The solidifying Arab-Israeli Alliance

The solidifying Arab-Israeli Alliance

The strengthening multilateral alliance between Israel, Egypt and the Gulf States is aimed at containing and combating not only Iran but also Turkey in the ever-escalating competition for regional influence. This intensifying cooperation between these states will lead to clearer battle lines in the fractured and conflict-ridden region.

A ‘different’ regional order: Pragmatism at its finest

Growing, albeit clandestine, ties between Israel and several Arab States have recently seen the public expansion of Israel’s ties with Oman, following Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit in October 2018. Relations between Israel, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia continue in the shadows, with reports of senior Israeli officials regularly visiting the Gulf States. Israeli cabinet ministers have openly visited the UAE and Oman, with more set to take place in the future.

A recent report in the Middle East Eye by veteran journalist David Hearst claims that an intensifying multi-lateral intelligence effort is underway. Egypt, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Israel are set to implement a strategy to combat Iran and, importantly, Turkey.

Since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2015, the Gulf States have felt under threat. The impending loss of the Sunni opposition in the Syrian Civil War, an unwinnable conflict in Yemen and an absentee United States (US) has left many traditional US regional allies nervous. The ascent of Muhammad Bin Salman (MBS) is attempting to provide a vision for the Middle East. The semi-normalization of ties with Israel has become acceptable given the geo-strategic realities in the region.

Turkey: A revisionist power?

Though concerned with Iran, these four regional powers see their intensifying cooperation as important to combating Turkey. Under Erdogan and his AK-Party, Turkey has been expanding its regional aspirations and activities. By doing so, Turkey has inadvertently created a coalition of opposing states who are set on combating it.

Turkish support for Qatar has enraged Saudi Arabia and the UAE who have been leading an embargo on Qatar since 2017. Turkey stations a significant contingent of troops in Qatar as a deterrent against the Saudi-led coalition. Turkey has also strengthened relations with oil-rich Kuwait, through a pending Joint Defense Plan and economic ties.

Support for Islamic movements has also eroded Turkey’s relations with Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The Muslim Brotherhood, currently outlawed in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, has been receiving support and refuge in Turkey. Ankara is also a vocal supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood sister organization, Hamas which controls the Gaza Strip. Israel is locked in a never-ending conflict with the group and quantifies it as a terrorist organization.

All states within the shadow alliance are concerned by Turkey’s growing clout in the holy city of Jerusalem. These concerns are shared by both the Palestinian Authority and Jordan – important stakeholders in the city. They fear that a disruption to the status quo may lead to wider unrest and conflict. Israel is actively opposing this at the behest of these other players.

The quagmire of Syria has also led to serious conflict between Turkey and the Sunni Arab states. As the war has progressed, Turkey has adopted a more pragmatic approach vis-à-vis Assad. Erdogan sees the Kurdish led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as a serious enemy. The SDF is led by The People’s Protection Units (YPD) a close affiliate of The Kurdistan Workers party (PKK), Turkey’s antagonist. The US withdrawal from Syria and impending Turkish offensive against the Kurds presents this shadow alliance with an opportunity to strike at Ankara in a strategic area it prioritizes.

The winners

All the states involved in the alliance will benefit to various extents. Israel is gaining tacit, and even overt, diplomatic recognition from important elements in the Arab World. Jerusalem is also given an excuse to not act on the Palestinian issue as the once major proponents of the Palestinian cause now pay lip service to it. This will further Israel’s strategic position. Egypt, the Gulf States all stand to gain access to some degree of Israeli support, no small thing given Israel’s intelligence and military prowess. There is also a growing economic dimenstion to relations that is not often examined. They may also benefit from Netanyahu’s strong connection to President Trump and Washington in general given current political circumstances.

Al-Assad also stands to gain immensely by being welcomed back into the Arab League. This is leading to the re-establishment of diplomatic ties with Gulf States thereby legitimizing his rule. The Kurds could also potentially benefit. If Assad and the Kurds strike a deal which brings them back under government control they may gain some level of autonomy within Syria and stave off a Turkish offensive.

The losers

Turkey, if faced with a united, efficient and well-coordinated opposition, could face a number of challenges to its regional ambitions. The Kurds also fall into this category as alleged future support may not be sufficient as to give them a fighting chance against NATO’s largest army and her proxies. Iranian supported Shiite factions in Iraq may face several challenges as the alliance increases their support for the Kurdistan Regional Government and Arab Sunni political elements within the country. Iran will also likely face increased obstacles to its regional policies in Syria and Iraq. With little to no progress made on negotiations and Israel’s deepening alliances with Sunni Arab States, the Palestinians are also set to miss out.

The unknowns

Three major outliers may derail the above stated developments between these four major states.

If Iran leaves the JCPOA the rules of the game would change. None of the above states will live with a nuclear armed or threshold status Iran. This may lead to some form of US sanctioned Israeli strike or even possibly war. It may also lead to a nuclear arms race in the region. For now, Iran seems set on staying in the deal. This potential scenario will become clearer once the Europeans launch the special purpose vehicle meant to bypass US sanctions.

Israel is currently entering Parliamentary elections. Netanyahu is facing several corruption probes and seems likely to be criminally indicted. If indicted, he may be forced out by his Likud Party. Were this to occur, one of the major architects of the above proceedings would be removed. It is unclear who would succeed Netanyahu and if they would be capable of the same level of diplomatic success.

Growing public outcry at both the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and the humanitarian crisis in Yemen have been largely directed at Saudi Arabia. Condemnation has been leveled directly at Saudi Crown Prince MBS by the US Congress and sanctions placed on some of his associates. This includes traditionally supportive Republican lawmakers. Once Congress deals with pressing domestic US issues, they may again return their attention to the war in Yemen.


About Author

Ezra Friedman

Ezra Friedman is a candidate for an MSc in International Relations at the London School of Economics & Political Science. He was previously a member of staff at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, Israel. Ezra has been published in several online and print publications in Israel, the United States, Russia and the United Kingdom on a variety of security related topics. His areas of interests include, Israeli and American foreign and security policy, Middle East regional dynamics, sanctions regimes, energy and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.