The recent Israel-Palestine crisis is restructuring the 2020 Abraham Accords, which had implications for oil pipeline routes and defence deals, but now seems to be disintegrating as we see the Gulf engaging in a multifaceted diplomatic venture.
- Bahrain normalised ties with Israel under the Abraham Accords 2020
- Several defence and economic deals have been signed
- Bahrain has been considering severing ties with Israel following the recent attack on Gaza
The Donald Trump administration initiated the Abraham Accords in 2020 to normalise Israel’s relations with the Arab states. This was primarily done with incentives to attract the oil-rich Gulf nations with lucrative economic and security deals. The US objective was to solidify American presence in West Asia by uniting the Sunni-Arab Gulf states through military cooperation and oil pipeline deals. This deal primarily aimed to facilitate a US-Israeli-led bloc against the Axis of Resistance which comprises Iran, and allies in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
Israel and Bahrain also signed the agreement to normalise relations in September 2020. This allowed Bahrain and Israel to open direct flights and to sign deals that would allegedly enable cooperation in health, technology, agriculture and other sectors. However, the primary attraction of Bahrain for Israel was its close geographic proximity to Iran and the US Navy’s 5th Fleet serves from Bahrain in the crucial Gulf region. From assessing the Abraham Accords, it was neither a peace deal nor an economic one, and arguably it was an attempt at a defence pact cloaked as a “peace deal”.
These sets of deals with UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco had lucrative offers from the US, which, however, sidelined the Palestinian struggle for an independent state. The recent escalation in the crisis between Palestine and Israel has led Bahrain to recall its ambassador from Israel.
The missing element of a resolution to the Palestinian struggle is at the crux of the current predicament. The Abraham Accords arguably was a dry run for a greater security pact in the region, and the chances of Washington’s defence pact in the Gulf region are diminishing.
Therefore, these events indicate a growing trend of autonomous bargaining in West Asia after the Arab uprising period, as the Gulf countries are set to open their relations with an array of different global players. This illustrates a fundamental weakness in American-led peace initiatives and potentially opens doors for multipolar mediation in the region.
The fragile Bahrain-Israel normalisation experiment
The Bahraini government’s decision to normalise relations with Israel was underpinned by several considerations, some of which are now coming to light. One significant aspect of this decision was Bahrain’s desire to gain access to Israel’s advanced security and intelligence capabilities, such as the Pegasus spyware. This would enable Bahraini authorities to exert control over potential dissidents or political activists against the monarchy.
Within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) paradigm, Bahrain has often played the role of a junior partner to Riyadh and Abu Dhabi. This pattern was evident during the joint blockade of Qatar in 2017 when Bahrain, despite having minimal stakes in the dispute, played a prominent role as a spearhead in the Saudi and Emirati-led confrontation with Qatar.
It’s unlikely that Bahrain would have taken this step without prior consensus and pressure from Saudi Arabia and the UAE. In this regard, Bahrain appears to be acting as a front for the broader strategic objectives of its more influential neighbours.
On the other side of the equation, Israel emerged as the clear winner in the Abraham Accords. It gained access to new, oil-rich markets for its thriving arms industry, as Gulf states with substantial defence budgets seek to purchase advanced weaponry. It also enabled Israel to sideline the Palestinian cause and normalise with Arab states without conceding to the Palestinian demands.
Despite the public relations surrounding the Abraham Accords, normalisation has not translated into meaningful exchanges between Israel and Bahrain, the trade volume between the two parties remains at a meagre $2.16m (in 2022) with minimal growth potential, no access to Israel’s universities or research facilities, or any collaboration between Bahraini and Israeli industries or any meaningful technological transfers to Bahrain.
In hindsight, for Bahrain, this deal seems to be a superficial experiment at best with limited scope for a long-term partnership with Israel. However, the following could be the case, it is often speculated that Bahrain plays a front for Riyadh and the actions of Bahrain would most likely have guidance from its partners across the Gulf.
During the Arab uprisings, Bahrain experienced a popular uprising against the monarchy and the Saudi Kingdom militarily intervened to stabilise the political situation. Since then, it has become evident to Bahraini ruling elites that there is a need for Bahrain to search for security guarantees, as can be evidenced by the very recent agreement between the US and Bahrain the Comprehensive Security Integration and Prosperity Agreement (CSIPA). Commentators have argued that CSIPA was a dry run for a US-Saudi security arrangement in exchange for Israel’s recognition.
Hamas’s military assault on Israel and the Gulf’s political stance
On September 29th, around 832 Zionist settlers stormed the Al-Aqsa mosque and carried out Talmudic rituals within the mosque premises in occupied East Jerusalem. This caused a series of unrest in Jerusalem and clashes between the settlers and the Palestinians. On October 5th, there were further provocations in East Jerusalem by the settlers who vandalised shops and beat up Palestinians. These events were the precursor to Hamas’s military assault codenamed “Operation Al-Aqsa Flood”.
UNHCR reports Israel has displaced approximately 1.4m people internally in Gaza. Israel’s blatant disregard for international law and the dehumanising treatment of Palestinians through the Gaza blockade, illegal settlement constructions in the West Bank, and the apartheid system aggravates the situation.
Hamas’s military assault took place on October 7th, 2023 and has raised concerns about Israel’s military preparedness and often hyped intelligence capabilities. The attack resulted in a significant number of casualties for Israel, the highest ever inflicted by Hamas; allegedly at 1,200 at the time of writing. The subsequent Israeli policy of “mowing the grass” of inflicting collective punishment on the Palestinian people has set Israel back in its relations with the Arab and Muslim world.
Israel’s onslaught on Gaza, which has reached nearly 15,000 Palestinian casualties at the time of writing, has significantly aggravated the humanitarian situation in the strip. This has brought widespread condemnation of Israel’s aggressive actions from across the Muslim and non-Western leaders.
The severance of political relations with Israel by at least ten nations, including various South American and African states, Bahrain and Türkiye further isolated Tel Aviv. These developments embolden the Palestinian cause, questioning the established status quo created by the Abraham Accords. Bahraini action can indicate the current Saudi-Gulf position on the Abraham Accords.
What is happening now to the Abraham Accords?
Reuters reports a Qatar-mediated temporary ceasefire has been agreed and earlier on Friday 24th it came into effect. The agreement involves releasing around 50 Israelis captured by Hamas in exchange for around 150 Palestinian men, women and minors held in Israeli prisons. The deal also includes Israel allowing 300 trucks from Egypt to enter the besieged enclave to provide much-needed humanitarian aid.
In the joint Arab-OIC summit, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco halted a joint resolution at the OIC summit to cut oil supplies to Israel and halt the use of Arab airspace for Israeli shipments.
These indications suggest that while the Abraham Accords countries are not fully distancing themselves from the US, they are gradually engaging with the multipolar landscape, as demonstrated by the following.
Meanwhile, The visits by Arab and Muslim foreign ministers to China, advocating for a ceasefire in Gaza, indicate a possible diplomatic shift away from Western-brokered talks. China’s role in facilitating significant regional agreements, like the Saudi-Iran normalisation deal, implies a gradual recalibration of geopolitical engagements in West Asia.
During the joint speech in Beijing led by the Saudi foreign minister, China reaffirmed its backing for a fair resolution to the crisis, emphasising the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.
The expected entry of Saudi Arabia and the UAE into the BRICS 11 in 2024, aligning with the Russia-China strategic partnership, indicates a move towards alternative power structures and challenges the hegemonic influence the US has sought through the Abraham Accords.
The multifaceted diplomatic efforts of the Gulf states suggest an exploration of partnerships with China and Russia, diminishing the centrality of American influence. The future membership in the BRICS 11 organisation by Saudi Arabia and the UAE can reinforce the Russia-China partnership to challenge the global hegemon’s petrodollar system, and this can signify a geopolitical realignment of the Gulf that contradicts the agenda of the Abraham Accords.
Shifting dynamics: Gulf states navigating beyond the Abraham Accords?
Israel is experiencing increasing international isolation, with support from the Global South dwindling. Tel Aviv’s diplomatic challenges are mounting amid the IDF’s ambitious goal of eradicating Hamas and freeing over 240 prisoners of war. It is unlikely for the IDF to eradicate Hamas, which is an idea at this point more than just a physical political and military body.
The prolonged failure of the US to deliver a just solution to the decades-long Palestine crisis has prompted Arab nations, particularly those in the Gulf, to seek alternatives. The trade and economic engagements with China, now the most significant trade partner for the Gulf, and discussions about various Eurasian economic corridors could signal a shift in geopolitical alignments.
The Gulf is gradually shifting from a neutral position to a more critical stance against Israel, evident in Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s recent online meeting with BRICS+ members, where he advocated for a halt in weapons supply to Israel. A breakdown of Gulf-Israel relations would raise serious questions about the Saudi-Israel normalisation effort pushed by Washington.
Moreover, there has been resounding condemnation from Russia, and collective statements from Iran, the Gulf Arab states, and China, expressing support for a sovereign Palestine and criticising Israel’s severe reprisals against the Palestinian population.
In essence, recent events underscore a complex geopolitical landscape challenging the status quo intended by the Abraham Accords–prolonging U.S. aspirations for hegemony in West Asia. Which was significantly affected by the Russia-led Syria-Arab normalisation, followed by the China-led Saudi-Iran normalisation, leaving the US completely out of the picture.
The diminishing centrality of the American economy and its waning military and political influence anticipate a multipolar future. The ongoing Hamas-Israel conflict emerges as a strategic setback for the unipolar world, with regional powers moving towards greater autonomy–a pivotal step in the direction of a multipolar world order.
MSc in International Management, University of Exeter (2019). Specialised focus on Political Economy, Development in the Global South, and the Gulf region. BA in International Business and International Relations (Dual Honours at Keele University, 2018) with Interests in International affairs, history and economics. Editor and founder of qutnyti.wordpress.com