Israel and the Gulf Countries: how relationships changeby Anna Maria Cossiga
From Gantz’s visit to Bahrein to Israel’s participation in the naval exercises of the United States Fifth Fleet in the Red Sea: How the relationships between Israel and the Gulf Countries are changing after the Abraham Accords.
The Abraham Accords, which were signed just over a year ago, are already bearing fruit, especially in the defence and economic sectors.
During last December’s visit to the UAE by Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, talks focused on developing bilateral relations, also in view of regional stability and security - a theme which was also emphasised in a later meeting between President Herzog and Sheikh bin Zayed in January.
Similar issues were also discussed during Defence Minister Benni Gantz’s visit to Bahrein on 3 February, during which Israel and Bahrein signed a Memorandum of Understanding to promote cooperation in the field of intelligence and to formalize cooperation between their respective defence industries. In commenting the positive developments in the relationship between Israel and the Gulf Countries that signed the Accords, analysts detect an evident will to strengthen cooperation against Iran.
The Israeli Defence Minister also visited the headquarters of the Fifth Fleet of the United States Navy in Bahrein. The kingdom is also the base for several operations of CENTCOM, a US organization which coordinates military activities in the Middle East, joined by Israel last year.
Gantz’s visit is significant because Israel took part in the International Maritime Exercise 2022 (IMX22), a US-led naval military exercise which saw the participation of approximately 60 countries, focusing on unmanned naval systems and the use of artificial intelligence. The event, which takes place every two years, started on 31 January and was opened in the US Fifth Fleet’s headquarters in Manama, Bahrein. This year, the exercise was scheduled to last 18 days and to take place in the Arabian Gulf, the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Oman, the Red Sea and off the east coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean. As announced by Gantz, the Israeli units carried out their exercises in the Red Sea.
This was the first time Israel participated in the IMX not only with the Emirates and Bahrein, but also with Saudi Arabia, Oman, Yemen and Pakistan, with which it does not have diplomatic relationships. When the announcement of the Israeli participation to the military manouvres was made public, it received extensive media coverage.
Although there are no official diplomatic relations, it has been widely known for years that there have been economic exchanges and collaboration in the defence and intelligence sector between Israel and other Arab countries. Representatives of Israeli institutions have repeatedly expressed the hope to see more countries sign the Abraham Accords – a concept also recently expressed by President Herzog during his visit to the Emirates. As Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said, “certain things take time”. However, while en route to Abu Dhabi, Bennet’s plane was exceptionally allowed to fly over Saudi Arabia’s airspace.