Will the Abraham Accords get a second wind? Israel’s Regional Cooperation Minister Issawi Frej predicted that more Arab states will normalize relations with Israel next year. This followed Israel’s chargé d’affaires speaking with Indonesia’s defense minister on the sidelines of a security conference in Bahrain in November, sparking rumors that Indonesia may be the next Muslim country to join the Abraham Accords. Reportedly, the Trump administration was on the verge of expanding the Abraham Accords to Indonesia and Mauritania but were prevented from doing so once the administration’s term expired. Additionally, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan discussed normalization of Israel-Saudi ties with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, but MBS reportedly requested improved relations with the U.S. in exchange. Such a deal is a long shot, given the Biden administration’s history of gratuitous anti-Saudi policies.
In addition to potential deals with Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and others, existing relations between Israel and the UAE, Morocco and Bahrain have grown further in recent weeks.
Defense. Military cooperation has grown amongst the signatories of the Abraham Accords. Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and U.A.E.’s EDGE Group signed a deal to jointly produce military and civilian UAVs and maintain Israel’s advanced electro-optic arrays in a center in the Emirates. At Dubai’s Air Show, IAI displayed its drones while Raphael showed off its anti-drone technology, and Abu Dhabi’s crown prince spoke with the CEOs of both of these Israeli defense firms. Israeli arms maker Elbit Systems formed Elbit Systems Emirates, which aims to “seek to foster a long-term cooperation with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Armed Forces.”
The signatories of the Abraham Accords, by increasing defense coordination, have sent not-so-subtle messages to Iran recently. Israeli fighter jets escorted U.S., bombers at least twice in November near the Persian Gulf. Israel, the United States, UAE and Bahrain held a joint naval exercise in the Red Sea. A senior officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, stated that the purpose of the drill was in part “to prevent naval terror and also to retaliate, when we must, when it’s needed, against what the Iranians are doing.” A joint air drill with these four countries may be on the horizon.
Another significant development is the growing Israel-Morocco defensive alignment. Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz travelled to Morocco to sign a defense MOU with the country, which marked the first ever such agreement between Israel and an Arab country. One Israeli defense ministry official noted that this MOU is “unprecedented” and more significant than defense ties with Jordan and Egypt. The MOU will also facilitate intelligence sharing between the two countries and Israeli arms sales to Morocco. Some within the Israeli defense establishment believe that the MOU will later expand to joint defense drills. While in Morocco, Gantz met with Morocco’s top brass, including its defense minister, foreign minister, head of the intelligence services and the high command of the Royal Moroccan Armed Forces. Morocco wanted to use this meeting to check its rival, Islamist Algeria–and the message was received, as Algeria is freaking out.
Additionally, Israel and the UAE are continuing to look for ways to cooperate in next-generation battlefields. Israel and the UAE joined Morocco, Bahrain, the U.S., Germany and Greece in a simulated defense of a future cyber-attack on the international airline industry. The Israeli and Emirati defense establishments are also currently brainstorming ways to work together in space defense, including potential cooperation in launching satellites. Israel and the UAE are two out of only 13 countries that can launch satellites.
Energy and water. In a massive three-way energy/water deal, an Emirati firm has agreed to build a solar power plant in Jordan, which will provide electricity to Israel, in exchange for an Israeli plant providing desalinated water to Jordan. Israel Energy Minister Karine Elharrar called this deal the “most significant” event in Israel-Jordan relations since the 1994 peace agreement between the two countries.
Trade. In trade, the economy ministers of Israel and the UAE have launched talks to finalize a free trade agreement between the two countries. As of mid-November, the two countries have traded $500 million in goods in 2021, as compared to $125 million in 2020. Israel intends the free trade agreement to encompass intellectual property rights, e-commerce, goods and services, government procurement and regulation. OurCrowd, one of the largest Israeli venture capital firms, has secured a license to do business in the UAE through the Abu Dhabi Global Market.
Innovation. In innovation, the UAE embassy in Israel hosted a business forum on Israeli innovation and technology. SupPlant, an Israeli firm that uses technology to monitor the water that plants receive, is now working in the UAE to water palm trees with 50 percent less water. Owls for Peace, an Israeli company that uses owls as a natural form of pest control, is currently in talks to expand to Dubai.
Aviation. In aviation, Israel’s IAI signed a deal with Dubai’s national airline Emirates to convert four Boeing passenger planes to cargo planes. This followed a deal in August between IAI and Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways Engineering to set up a facility in Abu Dhabi to convert Boeing passenger planes to cargo planes. Because of the omicron COVID-19 variant, direct flights between Casablanca and Tel Aviv via Royal Air Maroc, and between Dubai and Tel Aviv via Emirates, have been delayed.
Diplomacy. In diplomacy, Bahrain welcomed Israel’s first ambassador to the country in Manama.
The Abraham Accords are on the verge of a revival due to enhanced cooperation between the existing signatories and signs of interest from others. Hopefully the Biden administration’s anti-Saudi measures, its continued push to appease Iran, its support for a Palestinian consulate in Jerusalem and its continued posture against “settlements” in Judea and Samaria will not hinder progress.