The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain called on Tuesday for a coordinated effort with Israel to press the new US administration on Iran.
Speaking alongside Israel’s Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashed Alzayani stressed the concern the countries share over Tehran’s nuclear program, ballistic missiles, and activities across the Middle East.
“A joint regional position on these issues will exert greater influence on the United States,” Alzayani said.
The Bahraini and Israeli foreign ministers and Emirati minister of state for foreign affairs spoke on the first day of the Institute for National Security Studies’s 14th annual international conference, which is being held virtually this year because of COVID-19 restrictions. The panel was moderated by INSS Director General (ret.) Amos Yadlin.
US President Joe Biden has indicated his desire to rejoin the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, while Israel is pushing for any return to the agreement to include fresh limitations on Iran’s ballistic missile program and support for terror and destabilization around the world.
The Islamic Republic’s foreign minister warned last week that his country would not accept changes to the terms of the 2015 pact, which currently does not deal with Iran’s missile program or regional proxies.
“We must respond to Iran’s missile program,” Alzayani continued, “its support for proxies in the region, and its interference in the domestic affairs of states across the region, in order to bring about a broader peace and stability for the Middle East.”
The JCPOA was signed by Iran and six world powers known as the P5+1 in 2015. Then-president Trump unilaterally pulled the US out of the deal in 2018, opting instead for a “maximum pressure” sanctions effort.
One of the JCPOA’s “failures,” argued UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash on Tuesday, was the “absence of a regional voice therein.”
Iran drafted conditions for returning to compliance with the nuclear deal, one of which is that no new signatories — understood to mean Arab Gulf states — may be added to the agreement.
Since 2019, Tehran has suspended its compliance with most of the limits set by the agreement in response to Washington’s abandonment of sanctions relief and the failure of other parties to the deal to make up for it. It is now enriching uranium to 20 percent, just a short step away from weapons-grade levels.
Israel, UAE, and Bahrain all seek to dissuade the Biden administration from returning to the JCPOA in its original form.
Alzayani suggested that the terms of the deal must be changed in light of the signing of the 2020 Abraham Accords, the US-brokered agreements which normalized ties between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan.
“Any future agreement with Iran will need to reflect the new reality in the region and be acceptable to all states in the region.”
Ashkenazi, a former IDF chief of staff, agreed that the accords “strengthened the regional voice” and stressed the importance of maintaining a credible military option in Israel’s policy toward Iran.
He also warned against a “confrontational policy in the press” in order to sway the Biden administration, instead calling for a “professional conversation, real, transparent…to strive for a situation in which Israel’s concerns” are made clear to senior US officials.
The Gulf ministers also discussed their support for a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.
They argued that the Abraham Accords would spur progress on Israeli-Palestinian peace. The pact “created an incentive for such progress and put the brakes on steps that would have reversed the process,” said Alzayani.
In exchange for official ties with the UAE, Israel agreed to suspend plans to annex large parts of the West Bank under the Israeli-Palestinian peace plan drawn up by the Trump administration. The move opened a rift between Abu Dhabi and Ramallah, which saw normalization with Israel as premature given the lack of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, though the UAE says it is still committed to the Palestinian cause.
“After 40-50 years we arrived at the conclusion that disengagement from Israel was not effective, but rather we could more effectively respond to our disagreements with her through dialogue, interaction, trust, and compromise,” Gargash explained.
The fruits of peace
The diplomats laid out their visions for the next stage in the normalization process between Israel and its new Gulf partners. Gargash stressed the importance of providing “meaning to the peace for the average citizen – freedom of movement and more opportunities,” adding that the UAE was eager to welcome more Israeli tourists.
Over 70,000 Israelis have visited the UAE, said Ashkenazi. The Washington Post reported that over 150 Emirati restaurants have begun serving kosher food.
Alzayani sounded a more cautious note, warning that peace requires patience, and that governments must create the environment in which ties can develop organically.
Over 1,000 Israeli and Gulf companies are involved in some sort of collaboration, Ashkenazi revealed, and the three nations are drafting over 40 agreements that will serve as the practical basis for cooperation moving forward.
Israel’s first ambassador to the UAE, Eitan Na’eh, told The Times of Israel that the growing ties with the Gulf would have widespread economic ramifications, and that he expected trade with the Gulf to lower the cost of living in Israel.