THERE has been an overflowing of bonhomie between the Gulf Arabs and Israel over the past few months, much of it engineered by the Trump administration. It was barely a secret that Tel Aviv and the sheikhdoms had been enjoying clandestine relations for some time, and last year’s so-called Abraham Accords, brokered by the US, saw relations established between Israel and the UAE and later Bahrain.

While the parties involved — the US, Israel and the Gulf sheikhs — gushed over the prospects of ‘peace’, more critical voices said the Palestinians had been thrown under the bus by their Arab ‘brothers’. Moreover, it was said that the alliance was basically being formulated to counter Iran, a country both the Israelis and their Gulf allies consider their arch-nemesis.

Now, it appears these suspicions are being confirmed, as the outlines of a military alliance between the Israelis and the Gulf potentates is shaping up. Talking to the media on Tuesday, Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said that while it would not be right to term it a “defence pact”, there is a process under way of “setting up [a] special security arrangement” between Israel and its friends in the Gulf.

While the Gulf states — and indeed any other states within the Muslim world — are free to choose their friends and enemies, forming alliances to counter any member of the Islamic comity of nations is a matter of grave concern. Already Iran and Israel have been fighting a proxy war in Lebanon and Syria; now, as Israel has established an official toehold in the Gulf, the situation is likely to escalate.

An Israeli-owned vessel was recently attacked in the Gulf of Oman, an attack Tel Aviv blamed on Tehran, which denied involvement. Moreover, the Israelis have regularly been targeting Iranians and their allied militias in Syria. Should this confrontation spill over into the Gulf — Iran has said it will target US bases in the region if attacked — the results would be catastrophic.

Instead of joining controversial military alliances that will disturb the balance of power in the region, the Gulf Arabs need to resolve their differences with Iran at the negotiating table, while Tehran should also respond positively to Arab concerns. Moreover, Israel must refrain from taking any provocative steps. The Arabs and Iranians must not fall into a trap as they will be the primary sufferers in case of conflict as outsiders watch.

Published in Dawn, March 4th, 2021

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