Stakes high for UAE as regional tensions soar

December 2, 2020 - 11:31

TEHRAN – As tensions run high in the region following the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, analysts warn that the United Arab Emirates is treading on dangerous ground by not distancing itself from Israel’s provocative measures against Iran.

“Certainly, the Emirates will be harmed if tensions intensify. Why? First, because the UAE does not have the characteristics of a genuine player in the region. Second, the agenda that the UAE currently pursues in the region is not in the interest of the UAE and is incompatible with the UAE strategy. Rather, it serves the interests of the United States and the Zionist regime (Israel). This agenda has been dictated to the Emirates. Therefore, this agenda will not serve the interests of the UAE,” Seyed Jafar Razavi, an expert on West Asia, told the Tehran Times.

According to the expert, the UAE has moved very closer to Israel and the U.S. since it took the controversial step of normalizing diplomatic relations with Israel in August. U.S. President Donald Trump announced on August 13 that he brokered a “historic deal” between the UAE and Israel to normalize their relations, the first such deal between Israel and an Arab country since 1994. The last time an Arab country signed a deal with Israel to normalize relations was on October 26, 1994, when Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel. U.S. officials hailed the deal as a “historic diplomatic breakthrough.”

Under the deal, officially known as the Abraham Accords, Israel and the UAE “have committed to the exchange of embassies and ambassadors, and to begin cooperation in a broad range of fields including education, healthcare, trade, and security,” according to a White House statement issued on August 13.

A few weeks later, the U.S. brokered a similar deal between Israel and Bahrain. President Trump organized, with great fanfare, a signing ceremony in mid-September. The U.S.-brokered normalization deals were signed on September 15 at a White House ceremony attended by high-ranking U.S. and foreign officials including President Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Abdullah bin Zayed, the foreign minister of the UAE, and Abdullatif al-Zayani, the foreign minister of Bahrain.

Iran and other countries around the world condemned the UAE-Bahrain-Israel normalization deals and reaffirmed support for the Palestinian Cause. Iran also warned the UAE against giving Israel a foothold in the region after American and Israeli officials cast the normalization deals as a coalition against Iran.

“The UAE and Israel both recognize Iran as this great threat, so they have now found a way to build out a relationship which can build out a coalition to ultimately make sure that this threat [Iran] never reaches American shores or harms anyone in the Middle East,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in an interview with Fox News in the midst of the normalization hype in September.

In light of this kind of remarks, Iranian officials have warned the UAE against getting too closer to Israel, saying that the UAE has moved in the wrong direction by normalizing relations with Israel.

“The rulers of the United Arab Emirates should know that they have gone in the wrong direction if they think that they can buy security for themselves by getting closer to the enemies of Islam and Iran,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said shortly after the announcement of the UAE-Israel normalization deal, warning that “unfortunately, the United Arab Emirates has made a big mistake and we hope it would change its wrong tack. We warn them against giving Israel a foothold in the region, then they will be treated differently.”

Razavi said the UAE has turned into an “enforcer” of U.S. and Israeli policies in the region after it normalized relations with Israel.

“The Emirates can be considered a state in the region but we cannot consider it as a player in the region because it lacks the characteristics of a player. So, if the UAE takes a certain action, this means that it considers itself a player and speaks like a player. But this behavior is certainly not emanating from the Emirates itself. If history is any guide, the UAE is a client state enforcing American policies in the region. It has been enforcing the policies of the U.S., especially after normalizing relations with Israel,” Razavi pointed out.

The expert also pointed out that this trajectory does not serve the UAE interests because the U.S. and the West, in general, have never been attaching importance to the interest of Muslim countries.

“The Westerners will secure their interests while those of the UAE would be harmed in the process,” Razavi remarked.

He also cautioned that the UAE is endangering its security, especially its economic security, by aligning itself with the U.S. and Israel.

“Within 5 to 10 years, the UAE will gradually lose its economic prosperity, which it brought about thanks to oil exports. It will turn into a completely dependent country,” Razavi said.

The UAE seems to be changing tack, or at least it is pretending to do so. It remains to be seen whether the Emiratis are really distancing themselves from what is widely seen as Israeli provocative measures against Iran.  

Following the assassination of Fakhrizadeh, the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation issued a statement condemning the assassination of the Iranian scientist. The statement said that “emanating from its deep conviction on the need to pursue all means for stability in the region, it condemns the heinous assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, which could further fuel conflict in the region,” according to Emirati state news agency WAM.

“Given the current situation in the region, the UAE calls upon all parties to exercise maximum degrees of self-restraint to avoid dragging the region into new levels of instability and threat to peace,” the statement added.

But press reports suggested that this statement was issued only after Iran delivered a stern warning to Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Zayed, who is also known as MBZ.

“MBZ received a direct threat from Iran. It was not delivered through proxies,” the London-based news website Middle East Eye quoted a “top-level UAE source” as saying November 30.

According to the source, Iran told Mohammed bin Zayed “We will hold you responsible for the assassination of Fakhrizadeh.”

The source also said that the UAE Foreign Ministry statement on Fakhrizadeh came just hours after Iran’s personal contact with Mohammed bin Zayed.