Israel media review

Can Israel hug the UAE without any arms? What the press is saying on August 18

A report that Israel removed its opposition to the UAE getting jet fighters as part of its normalization deal adds to existing questions about what everybody is gaining, or losing

Illustrative photo: Al Fursan, or the Knights, a UAE Air Force aerobatic display team, perform on the second day of the Dubai Air Show, United Arab Emirates, Monday, Nov. 13, 2017. (AP/Kamran Jebreili)
Illustrative photo: Al Fursan, or the Knights, a UAE Air Force aerobatic display team, perform on the second day of the Dubai Air Show, United Arab Emirates, Monday, Nov. 13, 2017. (AP/Kamran Jebreili)

1. Taking the edge off: The UAE-Israel agreement is continuing to dominate headlines, though some of the conversation has shifted to what everybody is getting out of the deal.

  • Yedioth Ahronoth leads off with an expose reporting that the deal includes an Israeli agreement to drop its objection to US sales of advanced weapons to the Emirates, specifically super-advanced F-35 fighter jets, drones and some other highly-sought after and deadly toys.
  • “It’s not peace for [halting] annexation but peace for advanced weapons and [halting] annexation,” quips the paper’s Nahum Barnea.
  • Barnea notes that while Blue and White leaders Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi believe they were kept in the dark about the deal so Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could claim all the credit and maintain his place as the “decider,” any Israeli okay for a move that would remove its qualitative military edge over other countries in the region, which the US is legally required to maintain in any defense deals, should include the Defense Ministry — and defense minister — having been brought into the loop. And Barnea notes that if the defense minister didn’t know, the Defense Ministry certainly was not given a chance to approve or deny the sale.
  • The Yedioth story includes a denial that the deal includes anything about arms sales, and on Tuesday Netanyahu tweets out an official denial, calling the Yedioth story “fake news.”
  • Many do not see it that way. Opposition leader Yair Lapid tells Ynet that “This deal is dangerous for Israel. We demand details and explanations. It’s dangerous that the IDF was not involved in the decision.”
  • Haaretz reports that senior Israeli officials say “Israel has not changed in any way its longstanding objection to the sale of American F-35s to the UAE.”
  • But former Mossad official Haim Tomer tells Kan that if the UAE is going to be our friend, there’s no reason to keep the F-35 out of its hands: “Turkey also has the F-35 and it is a much bigger threat to Israel and is active on many fronts that can have an effect on Israel. We are dealing with Abu Dhabi, which can be Israel’s partner in some scenario or other of a confrontation with Iran.”
  • Former White House peace envoy Jason Greenblatt, perhaps hinting that the deal is real, tells Army Radio that “I have full confidence in the Trump administration and the Israeli government that they would never agree to a deal that would for a second put Israel in danger. So whatever happened behind closed doors I’m sure makes sense, even if it might look more flexible than in the past.”

2. Arms before alliances: Channel 12 news notes that Israel itself has deals to sell the UAE all kinds of weapons, $3 billion worth over the last year and a half.

  • “The deals include systems for collecting intelligence, optical systems, cyber, monitoring (cameras, etc), and border defense systems. Most of the deal are for defensive systems, but not only — and so some of them are under a gag order,” according to the Channel 12 report.
  • Haaretz’s Yossi Melman pulls the curtain back on some of the skullduggery behind Israel’s dealings with Gulf states, noting that their covert defense relationships go back a long way.
  • “In practice, every Mossad chief since the end of the ‘60s has met with Gulf leaders and their counterparts from these countries, including Saudi Arabia, and not just once. The Gulf states need Israel because of their fear of Iran, including its nuclear aspirations and plans for regional hegemony,” he writes.
  • “As opposed to the diplomatic and strategic arena, the business and security sectors have had deep relations with the UAE for years – hundreds of businesspeople, arms dealers and cyber experts are permitted to enter the UAE and do business in the country’s seven emirates. These are projects worth billions of dollars, mostly in intelligence, security and cyberwarfare. Former officials in the Mossad, Shin Bet security service and Israel Defense Forces still often arrive with both foreign and Israeli passports in the role of consultants and experts. They have advised on how to protect, physically and electronically, the rulers’ palaces, hotels and other public institutions there,” writes Melman.
  • “They see us as a sort of strategic hinterland,” he quotes former Mossad head Shabtai Shavit telling him.
  • Kan reports on an Intelligence Ministry position paper which maps out possible ramifications of a deal with the UAE, including defense ties: “The paper says that a normalization deal allows the advancement of a military alliance with the Gulf states, and upping cooperation on securing the Red Sea. At the same time, Israeli arms manufacturers are determined to ramp up exports to Gulf States, once ties become open and official.”

3. Leaving the Palestinians behind: Israel Hayom, continuing to push the idea that annexation is not going anywhere in a seeming bid to keep settlers in the Netanyahu camp, reports that the US is considering making some move that would commit it to honoring the Trump Mideast plan, which includes Israeli annexation of some 30 percent of the West Bank, no matter who is in the White House.

  • “One of the possibilities is a memorandum of understanding that determines that the only solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be the Trump vision. Another possibility is a commitment paper, like the [2002 George W.] Bush letter, which will say that settlements in Judea and Samaria will not be evacuated,” the Israel Hayom report says.
  • The paper reports, citing an unnamed source involved in drafting the agreement between Israel and the UAE, that the White House is pushing for the agreement to include some sort of commitment to stick to the Trump plan.
  • Interestingly, this is the second time in as many days the paper has openly and loudly talked about the idea of Trump losing office, pointing to possible Israeli efforts to hedge its bets. The report also treats the Deal of the Century as an agreed-upon deal between Israel and the US, though Israel has never actually fully committed to it, especially the part about Palestinian statehood. There’s also the fact that an MOU or a commitment letter is not bound by anything and can be changed on a whim (even the more tightly secured Iran nuclear deal was easily undone), making such a commitment mostly meaningless.
  • Getting the UAE to agree to enshrining a deal utterly rejected by the Palestinians, but which the Emirates frame as a Palestinian net win, would be appear to be another pie in the sky prospect. Then again, ToI editor David Horovitz writes in an op-ed that by forging an agreement with Israel, the UAE is essentially saying it is willing to untether itself from the Palestinian issue.
  • “An influential Arab country basically held up its hand and said, yes, we know the Palestinians still don’t have a state. They should have. They should negotiate with the Israelis. But we’re not waiting for that. We’ve not been at war with Israel. We don’t have bloody debts to settle, or territory that we want back from Israel. We’re making peace with Israel. Right now,” he writes.
  • Also in ToI, Haviv Rettig Gur writes that there is a lesson for the Palestinians in the agreement about how to get Israelis to move: giving them something to gain more than they can lose, in this case security from the Hamas terror group.
  • “Palestinian leaders and activists may gall at the prospect, but the Emirati initiative demonstrates one thing above all: if they wish to change Israeli policy and behavior, they must convincingly explain to Israelis that a withdrawal is not the catastrophe-in-waiting that so many expect. The Palestinians must give the Israelis something to lose, or rather something to gain that might justify the risk of abandoning some significant portion of the West Bank highlands to — not to belabor the point — a people that declares itself their bitter foes,” writes Rettig Gur. “The Palestinians don’t have much to offer Israel, but they still have the one thing Israelis have consistently wanted from them: an end to Hamas’s self-destructive Algerian war.”
  • Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer notes that the deal with the UAE may be more important than a past deal with Egypt because of the regional shift it represents: “The main change in the dynamic between Israel and the Arab Gulf states, perhaps with the exception of Qatar, is that these states no longer have any real connection with the Palestinian issue. That issue pales in comparison to their concerns from Iran, but the Iranian threat is far from the only incentive for improving ties with Israel. For the leaders of the Gulf nations which are trying to diversify and wean their economies off their dependency on oil and are facing acute challenges of water supply and desertification, a close working relationship with Israel offers a potential solution to multiple, urgent problems.”

4. A new Israel: Some also see a shift in Israeli opinions thanks to the deal. Israel Hayom’s Eyal Zisser writes that despite growing defense and economic ties with the Gulf, “we have continued to cling to the assumption that the Palestinian issue is a glass ceiling that prevents us from moving ahead in making peace with Arab nations. But one day, peace broke out and Israel signed a deal to normalize relations with the UAE, leaving us all embarrassed and asking questions.”

  • Former diplomat Alon Liel is quoted telling the Christian Science Monitor that “In the last 15 years, Israel ran away from the Middle East into the arms of the East European countries like Greece, Romania, Poland, Hungary … The Middle East might be our physical neighborhood, but not our cultural and commercial neighborhood.”
  • “Here, suddenly, Israel discovered that there are Arabs that are worth being friendly with and associating with … Not only selling arms, but tourism and commerce,” he says.
  • Channel 12’s Amnon Abramovitch notes that the shift in ties from covert to overt also means that diplomats can tread where once was the province of just those involved in more subtle diplomacy: “Getting the Foreign Ministry into the UAE was not easy. Only we work here, the Mossad said, the infrastructure is ours and we only work with our infrastructure. Later, they softened.”

5. Lockdown redux: While Israelis are getting excited about going to Dubai or anywhere else, they soon may be clamoring just for a chance to go down the street, with a number of reports pointing to a full lockdown on the way for the High Holidays, with infection numbers barely dropping.

  • In Yedioth, Sarit Rosenbloom writes that the question of a full lockdown is no longer if, but when. “Without severe and encompassing steps, there is no way to lower the morbidity. The question is just when to enact it and how to minimize the accompanying damage, economic and social, from the move.”
  • Channel 12 news indicates that coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu is only really looking at restrictions over the holiday for now, when the economy will mostly be shut anyway, but notes that even that is “a significant shift in [his] approach,” since he understands now that “it will be quite difficult to bring down the morbidity numbers with the existing tools and there is a need for more restrictions.”
  • In Haaretz, Meirav Arlozorov writes that Gamzu is under pressure, and being thrown to the wolves by Netanyahu: “Instead of determined leadership, he is folding again and again to pressures from restaurateurs, the ultra-Orthodox leadership, event halls and gyms,” she writes of the PM.
  • In her telling, Israel is “attempting to do what no country has done before, bring numbers from 2,000 cases a day to around 200 without a lockdown,” using a range of tools that would need time to work, and employing bodies that may not yet be outfitted for the task.
  • “In two months you would be able to see if the Israeli experiment — fighting the out of control virus without a lockdown — could work. It’s just doubtful anyone will give Gamzu those two months,” Arlozorov writes. “It’s not just the public that’s losing patience, but the political system is as well. Netanyahu’s amateurishness — either a lockdown or nothing — together with his not-secret desire to turn Gamzu into a scapegoat for the failures of Netanyahu to deal with the pandemic, do not give him any options.”

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