As people from Europe and Latin America begin to disassociate themselves from Israel due to its ongoing repression of the Palestinian people, the UAE and other Gulf states seem to be moving in the opposite direction. 

The UAE and Israel have held secret meetings arranged by the U.S. in recent months, according to U.S. officials. The Wall Street Journal revealed that Brian Hook, the U.S. special envoy for Iran, convened the meetings. The newspaper described the meetings as the latest sign of a steady thaw between Israel and the Gulf Arab nations based on their shared hatred of Iran.

Hook expressed his pleasure over the rapprochement at the Foreign Press Center in New York last month.

“If there is one nice thing that I can say about Iran’s foreign policy is that it has brought together Arabs and Israelis in ways we never thought possible.”

The meetings stemmed from a U.S.- brokered conference on Middle East security held in Warsaw in February. As head of the State Department’s Iran Action Group, Hook focused on bringing the countries together to coordinate a wide range of activities that would counter Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region.

The Scope

These two unlikely partners have a long history of courtship. In 2015, Israel established an official office in the UAE to represent its interests at the International Renewable Energy Agency, which is based in Abu Dhabi. The UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stressed then that the office’s existence did not represent a change in policy towards Israel, which the Arab state still refuses to recognize. But in 2017, pilots from the Emirates participated in a joint military exercise with the air forces of Greece, Italy, the U.S., and Israel.

The UAE has struck business deals with several Israeli firms.

The UAE has struck business deals with several Israeli firms, including an $800 million contract with AGT, a Swiss-based company owned by Israeli businessman Mati Kochavi. The agreement provided a comprehensive surveillance security system to protect the UAE’s strategic infrastructure and oil fields.

According to The Times of Israel, Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayemthe CEO of Dubai Port World-visited Israel in September 2018 to advance his business ties. DP World has had a longstanding relationship with Israel’s Zim shipping company.

Last year, Israelis participating at a judo tournament in Abu Dhabi were allowed to compete under their national flag for the first time. Emirati officials even permitted the playing of the Israeli national anthem, moving Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev to tears. Regev was later taken on a tour of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

Two months ago, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz made an unannounced visit to Abu Dhabi to attend a UN conference on climate change and to discuss the Iranian threat with his Emirati counterparts. After the visit, Katz’s Emirati counterpart Anwar Gargash said that dialogue with Israel was a positive step forward. He called the Arab world’s longtime boycott of Israel “a very wrong decision.”

Favoring Israel over the Palestinians

Analysts believe that the Emiratis have opted for this covert diplomacy with Israel to avoid the kind of condemnation that official recognition would elicit.

Mohamed Mohamed is the Executive Director of the Washington-based Jerusalem Fund and Palestine Center.

“These secret ties with Israel are believed to be cultivated with the help of Muhammad Dahlan, security advisor to the UAE’s Crown Prince Muhammad bin Zayed. Given that former Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman stated that he prefers Dahlan as successor to Mahmoud Abbas, it seems quite likely that Dahlan is indeed the primary connection between the UAE and Israel.”

He described Dahlan as a shady figure in Palestinian politics who has been accused of rampant financial corruption and collaboration with Israel.

So far, Mohamed says, the UAE has engaged Israel quietly to avoid facing serious public scrutiny from its people, who have historically supported the Palestinian cause. But the Gulf state is increasingly suggestive of a new normal with Israel that is irrespective of the country’s decades-long mistreatment of the Palestinian people.

Linkage to the ‘Deal of the Century’

The secret meeting organized by the U.S. last month appears to pave the way for the UAE and other Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, to promote the so-called deal of the century that President Trump said would be revealed after Israel’s elections this month.

Veteran U.S. negotiator Aaron David Miller told the Wall Street Journal that a shift in regional dynamics has elevated common concerns about Iran and has ultimately served as a catalyst for deeper cooperation between Israel and Arab countries that do not officially recognize Israel as a state.

“This is happening because of significant and profound regional changes that have altered the calculations of Arab nations.” Miller said.

The Palestinians fear that President Trump is trying to rally support from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain to pressure them into accepting a peace plan that falls far short of their demands.

The Palestinians fear that President Trump is trying to rally support from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain to pressure them into accepting a peace plan that falls far short of their demands.

Self-described American-Christian Zionist Dr. Mike Evans, who serves on Trump’s executive evangelical advisory board, has boasted of spending hours discussing the Palestinian-Israeli conflict with the crown princes of the UAE and Saudi Arabia. At the Jerusalem Post 8th annual conference in June, Evans called the leaders “more pro-Israel than a lot of Jews.”

Thus, creeping normalization of relations with Israel appears to be the way of the future for the UAE.