Left to right: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump, Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani, and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan wave from the Truman Balcony at the White House in Washington, DC, after the signing of the Abraham Accords, on September 15, 2020. Photo: AFP

Israel on Tuesday inked twin diplomatic treaties with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, offering a diplomatic boon to the Trump administration, and paving the way for a deal with Saudi Arabia.

“We’re here this afternoon to change the course of history. After decades of division and conflict, we mark the dawn of a new Middle East,” said US President Donald Trump, speaking to a crowd gathered on the White House lawn.

The foreign ministers of the UAE and Bahrain signed the agreement on behalf of their respective nations, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took the decision to fly in personally to sign in place of his foreign minister, a testament to the importance of the deal to the Israeli premier.

The “Abraham Accords,” named to emphasize the shared belief in the Prophet Abraham in Judaism and Islam, are the first between Israel and the Arab world since Jordan in 1994 and Egypt in 1979.

But this time, the countries in question have no shared border and the most significant conflict between them was the Arab oil embargo nearly half a century ago. Most significantly, relations between them have long been an open secret. The Abraham Accords are thus expected to usher in a far warmer engagement than currently seen with Egypt or Jordan.

“They are friends,” said Trump.

Grand prize: Mecca

The final-hour inclusion of Bahrain, announced just days before the White House ceremony, is particularly significant, setting the stage for an even bigger prize: peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

“Bahrain would have never done this without Saudi approval, so the writing is on the wall,” said Carlos Abadi, managing director of the US-based financial advisory firm Decision Boundaries and a longtime activist for improved ties between the Arab world and Israel.

The timing, he says, is linked to the US elections and the preference by the two Arab parties for Donald Trump and his maximum pressure campaign against Iran. But the architect of the deals, Abadi believes, was President Trump’s Middle East point man, Jared Kushner.

“He had the latitude to offer certain things to these countries that would have been uncertain in his absence. For example, the sale of advanced weaponry,” he told Asia Times.

Kushner has been lobbying his generational counterpart, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, to press his father, the king, to conclude a similar deal with Israel before the end of Trump’s first term.

King Salman, while supportive of his son’s vision, appears to have not been ready to personally oversee the abandonment of longstanding Saudi policy, namely the Arab Peace Initiative offered to Israel by his predecessor King Abdullah in 2002, and which had the support of every Arab state.

A peace treaty between Israel and Saudi Arabia “is going to happen,” said Abadi, but only after the 84-year-old king passes away or is incapacitated.

What King Salman was willing to support was an agreement with Bahrain, a Gulf island nation of 1.5 million people that is connected to Saudi Arabia by bridge and whose foreign policy is widely understood to be in lockstep with its powerful neighbor.

Trump expressed enthusiasm for the Saudi role days before the signing, telling reporters that King Salman was a “great gentleman”.

“This is now the second peace agreement that we have announced in the last month, and I am very hopeful that there will be more to follow. I can tell you there’s tremendous enthusiasm on behalf of other countries to also join,” Trump said on Friday.

Alison Tahmizian Meuse

Alison T Meuse is the Asia Times Middle East editor and correspondent.