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The road to Israel-UAE normalization: A decade of secret ties

Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, on Friday, denied reports by The New York Times, stating that he went along with an American plan to sell advanced weapons to the United Arab Emirates behind closed doors, despite his public opposition to the arms deal.

Netanyahu said that at no point during US-UAE talks that took place last month, according to the New York Times, did he give consent to the arms sale.

However, The New York Times’s sources said Netanyahu lied when he said last month that the agreement to normalize relations with the UAE does not include an Israeli agreement for weapons sales between the UAE and the US. “The peace agreement with the UAE does not include any clauses on the matter, and the United States clarified to Israel that it will always safeguard Israel’s qualitative edge,” Netanyahu stressed at the time.

But no matter where the truth is, what we certainly know is that cooperation between the occupation state and the UAE has been taking place for a long time and it has even paved the way for the recent normalization deal.

Spearheaded by the US President Donald Trump, the normalization deal with the authoritarian Gulf country and the occupation state was the culmination of more than a decade of quiet links based on inter-GCC rivalry and frenzied hostility to Iran that predated Trump and even Barack Obama, as well as Trump’s declared goal to undo Obama’s Mideast legacy.

Decade-long secret ties

According to Sigurd Neubauer, a former non-resident fellow at the Washington-based Arab Gulf States Institute, the UAE-Israeli relationship had actually originated in 2006, when American lawmakers attempted to block the UAE state-owned Dubai Port World from managing six US ports, including New York, Newark, Baltimore, and Miami.

“Abu Dhabi apparently was taken by surprise by the strong Congressional opposition and subsequently launched a massive public relations campaign to convince Washington policymakers that the UAE was not only a reliable US ally but shared Washington’s strategic interests – which, by extension, included those of Israel”, Neubauer wrote in a paper published by the International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES).

In 2008, the gulf country had the chance to deepen its relations with the occupation state when the headquarters of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) were opened in Masdar City in Abu Dhabi, allowing Israeli diplomatic representatives and ministers to secretly visit the UAE in order to attend meetings of the UN agency.

In 2015, a delegation from the Israeli Foreign Ministry led by Director-General Dore Gold publicly participated in a meeting of the Council of IRENA. Both sides, however, issued statements that the visit does not reflect any change in their political positions.

An Israeli international crime destabilizes relations

The relationship hit a snag in 2010 when Israeli Mossad operatives assassinated Hamas leader Mahmoud al Mabhouh in a Dubai hotel. A year earlier, the same Mossad team had reportedly tried to poison the Hamas leader, who fell mysteriously ill but eventually recovered, and was never aware he had been poisoned by Israeli operatives.

According to Israeli journalist Yossi Melman, who writes on intelligence affairs, an Israeli diplomat Bruce Kashdan was also in the UAE when the incident took place.

Ten years later, former Chief of Dubai Police, General Dahi Khalfan, who was responsible for investigating the assassination, justified the crime describing it as “a strategic mistake by the Israeli Mossad” that occurred because “they thought they would not be exposed.”

Military cooperation

Military cooperation between the two states could be traced back to 2011 when the UAE and the occupation state participated together on the Egyptian government’s side against ISIS militants in Sinai.

Human Rights Watch issued a detailed report on grave human rights violations committed by the Egyptian regime and its allies against civilians in Sinai. The violations included the disappearance of hundreds and arrest of thousands of civilians, including children.

In 2016, the occupation state, the UAE, and Pakistan took part in the largest joint military exercise in the United States known as the “Red Flag” war simulation. Spokesman for the Israeli occupation army at the time, Major Gil, told the New York Times that it was the first time Israeli fighter pilots trained together with Pakistani and Emirati pilots.

Only one year later, the Israeli, US, UAE, and Italian armies participated in another joint exercise in Greece. The joint exercise, according to a U.S. army report, is strengthening ties among the participating countries, maintain[ing] joint readiness and interoperability.”

Another joint exercise took place the next year in Greece as well. The Israeli occupation army participated in a joint exercise with the air forces of the United Arab Emirates and the United States.

In 2019, the UAE and ‘Israel’ participated again in the Red Flag exercise, which was held at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. Saudi Arabia, among other countries, took part in the exercise as well.

Although of the long history of warming relations between ‘Israel’ and the UAE, as well as other Gulf countries, and the public statements about making peace in the region, statements by Israeli officials suggest that the occupation state will always keep itself militarily ahead of other countries, even of countries that have peace agreements with ‘Israel’.

“Israel must never forget, not even for a split second, that any dent in its strength is liable to pull the rug out from under its feet in the long term,” wrote Amos Gilead, director of the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center. “Intentions are fluid and vulnerable to rapid changes.”

The US has even recently stressed that it will ensure ‘Israel’ retains a military advantage in the Middle East.

“The United States has a legal requirement with respect to qualitative military edge. We will continue to honour that,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said after a meeting with Netanyahu in Jerusalem two weeks ago.

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