Using Iran to justify Arab normalisation of Israel

Using Iran to justify Arab normalisation of Israel
Comment: In putting 'the Iranian threat' before the Palestinian cause, Arab leaders have sold out to Israel, Muhammad Shehada.
4 min read
18 Feb, 2019
Bahraini foreign minister, Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, at the Middle East summit, Warsaw [Getty]
Last week, the US-sponsored Ministerial Summit on "Peace and Security in the Middle East" in Warsaw saw high-level Israeli and Arab delegations sit side by side, amid a Palestinian boycott of what the Palestinian Authority branded a historic "betrayal," that aimed to "eliminate the Palestinian cause".

The summit didn't disappoint: It confirmed the Palestinian grievance that the core, decades old struggle of the Middle East, had officially been sold out, and cheaply, too.

From asserting Israel's "right to defend itself," to demonising and exaggerating the role of Iran in the Middle East, the bottom line championed by said Arab representatives was the unparalleled urgency in combatting the "Iranian threat," before anything else.

By dangerously inflating this "Iranian threat," and making it the number one issue in the Middle East, these Arab representatives consciously overshadowed the Palestinian struggle for freedom and dignity, to Israel's satisfaction.

Bahrain's and Saudi Arabia's foreign ministers shamelessly argued that the "Iranian threat" blocks all paths to moving forward with anything in the Middle East, not least the Palestinian quest for justice.

Meanwhile, Greenblatt, the US Middle East envoy, boldly framed it the other way around; that it's actually the Palestinian cause that "impedes nations from countering the common enemy of Iran".

Saudi Arabia and the UAE, slowly but surely are paving the path towards premature Israeli-Arab normalisation

The lesson? Forget indefinitely about Palestinian suffering and let us converge and unite with Israel's right-wing government to combat Iran; "the challenge we have to face in order to deal with other challenges," according to Bahrain's foreign minister.

However, the "Iranian threat," has proven to be a bloated, imaginary fiction; a scarecrow to advance a political agenda.

Despite countless Israeli provocations against Iran, Tehran is keen to emphasise that it "doesn't want new tensions in the region", whether in the Gulf region or around Israel.

Furthermore, countless European officials, the head of the American intelligence and even the Israeli Military Chief all concur that Iran is "adhering to 2015 nuclear deal," and that the "Iran nuclear deal works".

Clearly, the one-sided escalation against Iran and the inflated "Iranian threat" is designed not only to overshadow the Palestinian struggle, but Saudi Arabia and the UAE, slowly but surely are paving the path towards premature Israeli-Arab normalisation, under the misleading pretexts of security, cooperation and mutual development.

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While the notion that Israeli-Arab normalisation may bring about more security in the region is evidently misleading, the premise that Israeli-Arab normalisation bodes well for increased trade and economic development to countries that are in bed with Israel, is equally manipulative. 

At best, it functions as a stepping stone towards convincing the populations of the necessity of partnering with Israel.

In some of the world's most ruthless dictatorships, the fruits of the ongoing normalisation process would indisputably be exclusive to the ruling elite, rather than their repressed populations.

One of the 'gains' from this normalisation process is the exchange of intelligence between Israel and oppressive Gulf regimes that is mostly used to crack down on dissent, criticism and opposition. UAE and Saudi Arabia, for instance, were both recently implicated in using Israeli spyware to hunt down local and foreign political opponents, and hack the work of human rights groups.

In addition, these Gulf regimes, through teaming up with Israel and abandoning the Palestinians, are desperately pursuing greater leverage with the Trump administration in order to acquire impunity for their criminal actions against their own people, similar to the impunity traditionally provided by the US to Israel.

Gulf regimes believe that the way to Washington is through Tel Aviv. This was evident in the aftermath of the Khashoggi murder, in the way Saudi Arabia resorted to Israel and its lobbying groups in the US to shield its regime from any consequences.

The lesson? Forget indefinitely about Palestinian suffering and let us converge and unite with Israel's right-wing

The incident made it crystal clear that the normalisation process is no longer an incentive to bolster Israeli-Palestinian peace, but is now a gateway to perpetuating the rule of the world's most authoritarian governments.

Yet, all in all, Israel certainly has a lot more to gain in this normalisation process than the increasingly illegitimate regimes who joyfully betray the Palestinian cause in order to gain some tentative assistance.

Israel capitalises on any scrap of progress in the normalisation process to desperately try and show that the world has moved on from the conflict, and that Palestinians have been fully defeated in their struggle for freedom and justice.

Israel's Netanyahu was the real winner at the shameful Warsaw summit.

He exploited the event to boast his popularity in the upcoming elections by showing that under his administration, Israel's occupation has become a fait accompli that is more accepted in the Middle East than ever before, thanks to the cooperation of willing and selfish Arab dictators.

Muhammad Shehada is a writer and civil society activist from the Gaza Strip and a student of Development Studies at Lund University, Sweden. He was the PR officer for the Gaza office of the Euro-Med Monitor for Human Rights.

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab.