Senior adviser Jared Kushner and US Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin listen after US President Donald Trump announced an agreement between the United Arab Emirates and Israel to normalize diplomatic ties, at the White House on August 13, 2020, in Washington, DC. Photo: Brendan Smialowski / AFP

Many have welcomed the Israel-UAE peace deal as a sign of political realism in the Middle East. Through their close partnership with the United States, a shared distrust of Iran and their expanding technology sectors, the two countries are natural partners on many levels.

The only problem – a significant one – is the reliability of Israel as a partner, and the fact that the Palestinians were left out of the historic negotiations over the normalization of relations.

Israel and the United Arab Emirates have enjoyed a working relationship for many years, though this was mostly concealed from the public eye.

Until now, the UAE, along with most of the Arab world, accepted the Arab League’s position that normalization of ties with Israel would only follow an equitable peace deal that resolved the conflict in Palestine, based on a two-state solution. But given the entrenchment of Israel’s occupation in the West Bank and its control over the Gaza Strip, the two-state solution, as laid out in the 1990s, is increasingly unviable. 

Still, a lingering hope had been that international pressure could have an impact on Israel. Despite the fact that the Palestinians were not consulted or informed of the deal, some had hoped that the pact might leverage greater influence over Israeli behavior in favor of the Palestinians.

This is so far proving not to be the case. By removing the incentive of normalized ties with a major Gulf Arab state, Israel now has even fewer reasons to change its footprint in the West Bank and Gaza. This raises the other challenging aspect of working with Israel: the country’s unreliability.

In negotiations over the deal, the UAE pushed Israel to end – unambiguously – its plans to annex large areas of the West Bank, which would kill off the two-state solution. Yet, on the heels of the normalization announcement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu swiftly said he was only suspending annexation and that it had not been permanently ruled out.

Herein lies the predicament of any partnership with Israel. The country’s domestic politics is famously rambunctious and prone to sudden shifts, which feeds into its external relations. In fact, the country’s foreign policy is almost defined by unpredictability and Israel’s unwillingness to adhere to international convention. Jordan and Egypt can say plenty about this.

But look even at the “special relationship” professed between Israel and the United States. Last year, American authorities discovered mysterious cellphone spying devices, called “StingRays,” around the White House, that are believed to have been placed by Israeli agents. Israeli agents also regularly try to wrestle classified information from American officials using a range of methods.

Surveillance operations are nothing new even among allies and especially not in Washington, but Israel’s actions against its “special” friend are especially egregious. 

And nor are its actions only covert in nature. In 2015, Netanyahu tried to undermine former president Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear deal in a highly partisan fashion uncommon for an ally. The Israeli prime minister addressed a joint session of Congress and regularly appeared on American news programs in a manner that was seen to be interfering in US politics.

Regardless of one’s position on Obama’s Iran deal, Netanyahu overstepped boundaries in behavior for a foreign leader.

Such bad manners were almost immediately on display in Israel’s action toward the UAE. Apart from the embarrassment over the annexation plans, there is the matter of highly advanced fighter jets. Just days after the peace agreement went public, Israel pressured the United States to block the sale of F-35 aircraft to Abu Dhabi that were presumably part of the peace deal.

The US for long declined to sell these aircraft to the UAE because of a policy whereby it would not undermine Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region.

Under the peace deal, however, it is understood that Abu Dhabi finally would have been able to acquire the aircraft. But the provision reportedly was blocked at the last minute by Netanyahu once details were made public. This was because Israel’s defense establishment had not been informed of the provision and rejected the sale outright.

A minister in Netanyahu’s government, Tzachi Hanegbi, went so far as to say: “We oppose the sale of even one screw of one plane of the stealth fighters to any country in the Middle East, if we have peace with them or not.”

With Israel’s history of savaging diplomatic protocols and doing in essence what it pleases with little regard for allies and friends, this peace deal must be seen in its proper perspective. While there are certainly economic benefits to formalizing relations, friendship with Israel is never a two-way street.

So, as more Gulf countries are expected to formalize relations with Israel amid a new appreciation of regional security risks, a heavy dose of realism and caution remains necessary.

This article was provided by Syndication Bureau, which holds copyright.

Joseph Dana, based between South Africa and the Middle East, is editor-in-chief of emerge85, a lab that explores change in emerging markets and its global impact.