The Arab East: New Points of Reference of a New Policy
A large number of countries in the Arab world have finally been set into their natural motion and they are becoming more and more active in showing their independent character, gradually sloughing off the leadership of their past “sponsors” from the West. At the end of March, an extraordinary period of regional summits and high-level meetings took place unexpectedly and perhaps spontaneously, as these events in some way characterize their participants as members of an increasingly developing “New Middle East.”
It began when Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi met the Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, for a one-day meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh. No communique was published on the results of this meeting, and even the Arab press considered that the main result was the opportunity to be photographed. Nevertheless, the meeting was widely discussed, which shows a “certain new shift” in regional relations after the Abraham Accords in 2020 were signed. Interestingly, Israel’s The Jerusalem Post gave the following comment on the summit: “The fact that the leaders of Egypt and the UAE had a meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister at this time does not indicate that the drift from the United States means a drift from Israel, but rather the opposite. Since the United States is no longer considered a reliable ally, as it used to be, it is time to get closer to Israel in order to combat shared threats.”
Then King Abdullah of Jordan held a quadrilateral meeting in Aqaba, which was attended by Egyptian President Al-Sisi, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadimi. Again, no official joint declaration or statement followed. Then, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid met the Foreign Ministers of Egypt, Morocco, Bahrain and the UAE, which the US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken joined later. They held what the Arab media called a “historic six-party summit” in the Israeli city of Sde Boker, which marked the Abraham Accords, and stressed that a new kind of regional quasi-alliance is in the process of establishing.
On the same day when the Negev summit was officially convened, King Abdullah flew to Ramallah to meet the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Amman declined Israel’s invitation to join the Negev summit. King Abdullah wanted to make it clear that the old Palestinian-Israeli conflict still matters, as do the later disagreements. To finish this series of meetings, Qatar’s Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani suddenly arrived in Cairo to meet his Egyptian colleague Sameh Shoukry, who had just returned from Israel. Interestingly, Shukri told the press that the Negev summit was allegedly not dedicated to the new regional alliances.
In conclusion, the author would like to say that these summits and meetings indicate a kind of “collision of axes and possible alliances,” which coincided with the Blinken’s “high-level” visit to the region. The high-ranking American official went to Ramallah to meet frustrated Abbas, who was talking of double standards regarding Russia’s special operation in Ukraine and about the decision to have two states in the territory of Palestine. Anthony Blinken, in addition to his usual rhetorical exercises about the Biden administration’s policy of supporting a solution about having two states, gave one clear order: it is necessary to avoid escalations during Ramadan.
His order was primarily intended for the Israelis, and in some way for the Palestinians, although he also demagogically mentioned the two-state decision again. But for Israelis, the main topic was the alleged deal between the US and Tehran. And the Negev summit seemed to show not only frustration, but also irritation felt by Arabs and Israelis in view of the Biden’s administration policy following the results of “processing the Iranian file.” While the Palestinian issue was mentioned in the statements made by Lapid, Blinken and almost all Arab officials who attended the summit, the main issue was America’s increasingly shrinking role in the region.
Blinken’s regional tour was supposed to convince the US allies that, although a deal with Iran is underway, it will in no way affect the security paradigms of the region. His visit had nothing to do with the rights of Palestinian, the opening of the US consulate in East Jerusalem, or anything else. Blinken had two things in mind: keeping control over the US regional allies and gaining more support from the Arabs in the US’s attempt to strangle the Russian economy. It is quite obvious that he failed in both directions. Most participants of the summit do not share the US’s position on Russia’s special operation in Ukraine. While the UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan was visiting Moscow, many Arab leaders also maintained friendly relations with the Russian President Vladimir Putin, demonstrating understanding of the Russian interpretation of events in Ukraine and declining the rude anti-Russian position of the West. It would be an exaggeration to think that the Negev summit helped the US achieve its immediate goals. The reality is that the US is more concerned about the completion of the deal with Iran than about the burning security issues of its regional partners. This is related to the great geopolitical game of the West, in which the struggle against Russia and China occupies much more space than the relationship between the western nations, in particular the United States, with the Arab world.
It is not surprising that Arab countries have been saying that Biden’s policy is harmful, first of all, for the United States itself. As the Middle East specialist Khaled Abu Tuame from the Gatestone Institute says, the crisis that has arisen between Washington and the Arab countries is so deep that it may take years, if not decades, to repair the damage done to US interests in the Middle East. Many Arabs continue to express disappointment with Biden’s policy in the Middle East, especially with regard to the destabilization of security and stability in Arab countries that used to see the United States as a reliable and trustworthy ally. These Arabs say that President Joe Biden uses the same approach as the ex-President Barack Obama, who preferred to conclude a nuclear deal with Iran at the expense of Washington’s Arab friends and allies in the Middle East. The Arabs further claim that Biden’s policy and actions are harmful not only for US’s allies, but also for US interests.
Saudi journalist Abdul-Aziz Alhames told Al-Ahram Weekly that the current events are an opportunity to clearly see the “indifference” of the United States to the region. He said there was a need for Gulf energy export to help Europe become less dependent on Russian oil and gas. But Saudi Arabia and the UAE did not pay heed to Biden’s calls to increase oil production for smoothing the prices, and they fulfilled their long-standing obligations under the agreement with Russia and other non-OPEC producers to stabilize global energy markets. The Gulf states have been expanding their relations with Russia and China, and Saudi Arabia and the UAE are disappointed with the fact that the US ignores Iranian-backed Houthi rebels attacking them in Yemen. “The actions in the Persian Gulf show the West’s indifference to Arabs’ concerns about Iran, threats from Yemen and other problems, as well as the corresponding reaction of the Arabs to these actions by Washington,” Alhames said. “The current energy crisis has provoked these steps taken by the Gulf countries who are seeking to get more benefits and concessions, in particular, from the United States.”
Being rich with gas, Qatar chose a different way, and it has already been a success by concluding a profitable gas deal with Germany, which it has been preparing for a year. Qatar’s relationship with Iran also brings this country closer to the Biden’s administration in such an area as the resumption of the nuclear deal with Tehran, which gives Doha the title of “the main non-NATO ally of the United States.” However, as events show, Qatar is still seeking to share the common position of the Gulf countries, as it settled down the conflict relations with those countries, which had lasted for several years. Qatar no longer wants to push its luck and take any separatist actions in the economy and in politics.
In other words, the Arab countries themselves are actively looking for ways to create new alliances in order not only to resist the frenzied pressure of the United States, but also to outline the foundations of a new policy in a world that is changing at a tremendous pace. Not only the favorable prospects for their further development, but the very life and prosperity of the people of these countries will depend on how soon and well thought-out the Arab countries will build their new relations.