Editor’s Note: Michael Oren, formerly Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Knesset Member, and deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s office, is the author of “The Night Archer and Other Stories” (forthcoming, Wicked Son Press, 2020). The views expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more opinion at CNN.
The impending peace agreement between the United Arab Emirates and Israel is a game-changer for the entire Middle East.
In addition to wedding one of world’s wealthiest states (the UAE) with its most innovative (Israel), it also opens new avenues toward peace. Realizing that other Arab states may soon follow the UAE’s lead, and that time is no longer on their side, the Palestinians may well return to the negotiating table.
An Israeli public that is secure in its newfound relations with the Arab world will be more likely to make concessions. Stalemated for almost 30 years, the peace process might finally be revived.
More than its economic and diplomatic potential, though, the UAE-Israel accord is of immense strategic value. It signifies the emergence of a united Middle Eastern front against Iran. Such an alliance was necessitated by the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – the Iran nuclear deal. Contrary to hopes that it would transform Iran into a responsible regional power, the JCPOA bolstered Iranian efforts to gain even greater power in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, and support terror worldwide. The JCPOA did not prohibit Iran from developing more advanced centrifuges, capable of swiftly enriching uranium and significantly reducing the time Iran would need to create a nuclear arsenal. Similarly, that agreement – which the US concluded along with the European powers, Russia, and China – did not compel Iran to cease developing technology that could be used to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile, capable of carrying nuclear warheads to Europe and the US, as experts worry they are doing under cover of a space program.
To more effectively defend themselves against such grave dangers, Israel and Sunni Arab states sought an open alliance.
For American policymakers, the peace process and the Iranian issue have always been inextricably linked. But while the previous US administration sought to defuse regional tensions through the nuclear deal, ironically it in fact created a UAE-Israel alliance in opposition to that plan.
Conversely, by abandoning the nuclear deal in 2018, the United States regained the leverage and the trust needed to broker the UAE-Israel breakthrough.
To many Americans, the goals of achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace and of broader reconciliation with Iran may still seem to be complementary. Many believed that reconciling with Iran could limit the threat that its Lebanese terrorist proxy Hezbollah poses to Israel, or that achieving an Israeli-Palestinian peace could give Iran one less reason to hate the Jewish state.
But from a Middle Eastern perspective, these two goals are fundamentally at odds. Striving for both, many of the region’s people would agree, is like fighting climate change while promoting the use of coal.
In retrospect, the belief that America could make Israelis feel more, rather than less secure, by striking a bargain with an Iran sworn to destroy them is mind-boggling. So, too, is the notion that Sunni Arabs would welcome an accord between their longstanding US ally and a rapidly expanding Shiite empire.
Yet the simultaneous achievement of both peace and the nuclear deal were for years the twin goals of American diplomacy. During the Syrian civil war, Iran helped perpetrate the massacre and displacement of millions of Syrians, and it has bankrolled Hamas rocket attacks against Israel, for which a Hamas leader in Gaza thanked Iran publicly in spring 2019, as The Times of Israel reported. Secretary of State John Kerry mounted an intense peace initiative. But between 2012 and 2013, as Iran was engaging in such activities, Kerry was also conducting nuclear talks with Iran that began in secret, behind Israeli and Arab backs. That betrayal all but eliminated America’s credibility as a reliable mediator.
The signing of the Israeli-Emirati accord signals the restoration of American leverage. It is proof that the assumptions behind the 2015 Iran nuclear deal were flawed and that America’s 2018 withdrawal from it was well-founded.
It will enable to the United States to play a central role in the conclusion of additional peace agreements between Israel, Bahrain, Oman, and other Arab states and, potentially, to preside over renewed Israeli-Palestinian talks. A peace agreement based on creative formulas and close economic and strategic ties will be possible.
All of these potential historical developments are dependent, however, on continued American opposition to Tehran. No American who cares about ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should ever support the restoration of the JCPOA. No country promoting Arab-Israeli reconciliation should empower an Iranian regime committed to undermining those efforts, most often with violence.
If burning coal is incompatible with combating climate change, so, too, is seeking peace with a strengthening warlike Iran, and the UAE-Israel deal provides positive proof.