PM Binyamin Netanyahu will reportedly make his first official trips to the UAE and Bahrain in the first week of February to meet their rulers face to face. His main purpose, DEBKAfile reports, will be to activate the Gulf-Israel axis against Iran shaped by former US president Donald Trump last September and anchored on normalized relations under the “Abraham accords.” His successor, Joe Biden, has yet to set out his Iran policy in practical form, but his national security adviser Jake Sullivan raised a signpost after meeting his Israel counterpart, Meir Ben-Shabbat on Sunday, Jan. 24,
Sullivan in the readout spoke of a discussion on “opportunities to enhance the partnership over the coming months, including by building on the success of Israel’s normalization arrangements with UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco.” Biden’s adviser extended an invitation to begin a strategic dialogue “in the near term.”
This early groundwork preceded Netanyahu’s landmark three-day Gulf trip. His first interview will be with Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (MbZ) in Abu Dhabi, followed by a visit to Dubai for talks with its ruler Prime Minister and UAE Vice President Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and some businessmen. On the third day, Netanyahu will travel to Manama to meet King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain and Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. The Saudi ruler, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, will be present in spirit though not in person with an ear on the event, although Riyadh has not joined the Abraham Accords.
This week, the UAE approved the establishment of its first embassy in Tel Aviv. Netanyahu will be able to call on Israel’s new embassies in Abu Dhabi and Manama. The prime minister has an obvious political interest in showcasing the historic ties he forged while fighting to win the coming Israeli election on March 23, At the same time, timely interaction with Washington cannot be delayed so long as the new US president has not set his Iran policy in stone. Biden indicated he intended to re-engage the Islamic Republic on the 2015 nuclear accord, but so far in general terms. The coming weeks will therefore see frequent trips between Jerusalem, the Gulf capitals and Washington as their rulers push for an active role in shaping that policy and subsequent negotiations.
Israel and the UAE have advanced their ties to joint air force exercises over the Gulf and Greece.
The White House is evidently open to advice, at least, from concerned regional players. Biden’s nominee for secretary of state, Antony Blinken, assured senators at his confirmation hearing last week that the State Department will hold consultations with Israel and other allies before returning to the Iranian nuclear agreement.
Israel has a long list of fundamental repairs for the original “flawed” document, with high relevance to its national security interests. Most will be seconded by its Gulf neighbors over shared concerns: They are believed to include an Iranian commitment to immediately halt uranium enrichment and advanced centrifuge production, as well as giving up its ballistic and precision missile program. Tehran must stop supporting its proxy terror groups in the region, starting with the Lebanese Hizballah, and end terror attacks on Israeli or Jewish targets around the world. Iran must be compelled by any revised accord to grant full access to inspectors from the UN watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The Gulf rulers will undoubtedly join Israel in pressing hard on these issues and also for the ouster of Iran’s military footholds in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
Although covert US-Iran talks have been taking place since before President Biden was sworn in, the Iranians are publicly playing hard ball with the new administration. They are flaunting the shedding of the restraints they undertook under the nuclear accord, especially on uranium enrichment, and are strengthening give-and-take ties with North Korea and China.
The European signatories of the nuclear accord, the UK, France and Germany, will be pushing Biden to get his Iran act together sooner rather than later so as to bring Iran back to a sustainable track. The Israel-Gulf axis facing Iran will therefore be called on to moderate its demands. Biden may also have a domestic issue to resolve: His Democratic party has opposed the huge arms transactions his predecessor concluded with the UAE and Saudi Arabia.