Some view the UAE decision as a trial balloon, and will react positively based on how the next weeks and months play out.
In the wake of the normalization of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, there are rumors that several other states could be next to sign an agreement with Israel. While there are hurdles to normalizing relations with some states in the Middle East, there are others who view the UAE decision as a trial balloon and will react positively based on how the next weeks and months play out between Jerusalem and Abu Dhabi.
What follows is a list of some countries that reports suggest may be in line to normalize relations.
Bahrain was long thought to be the first country in the Gulf that might normalize relations with Israel. The small kingdom has often made relatively positive comments about Israel over the years and appeared open to the Trump administration’s “Deal of the Century” by hosting discussions about the economic aspects of it. Bahrain has welcomed the UAE deal with Israel, and initial reports indicated it was working on normalizing relations after the UAE. Last December, media reports in the Gulf noted that Bahrain was reaching out to Israel.
In May, Bahrain shut down a symposium aimed at supporting a boycott of Israel. Last year, Jerusalem Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar visited Bahrain and met King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa in Manama, the capital. Also last year, Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa supported Israel’s right to defend itself against Iran’s threats. “Iran is the one who declared war on us,” he said. The Kingdom made similar statements in 2018.
Bahrainis participated in a bike race in Israel in 2018. Israel Katz, foreign minister at the time, met his counterpart, Khalifa, in Washington in 2019. Bahrain has a small Jewish community and has reached out to the Simon Wiesenthal Center in California.
Bahrain’s hurdles not only include Iran’s threats to try and stir up protests among the Shi’ite minority, but also that the country faced protests in the 2011 Arab Spring. As such, it appeared wiser for it to let the UAE to move first regarding relations with Israel.
In October 2018, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a trip to Oman and met with Sultan Qaboos bin Said. Oman’s minister responsible for foreign affairs, Yusuf bin Alawi, made positive comments about accepting Israel in the region during subsequent discussions in Manama. In April, the Omanis made similar comments in Jordan at a conference, saying it was important to assure Israel that it was not being threatened. While Jordan slammed the comments, Oman continued to push forward with relatively positive views on Israel.
Oman, like other Gulf states, had actually been open to discussions with Israel in the 1990s. Prime minister Shimon Peres visited Oman in 1996. Much of this honeymoon period was changed by the Second Intifada, when Israel saw a reduction in trade offices in the Gulf. Oman, like Qatar, once had an Israeli trade office. It was closed in October 2000.
Nevertheless, in the wake of Netanyahu’s 2018 visit, there was increased talk of more ministerial visits across the Gulf. Oman, however, also hosts visits by top Iranian delegations and attempts to be neutral in other Gulf disputes, such as with Iran and the Qatar dispute.
Morocco is reported to be one of the states on the short list of opening relations with Israel in the near term. There is a Jewish community in Morocco, and the country has made some gestures in recent years that show warming, people-to-people relations despite diplomatic ties being stagnated.
Israelis were brought back to Israel from the country in May during the coronavirus crisis. Cultural events in Morocco have shown more tolerance for Jews and Israel in recent years, despite pro-Palestinian activists being against them. Washington Post columnist David Ignatius wrote over the weekend that Morocco, Oman and Bahrain were the next countries that could normalize ties.
Morocco has been supportive of the Trump administration’s efforts on peace issues. In February, there were even rumors at Axios about Israel and the US recognizing Morocco’s sovereignty over the West Sahara.
Israel-Morocco ties go back to the 1960s. King Hassan II played a key role in these warming relations, including working with Egypt’s Anwar Sadat before his historic 1977 visit. Peres visited Morocco in 1986, and prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and foreign minister Peres met Hassan II in 1993.
The Intifada in 2000 harmed relations, and they have been slow to return. Nevertheless, since 2003, there have been positive gestures, including the visit by foreign minister Silvan Shalom that year.
In 2019, a meeting between Morocco’s King Mohammed VI and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was called off at the last moment. That meeting was rumored to have included Netanyahu, according to Morocco World News and Israel’s Channel 12.
Netanyahu had met Pompeo in Lisbon, and the report said he could have traveled on to Rabat with Pompeo, but Morocco canceled the meeting. This may have been due to controversy over whether it would have been seen as a political issue supporting Netanyahu’s election campaign.
Either way, the central issue is that this has been something the US has been keen on for years.
Saudi Arabia has appeared to be more open to Israel in recent years. That has come about as a result of several processes. The kingdom is threatened by Iran and is fighting Iranian-backed forces in Yemen. Riyadh also opposes the Muslim Brotherhood and has broken relations with Qatar. The Muslim Brotherhood is linked to the ruling party in Turkey and to Hamas. Saudi Arabia has tried to clamp down on the kind of extremism that roiled the kingdom in the 1990s and in the last decade has appeared to share more interests with Israel.
However, Saudi Arabia has preferred to let other Gulf states that it works closely with go first in discussions with Israel. This includes Oman, the UAE and Bahrain. Nevertheless, Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman has sought close relations with the Trump administration and has also made relatively positive comments on issues relating to the peace process in Israel. This is a shift from the old days, when the Palestinian issue was seen as front and center of everything in the Middle East.
Riyadh was a leader of the Arab initiative to recognize Israel in the 2000s in exchange for Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. This was proposed in 2002, and Riyadh has thus shown support for opening relations with Israel in this context. Saudi Arabia doesn’t want Turkey to take over the mantle of being the main supporter for the Palestinians and thus displace Saudi influence.
However, that is a main concern in places like Jordan, namely, that Turkey is pushing influence in Jerusalem. To stop that, Riyadh would like to work with Jordan and the Gulf and see shared interests across the region. Toward that end, Riyadh has also hosted Evangelical delegations, and Arab News, a media outlet, has published writings by World Jewish Congress president Ron Lauder.
This is part of regional outreach to Jewish voices in the US, as well as rabbis who visited the UAE and the Gulf, and a burgeoning Jewish community in the UAE. Riyadh is the more conservative of the Gulf group, however, recalling sensitivity in the ’90s over issues of having non-Muslims in the Kingdom. Today, Riyadh is pursuing Vision 2030 to modernize the country.Recent reports have indicated that key members of the Trump administration, including Jared Kushner, think normalization is inevitable with the kingdom. An Israeli blogger reportedly received a friendly reception in Saudi Arabia in February, and Israelis can ostensibly travel to Riyadh, according to Israeli media reports. Saudis have been more open on social media in support of relations with Israel. Some media, perhaps seeking to sabotage these positive signs, have tried to claim Riyadh is in “secret talks” with Israel.
Qatar and Israel had historically warm relations in the 1990s, and it was thought years ago to be the first in line for normalization. This happened after the Gulf War in 1991. There has been an Israeli trade office there since 1996. Qatar, Israel and the US formed a kind of tripartite relationship in light of this.
Doha sought to play an increasing role throughout the Middle East. As part of this wider role, it also wanted to play a role in peace discussions with Israel. In 2007, foreign minister Tzipi Livni met Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani in New York.
Qatar tried to cultivate pro-Israel supporters after a crisis developed between it and Saudi Arabia and the UAE in 2017. Working through lobbyists, it invited a long list of pro-Israel voices to Doha. It appeared that both Qatar and the UAE were working at the time to cultivate closer ties with the Trump administration, and Qatar thought that Jewish insiders were key to this.
Qatar also tried to play an increasing role in discussions with Israel and Hamas. It provided cash for Gaza and kept Hamas afloat, part of a long-running attempt to be the paymaster for the Muslim Brotherhood across the region and to prop up Gaza.
The young emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, is key to Qatar’s relationships across the region. The 40-year-old leader came to power in 2013. Qatar had helped fuel the Arab Spring and used Al Jazeera to fan protests across the region to gain influence. However, it saw many of these protests fail and regimes defeat Qatar-backed candidates.
More isolated now, Qatar has Turkish troops in Doha after the 2017 crisis with Riyadh. That means it must rely on Turkey, which, except for Iran, is the most hostile regime in the region to Israel. Qatar is also close to Tehran. This means whatever feelers Qatar once had for peace, and even attempts to cultivate pro-Israel voices through junkets to Doha, are largely on ice.
Nevertheless, Qatar does have discussions with Israel about Gaza, where it plays a key role. Some Israelis see Qatar as playing a potential positive influence. Former defense minister Avigdor Liberman revealed a trip by the head of the Mossad to Qatar in February 2020. In 2018, Liberman met the Qatari foreign minister.
Qatar’s emir once made a historic trip to Gaza in 2012. That seems like a bygone era now. However, it is possible that Doha, thinking it could solve the Gulf crisis and get something from the Trump administration, would talk about normalizing relations. With Turkish troops in Qatar and Iran able to destabilize the emirate if it sees betrayal, this would not likely be seen as a wise move.
Instead, Qatar prefers to be more open to moderate stances, such as hosting Israeli athletes and making itself a center of meetings and intrigue rather than a peace partner.
What about Tunisia, Algeria, Sudan, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Libya and the rest?
Israel lacks relations with other countries in the region, from Tunisia to Pakistan. Netanyahu met Sudan’s new leader in February. Sudan is now closer to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, but it could consider more discussions with Israel. Turkey had been trying to move into Sudan via an island base it wanted to lease. Now Sudan is closer to countries that are closer to Israel.
Tunisia was once one of the moderate states that could be foreseen as making a deal with Israel. However, Tunisia today has several internal crises and a conflict with its next-door neighbor Libya. Turkey is also competing for hearts and minds in Tunisia via a party that is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood.
While there is a Jewish community in Tunisia and also more-liberal elements, Tunisian leaders have called relations with Israel “treason.” Tunis has played a historic role hosting Palestinians since the 1980s, and this is a hurdle as well.
Algeria seems like a country that is far from any normalization with Israel. It even jailed a blogger for an interview with Israel last year. Algeria has its own internal problems, such as protests last year and a historic Islamist insurgency that tore the country apart in the ’90s. It also has the background of the anti-colonial struggle that was framed as part of the same struggle as the Palestinians in the ’60s and ’70s.
Lebanon could be a peace partner if not for Hezbollah. Hezbollah has only gotten stronger in recent years, holding the country hostage to Iran’s threats to Israel.
Syria also has more Iranian influence today and has given up discussions it once held in the ’90s and early 2000s with Israel.
Libya is riven by civil war and, despite rumors suggesting that Israel is on the side of the Egyptian-backed Khalifa Haftar, has no way to normalize relations with Israel. Instead, it forms part of the larger context of Israel, the UAE and Greece sharing views on the Mediterranean. Turkey is involved in supporting the government in Tripoli, while Egypt backs Haftar in Benghazi.
Yemen is also in the midst of a civil war, and the Iranian-backed Houthis have an official slogan, saying: “Death to Israel, curse the Jews.” There will be no peace there.
Iraq has too much Iranian influence to normalize relations with Israel. Nevertheless, it has historically moderate voices, especially in the Kurdistan region, which have been warmer toward Israel. But the Kurdistan region today is threatened by economic problems and Iran’s role in Baghdad, and it also has to balance challenges with a Turkish military campaign against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Iran could make peace with Israel if the regime falls. Tehran and Jerusalem had good relations prior to 1979. Similarly in Somalia, there are chances Israel could reach out to the region of Somaliland, which has declared itself independent since the ’90s.
Further afield, Israel faces hostility from Pakistan and Malaysia. Whereas Indonesia once seemed more moderate, it, too, has hostile elements in its political landscape.
By : SETH J. FRANTZMAN – THE JURUSALEM POST