Making sense of a world that seems more convoluted day by day is impossible. None-the-less, I’m going to give it my best shot. Be sure to read to the end for two good news items that will provide a badly needed smile and a bit of uplift.
We look first at the upcoming agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Dubbed the Abraham Accords, it is being highly praised but generates a fair measure of unease as well.
A major taboo has been broken: It is no longer the case that Israel cannot establish full diplomatic relations with an Arab state unless there is a Palestinian state first. That represents a huge shift; at least one Gulf state has shown it values a relationship with Israel more than it cares about that stated PLO goal. (I should say alleged goal – a full sovereign Palestinian state along the ’67 armistice line, with Jerusalem as its capital, etc. – for we know that the PLO goals are more extensive and devious than this.)
The news is full of bright predictions about the relationship between the UAE and Israel, which will lead to warm interaction and cooperative efforts benefiting both parties.
A fledgling Jewish community already exists in Dubai, marking the UAE more open to Jews than other Gulf states. The community has operated under the radar for some time and is now going public, with plans for the construction of an enhanced synagogue.
It does appear that other Arab states, likely starting with Bahrain, will follow suit. The exception is Saudi Arabia, which would be the plum: The Saudis are insisting that there must be peace between Israel and the PLO before they get on the bandwagon.
The Saudis authored the 2002 “Arab Peace Initiative.” Frequently cited over the years as a baseline for negotiations, it promoted terms that were absolutely a non-starter for Israel. The “initiative” contained a promise of peace with the Arab world if Israel agreed to its terms, and the Saudis are publicly holding out for this. The world has changed a great deal in 18 years, however, and the Saudis today have discrete, unofficial interactions with Israel. So, who knows?
It is important to note that the UAE and Israel have never been at war; the accord that will be drafted is not a peace treaty, in the sense that the treaties with Egypt and Jordan are: The UAE is not a military threat to Israel, and informal interactions already exist.
Note that the accord is not yet drafted. A joint US, Israeli, Emrati announcement outlining the agreement was released on August 13th, but its terms have yet to be negotiated and formalized.
As I am fond of saying, the devil is in the details, and most certainly this will be the case here.
It is my understanding that Netanyahu insisted upon “normalization.” This has obvious implications. After the announcement there were Emrati officials who said there would be no embassy established in Israel until there were negotiations on-going between Israel and the PLO, but that would not be normalization. If our prime minister holds fast to this demand, this will not happen.
Perhaps the most notable issue that requires monitoring is the question of whether the Israeli application of sovereignty in Judaea & Samaria has been temporarily suspended or taken off the table. With regard to suspension, it is important to watch what is said about a possible time frame.
Former White House envoy Jason Greenblatt stated in an interview last week that the process of applying sovereignty was only temporarily on hold. But when asked, “Will Netanyahu eventually apply sovereignty in Judaea and Samaria, after achieving peace with moderate Arab states?” he replied:
“I certainly hope so. I am against giving the Palestinian leadership a veto card over progress relating to…Judaea and Samaria. But it is something which we have to watch closely.” (Emphasis added)
In the weeks before the accord was announced, the issue that was most pertinent was: How much time will the intransigent Palestinian Arabs be given by the Trump plan (with which Netanyahu agreed to cooperate), before Israel can move ahead with sovereignty more extensively than the 30% specified in that plan?
Now there’s a different issue: When will Israel start applying sovereignty? Today, from a knowledgeable source I heard that four years is the projected time frame. We must keep the issue alive. The question of how much of Judaea & Samaria would become sovereign Israel at that point (i.e., would the Trump plan still be in play) is one of many that cannot be answered now.
There is too much to get through in the interim – most significantly the US elections. Their importance cannot be exaggerated!! And Emrati leaders are mindful of the implications.
Dr. Moti Kedar, an associate with the BESA Center, says the announcement of the accord was timed with this in mind. The UAE, terrified of Iran at its border, considers it imperative that Donald Trump be re-elected as president because of his tough stand: renewal of sanctions on Iran, rejection of the Iran deal, etc. It is their hope that the final deal can be struck just shortly before the elections, thereby giving Trump a PR boost to help him achieve victory.
There is one other issue regarding the UAE that is of major significance, and that is the possibility that America may grant the UAE permission to purchase F-35 stealth fighter jets, the world’s most sophisticated fighters. To date, 11 countries have purchased the F-35, most in Europe, and only Israel in the Middle East.
At first there were charges that a secret annex in the new accords provided for the possibility of such a sale. The US has put out a statement vehemently denying this. But of course, the US is capable of proceeding with a sale outside of this particular accord.
The issue here is the need for Israel to maintain a qualitative military edge (QME) with regard to weaponry provided to nations in the Middle East. And the statement issued by the US provided assurance that this qualitative edge would be maintained. The catch is that the QME is determined not by Israel, but by the US military and Congress.
Netanyahu also released information regarding his opposition to such a sale and the fact that he has registered this with the US government.
The first indication from a US official that America indeed might sell F-35s to the UAE came from Ambassador David Friedman.
Any future sale of F-35s to the UAE would be governed by the American obligation to maintain Israel’s QME, Friedman said. How that would be so was not made clear, but one factor did occur to me that is worthy of mention: Israel is the only country which has purchased F-35s that is permitted to customize them. It certainly seems as if this does provide an edge:
“…the modified version…called F-35 “Adir”—include[s] a specialized helmet display…, a data link modification that would share sensor information with friendly forces, and radar-jamming pods…
“The F-35’s stealth capability is reduced when the plane carries missiles on its wings…So, Israel Aerospace Industries has been developing wings that would allow the planes to carry missiles and still remain relatively undetectable by radar…
“The IDF is also preparing the upgraded F-35 for cyber-conflict—recalling Edward Snowden’s revelations in 2015 on Chinese hacking of the fighter planes…”
Friedman indicated that the procurement and manufacturing process would take years in any event. We would be looking at perhaps eight years – during which time it would be possible to assess the strength of the UAE-Israel accord and the wisdom of moving ahead.
President Trump followed with a similar statement, saying that this is under consideration but that no decision has yet been made. Were it to be made, it would take a considerable amount of time before the UAE would have planes. And now Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in the country and is offering similar assurances regarding the need to maintain Israel’s qualitative edge.
There have been charges levelled at our prime minister that he is not really registering objections to this potential sale: Were he serious about this, it is being said, he would have consulted Blue & White, which is headed by prior IDF chiefs of staff, and security personnel. And this, he has not done.
This rang loud bells for me. It is easy to conclude that Netanyahu is so enamored of the idea of the accord that he is ready to ignore potential risks generated by placing F-35s in Emrati hands. I reached out to a contact with intelligence connections in whom I have a great deal of confidence and was reassured.
If indeed Netanyahu does decide not to register objections on this potential sale, said my contact, this may well be the right decision:
Netanyahu’s primary concern is Israeli security. The danger is not from the UAE but from Iran. The UAE is not focused on attack on Israel, but on having the best military equipment possible to contend with Iran at its border. Iran terrifies the UAE. (One of the reasons for the accord is the desire of the UAE to share in Israeli intelligence and know-how regarding Iran.)
In point of fact, the distance from the UAE to Israel cannot be traversed by the F-35 without in-air fueling capacity, which the UAE lacks, but which Israel possesses. On the other hand, it is obvious that the UAE would be readily able to attack Iran without difficulty. And down the road this might serve Israel well.
Thus, it seems, have times changed.
I will continue my “mission” in my next posting. Here I provide a brief summary of current happenings:
We have been contending with horrendous problems from Gaza. Sometimes as many as 30-plus fires are ignited in southern Israel in a day by incendiary balloons sent over the border; some of those balloons carry explosives.
Additionally, there have been occasional rocket attacks, and even the diverting of raw sewage into Israel.
A newly developed laser weapon to take down balloons is being utilized, Hamas military targets have been attacked, and punitive measures such as halting of fuel shipments and limiting range for fishing have been put in place. None of this has been sufficient to stop the attacks. On the contrary, Hamas is making demands – much has to do with an additional infusion of cash from Qatar.
But it is also clear that Iran is spurring this heightened aggression because of the UAE accord.
This is an intolerable situation and mayors in the south are demanding a genuine solution.
What has been of deep concern is the incessant and unbearable verbal sniping inside our so-called unity government. Far too much time has been wasted on this, rather than on attending to the problems of the nation – the continuing scourge of Coronavirus along with the situation in Gaza and more.
I am hardly alone in the disgust I have felt with all of this – and I make no bones about it. This is not the norm for our nation, which usually rallies in a spirit of cooperation during crises. We need a new, effectively functioning government. But just not at this moment, because of the stress of Corona and concomitant fiscal problems.
Until today (Monday) the specter of an election hung over us because of feuding between Likud and Blue & White with regard to the budget parameters. If not passed by tonight the law required the Knesset to dissolve and elections to be held.
Compromise legislation proposed by MK Zvi Hauser (Derech Eretz) – bless him! – to postpone the budget deadline to December 3 and freeze political appointments has been accepted by Netanyahu and will go through. I suspect I will have a good deal more to say about this.
And the good news items:
Nelly Grussgott, a courageous 90-year old Holocaust survivor has just made aliyah. In the airport she was greeting by grandchildren and great-grandchildren who hugged her enthusiastically through a plastic sheet to protect her from Corona. Love prevails here, surmounting a crazy situation.
And see what extraordinary measures the IDF took to save a baby Griffon Vulture, an endangered species.
There’s a lesson here: When the goal is clear, and everyone works together with determination, amazing things result. If only!!