Two years after the signing of the Abraham Accords, relations between the United Arab Emirates and Israel are flourishing. A series of recent high-level meetings and events illustrate how the countries are forging ahead, showcasing that the agreements signed two years ago weren't a hollow PR stunt. The importance reaches far beyond the two countries to Israel's ties to India, as well as to peace with Morocco, Bahrain and other countries.
President Isaac Herzog attended the UAE Embassy reception celebrating the two-year anniversary of the Accords' signing last Thursday in Herzliya. The event showcased how the Accords have brought together people from the region and helped create an atmosphere of peace, hope and prosperity.
The event was hosted by the UAE Ambassador to Israel, Mohammed Al Khaja, and was attended by UAE Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
In his speech, Herzog praised the UAE's leadership, calling Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed " a man of peace." Herzog made many points that were likely shared by those attending and which symbolize the larger context in the region.
"The signing of the Abraham Accords in September 2020 was a very moving occasion," he said. "It was moving because of the great potential that we wished to see in the accords, and because of the vision we were praying for, for the State of Israel and for all nations in the region. Witnessing that moment of historic importance, we hoped and prayed that this moment would provide us a path to the future to which we aspire: a future of partnership and prosperity, of renewal and peace."
Herzog highlighted the important work of the last two years. He also mentioned other peace partners, such as Egypt and Jordan.
"On behalf of us all, I hope that we shall see more and more groundbreaking accords, including with our close neighbors, the Palestinians, and that the historic process, gaining unimaginable momentum, of Israel's integration into this region will continue, layer upon layer," he said.
UAE delegation visits Israel
Bin Zayed's delegation to Israel last week included the UAE economic and tourism minister and officials, a testament to the importance the country gives to the Accords, and proof that economic ties and sustainability issues were on the agenda.
During the Thursday speech, Herzog also praised the leap in cooperative ventures between Israel and Morocco. His speech came during a week when the Israel Defense Forces hosted an International Operational Innovation Conference for the first time in history.
"The conference included the participation of chiefs of staff and commanders from dozens of militaries from around the world. The conference constituted a significant platform for strengthening the operational cooperation between the participating countries, while also providing an opportunity for intra-military learning. Approximately 3,000 IDF commanders participated in the week-long conference and transferred its contents to their soldiers," the IDF said.
Significantly, seven chiefs of staff from Greece, Cyprus, Morocco, the Czech Republic, the Republic of Poland and the United States attended the event, in addition to 24 military delegations from around the world. Attendees examined multi-dimensional live-fire exercises, and the simulation also emphasized innovation in the modern battlefield, the IDF said.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz was expected to meet Bin Zayed on Sunday. Last week, Prime Minister Yair Lapid met Al Nahyan. Meanwhile, Herzog is also expected to visit Bahrain in coming months as a guest of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.
The wheels are in motion in the region, all emanating from the Abraham Accords. The trend in UAE-Israel ties is clear.
Ties with Bahrain are also strong.
"As citizens of this region, we must celebrate the milestones between our nation....If this past year is any indication, the relationship between Bahrain and Israel is strong and will continue to flourish," Ambassador Houda Nonoo (ret.), the former Ambassador of Bahrain to the United States, said.
Partnerships between Israel and the Gulf
A RECENT FREE-TRADE deal came as bilateral trade has exceeded $600 million, according to reports in April. An important summit that links Israel, the UAE, India and the US, the I2US summit, took place in July. This is also an important trend; knitting together countries such as Israel and the UAE as part of a wider partnership with the US and India.
These are one of many partnerships that are linking Israel and the Gulf and they clearly showcase how much the Gulf states and Israel have to share with each other. This is because in a shifting world order, these countries have much in common. They also have similar partners in places like Greece and France, and ties to places like the UK.
Part of a strategic system that stretches from Australia to Europe, important stops like Tel Aviv and Dubai are clearly on the map, and it makes sense that they work together. As such, they are stronger than the sum of their parts; meaning together, Israel and the UAE and partners such as Bahrain, Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, the US and India become stronger exponentially through the Abraham Accords.
In addition, business and innovation partnerships continue to grow. In early September the Abu Dhabi Global Market, Abu Dhabi's leading international financial center, and Tel Aviv-based nonprofit organization Start-Up Nation Central announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding to advance collaborations between the innovation ecosystems of Israel and the UAE.
The UAE is expanding with various goals for its economy in 2050. It is innovating in projects such as work on climate change, transportation infrastructure healthcare and space exploration, according to recent reports of the UAE's emphasis on new technologies. Much of this ties in with Israel's own successes.
The UAE's success is also linked to partnerships with Saudi Arabia. There continues to be hope regarding potential Israel-Saudi ties. An article at Bloomberg noted recently that the kingdom and Israel are obviously no longer enemies, but not yet friends. Another article at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Israel described the process as normalization at a snail's pace. There is a lot of hope in this regard. In July, Saudi Arabia ended an airspace ban, and there is much else to be optimistic about.
Despite the many positive developments that have occurred in the last two years, there are still hurdles and challenges for the countries involved in the Abraham Accords. Some of the expectations were not met on both sides. In addition, the business culture of Israel and the UAE are not the same. Travel issues, such as tourism going both ways, is also an issue, with Israelis going to the Gulf but apparently fewer visits to Israel.
In terms of security in the region and partnership with US Central Command, there are questions about incorporating Israel into more joint drills in the Red Sea with the Combined Maritime Forces of 34 countries that partner with the US. The recent launch of Combined Task Force 153 is important because it is multinational and focuses on the Red Sea.
Despite those challenges, the fruits of the Abraham Accords are apparent – not only in the banquet halls celebrating its second anniversary – but on the ground.
Seth Frantzman is a Ginsburg-Milstein Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum and senior Middle East correspondent at The Jerusalem Post.