By Mohammad Mazhari

Close ties with Israel can entail huge risks for Arab leaders: GSA

May 30, 2021 - 18:28

TEHRAN- Chief executive officer of Gulf State Analytics (GSA) says that cozy relation with Israel can result in big challenges for Arab leaders. 

"Appearing too close to Israel can entail huge risks for Arab leaders from the standpoint of their standing among their own citizens and those of the wider region, even if joining the Abraham Accord scores them major points with Washington," Giorgio Cafiero tells the Tehran Times.
"Amid this latest round of violence in Israel/Palestine, it was obvious that all over the Arab world, the Palestinian struggle remains an issue which brings citizens out on the streets to protest," the DC-based consultant notes.
Following is the text of the interview:

Q: What are the repercussions of the recent escalation in Palestine for West Asia and Israel? Some observers say it was an embarrassment to Arab states who have normalized ties with Israel.

A: It will most likely require more time for analysts to fully realize the lasting repercussions of the latest confrontation between Israel and Gaza, which lasted for 11 days. Yet, it is probably safe to assume that the process of Arab states normalizing diplomatic relations with Israel will slow down. I am doubtful about any of the four Arab countries currently in the Abraham Accords (UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco) severing diplomatic relations with Israel because of the Israel-Gaza war of May 2021. But I think the Arab governments which have not yet joined the Abraham Accords will be more hesitant to do so now. Amid this latest round of violence in Israel/Palestine, it was obvious that all over the Arab world, the Palestinian struggle remains an issue that brings citizens out on the streets to protest. Appearing too close to Israel can entail huge risks for Arab leaders from the standpoint of their standing among their own citizens and those of the wider region, even if joining the Abraham Accord scores them major points with Washington.

“The left-wing flank of the Democratic Party openly criticizes Israel and advocates for Palestinian rights, using language ("occupation", "apartheid", etc.) that a decade ago would have been difficult to imagine practically any U.S. lawmaker using when discussing Israel.”Q: Why is the United States always biased when it comes to Israel's security and interests? Do you see any change in U.S. attitudes towards Palestine under the Biden presidency?

 A: Ever since the Arab-Israeli war of 1967, Washington has seen Israel as a very special and unique ally. Officials serving the Biden administration come from a pro-Israel background and their views reflect what has been a decades-old bipartisan consensus in favor of the Jewish state. Yet younger and more progressive politicians in the Democratic Party are speaking about Israel in new ways which are far more critical of this country. This left-wing flank of the Democratic Party openly criticizes Israel and advocates for Palestinian rights, using language ("occupation", "apartheid", etc.) that a decade ago would have been difficult to imagine practically any U.S. lawmaker using when discussing Israel. This underscores how the conversation about Israel/Palestine is changing in Washington, even if Washington's current policies have not changed. The 64,000-dollar question now is how Biden will respond (if at all) to the pressure from younger and more progressive lawmakers such as those in the "Squad". 

Q: Why are American politicians, especially the Republicans, misinformed about West Asia?

A: This is largely connected to the fact that the American public at large is alarmingly misinformed/uninformed about the Middle East (West Asia) as well as other regions of the world where the U.S. has intervened militarily, such as sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America. Among U.S. citizens, knowledge about the Middle East (West Asia) is scant. Studies have shown that most Americans are unable to identify the region on a map. Most Americans would not want to visit the Middle East (West Asia) and they do not demand that mainstream media in the U.S. provide more in-depth coverage of the region. It is no surprise that U.S. politicians do not pay the price at the polls for being so badly misinformed about the Middle East (West Asia). 

Q: What are the main causes of recent rapprochements between states in West Asia, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar as well as Egypt and Turkey? Are they going to adapt their foreign policies based on Biden’s demands?

 A: In the region, we see many governments recalibrating their foreign policies in the post-Trump era. Although it would be an oversimplification to attribute all these recent rapprochements exclusively to the change in leadership in Washington, there is no denying that the Biden presidency has been a major factor in play. Whereas Trump's presidency resulted in some regional states feeling emboldened to pursue more maximalist agendas, the election of Biden has resulted in these actors pushing ahead with more diplomatic foreign policies and showing real signs of being willing to possibly make concessions and accommodations to other actors, including those on opposite sides of major geopolitical fault lines. For some of these countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey, there have been fears about their bilateral relationships with the U.S. suffering amid the Biden era; thus, improving ties with other powers in the neighborhood has become a priority.

Q: How do you assess Saudi Arabia's position on the Biden administration? Is it stronger than the past (Trump's era)?

The Saudi leadership is adjusting to Biden's presidency. While Riyadh absolutely wanted Trump to win a second term in the November 2020 race, Saudi Arabia has come to terms with the fact that Trump's presidency ended after four years. Examples of changes in Riyadh's conduct include the release of certain political prisoners, the decision to offer the Houthis a ceasefire in March 2021, and the lifting of the three-and-a-half-year blockade of Qatar in January 2021. The decision to engage Iranian officials via Iraq also factors into this effort to adjust Saudi Arabia's foreign policy in ways that sit well with the Biden administration and the new regional circumstances created by Trump's presidency ending at the start of this year.


 

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