Security and business: Israel charts potential of ties with 3 more Gulf states

Security and business: Israel charts potential of ties with 3 more Gulf states

With UAE normalization begun, Intelligence Ministry report says Saudi Arabia interested in ‘military and intelligence cooperation,’ Bahrain and Oman in security and trade relations

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) with Sultan Qaboos bin Said in Oman on October 26, 2018 (Courtesy)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) with Sultan Qaboos bin Said in Oman on October 26, 2018 (Courtesy)

In the wake of Israel’s speedily progressing normalization process with the United Arab Emirates, the Intelligence Ministry has analyzed the potential of future ties with three additional states in the region and found fertile ground for robust cooperation, especially in the fields of security and trade.

“The emerging agreement with the UAE may open the door for the advancement of ties with additional Arab Gulf countries, primarily (in order of probability) Oman, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia,” according to a new ministry report, a copy of which was obtained by The Times of Israel.

The ministry determined, for instance, that Riyadh’s security concerns closely align with Jerusalem’s, paving the way for cooperation.

“The kingdom’s network of threats largely overlap with Israel’s network of threats, which may serve as the basis for military and intelligence cooperation in a bilateral framework or as part of regional alliances,” the report said.

At the civilian level, the Saudi “Vision 2030” program outlining the country’s long-term goals, including the hope of diversifying the Saudi economy, presents “opportunities in the areas of technology exports, trade channel development, and cooperation in energy and electricity, agriculture, food and water, aviation, tourism and employment,” according to the report.

Football fans stand beneath a large banner depicting Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz (C) and his son Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (R) as they attend the World Cup 2022 Asian qualifying match between Palestine and Saudi Arabia in the town of al-Ram in the West Bank on October 15, 2019. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)

The “moderate and quiet rapprochement” between Israel and Saudi Arabia that has taken place over recent years was made possible by political and economic changes in the world, among them the election of US President Donald Trump; the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal; fluctuating oil prices; wars in Syria, Iraq and Yemen; the decreasing importance of the Palestinian question; and the rise of the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, the ministry’s researchers posited.

The future king has advanced a policy of “growing openness toward Israel,” according to the report, which cited his willingness to open Saudi airspace to Air India planes en route to Tel Aviv, and his support for Trump’s so-called deal of the century.

“At this point, Saudi Arabia is still refraining from official and public relations with Israel, but the regime’s interest in ensuring its stability and diversifying its economy, and on the backdrop of [Israel’s] advancing relations with the Emirates, has the potential to promote security and civilian cooperation,” it said.

The potential Israel-Saudi cooperation would focus on “Israeli technologies that could strengthen the Saudi economy and its ability to cope with regional security threats,” the report went on.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz (left) and his Bahraini counterpart Khalid bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa pose for a photograph at the State Department in Washington on July 17, 2019. (Courtesy)

Bahrain, a tiny island nation that has shown tacit readiness to engage with Israel, is struggling with various crises, including a sluggish economy due to low oil prices, the report stated. The kingdom is therefore eager to transform itself into a regional hub for technology startups, especially in the fintech sector, which could create opportunities for the integration of Israeli companies, the ministry’s researchers asserted.

“In the security realm, Bahrain is in recent years acquiring advanced arms systems and may become interested in becoming a client of Israeli security technology,” they wrote in the 11-page report.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (SL), accompanied by his wife Sara, is greeted by Sultan Qaboos bin Said in Oman on October 26, 2018 (Courtesy)

On the other hand, the Sultanate of Oman — so far the only Gulf state that openly hosted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in October 2018 — has close ties with Iran, so the potential for arms deals is limited, according to the ministry. The Jewish state’s security ties with the country would likely be restricted to “soft” technology, for example in the fields of counterterrorism and internal security, the researchers wrote.

At the same time, the Omanis are likely to show great interest in Israeli civilian technologies, for instance in the fields of water, agriculture and applied technologies such as information and communication, cybersecurity, education and more.

“The agreement with the United Arab Emirates was only the beginning, and I’m sure that in the near future we’ll see similar agreements with other countries in the region,” Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen said.

“These agreements will contribute greatly to both sides, and will constitute fertile ground for cooperation in a variety of fields such as economy, security, technology and more,” he continued. “These will be agreements of ‘peace for peace,’ and not ‘peace for territories,’ made because of common interests and regardless of the Palestinian issue.”

US Presidential Adviser Jared Kushner (C-R) and US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien (C-L) pose with members of the Israeli-American delegation in front of the El Al’s flight LY971, which will carry the delegation from Tel Aviv to Abu Dhabi, at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv on August 31, 2020. (Menahem Kahana / AFP)

On August 13, Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump and UAE leader Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed announced that Israel and the Emirates had agreed to normalize relations.

The process led to the historic first-ever nonstop Israeli flight from Tel Aviv to Abu Dhabi on Monday, which carried a joint Israeli-US delegation to lay the groundwork for a full accord to be signed in Washington the coming weeks.

Israeli and US officials have continuously predicted that other Gulf states will soon follow in the UAE’s footsteps, but Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman, while supportive of the Emirati move, have said they will only normalize relations with Israel once a peace agreement with the Palestinians is reached.

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