschist Gen. Khalifa Haftar, whose forces fight the GNA; they support Haftar politically and financially against Turkey. Now the UAE, Egypt, France, and Russia are against Turkey’s Libyan politics. Also, it is also interesting that the UAE supports Greece in the Eastern Mediterranean. As The Jerusalem Post reported on Aug. 24, the UAE sent “four F-16 fighter jets to the Greek island of Crete for joint training exercises with its Mediterranean ally, Greece,” and “the jets will be deployed to Souda Air Base on Crete along with support staff, engineers and ground personnel and will carry out joint training with the Greek Armed Forces over the Eastern Mediterranean.” Is a country like UAE capable of acting in such ways? To me, no. But how and why could the UAE act in such ways? Where does it find this courage? These are the questions that must be asked.
In conclusion, although the so-called “normalization” agreement among the UAE, Bahrain, and Israel was launched as a “historic breakthrough” to bring “peace to the Middle East, it also raises doubts. Countries like the UAE and Bahrain are seen in the foreground and used as pawns so that the story has multi-layered faces hidden from the public – Israeli security, the imperial interests of the US, Britain and France, the isolation of Turkey and Iran in the region, and the struggles over who will eat how much of the cake. Given these multi-layered facets of the story, therefore, the agreement appears beyond so-called “normalization” but targets a new strategic design of the Middle East whose further implications will be seen in the months and years to come.
*Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.