A month ago, a prominent Gulf Arab State, the United Arab Emirates, agreed to formally normalize its relations with Israel under a U.S-brokered deal which was scheduled to be signed at a White House ceremony hosted by Trump in September 15. President Donald Trump announced the latest Arab-Israeli peace deal was in the Oval Office on the anniversary of the September 11th, 2001, terrorist attack. The deal will include an exchange of ambassadors and a series of agreements in fields including high tech and tourism, but no military alliance mentioned in the deal. 

The agreements are taking place as Republican Trump seeks a second term on November 3, trailing Democratic candidate Joe Biden in several opinion polls. Foreign policy has not worked out as he might want it to. He is eager to sell himself as a peacemaker even as he clangs sabers against Iran. Trump’s pro-Israel moves have been seen, in part, as an effort to pillow his appeal to orthodox Christian voters, an important chunk of his political base.

When signed, Bahrain will become the fourth Arab state to recognize Israel. It took 26 years from Israel’s 2nd peace agreement with an Arab state to the 3rd peace agreement, and now it took only 29 days from the 3rd peace agreement to the 4th. Making Egypt (Mar.1979) 1st, Jordan (Oct.1994) 2nd, United Arad Emirates (Aug 2020) 3rd and Bahrain (Sep. 2020) 4th. Other Arab nations believed to be on the apex of fully recognizing Israel include Oman and Sudan. The region’s magnate, Saudi Arabia may also be on the verge of a deal. The Bahrain-Israel peace agreement could not happen without a Saudi green light.

Riyadh is under humongous pressure to normalize relations with Tel Aviv, but cannot because of its position as the custodian of Islam’s Holy Places and the unpopularity of this idea on the streets.  Both UAE and Bahrain agreements were mainly worked out by Trump’s son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner, who lead the administration’s efforts to broker a peace deal between Bahrain and Israel.

Bahrain was offered up as a commiseration that will keep Riyadh in Trump’s good poise.

United Arab Emirates peace agreement deal with Israel holds the clause to halt the annexation of the occupied West Bank land sought by the Palestinians. But Bahrain’s agreement doesn’t include such concessions. Does the UAE – Bahrain peace agreement denote the same?

UAE’s population remains small and the confederation has no lore of standing up to the country’s absolutism. Bahrain showcases a far-different country. One of the smallest countries in the world located in the Persian Gulf. Bahrain covers an area of merely 760 square kilometers. It has made it a trading stop and a naval defensive position. The island is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet and a recently built British naval base.

Bahrain has some serious issues with Iran. Tehran’s growing influence in the Middle East has become a headache. In May 2017 a summit of 55 Muslim countries along with the US was held in Riyadh where rooting global terrorism was discussed. Upon meeting the Saudi premiere and leaders of Sunni countries, including Bahrain discussed the growing influence of Iran in the region. Pressure from Iran’s growing influence and involvement in the region has resulted in Bahrain’s support for the Israeli stance against Iran and brought the countries closer.

The May 2018 incident of Israel-Iran in Syria was a recent example when Bahrain expressed support Israel’s “right to defend itself” stance. In February 2019, both Bahrain and Israel participated in a security conference in Warsaw, Poland where Iran’s growing influence was discussed. Subsequently, relationships between Israel and the Gulf countries grew stronger.

Bahrain is exceedingly aware of threats posed by Iran, an apprehension that comes from Bahrain’s majority Shiite citizens, despite being ruled since 1783 by the Sunni family. Tehran under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi had pushed to take over the island after the British left. Though Bahrainis in 1970 overwhelmingly supported becoming an independent nation and the U.N. Security Council unanimously backed that.

Since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, Bahrain’s rulers have blamed Tehran for outfitting militants on its soil. Iran denies the assertions. Bahrain’s Shiite majority has accused the government of treating them like second-class citizens. The Shiites joined pro-democracy activists in demanding more political freedoms in 2011 at the time when Arab Spring protests were in full swing and swept across the wider Middle East. Saudi and Emirati troops ultimately helped furiously put down the corroboration. Due to human rights concerns, the Obama administration also halted the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Bahrain, which the Trump administration dropped.

The latest Bahrain-Israeli peace agreement after UAE normalizing relations with Israel to normalize relations may be part of a bigger package in the region. It’s not about peace; it’s not about normalizing relations between countries. We might be witnessing an alliance, a military alliance being created in the region, may be an Arab-Israel NATO to disc Iran’s growing influence in the region.

Ali Asad has completed his masters in Political Studies from the University of the Punjab. His main area of interest is in capacity building, governance, education, human development, socio-political and socio-economic state of affairs in South East Asian region; focusing Pakistan. He is pursuing M Phil in Public Policy.

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