by Hugh Fitzgerald
The Biden Administration seldom mentions the Abraham Accords. Its lukewarm endorsement, both by Biden and Blinken, for what was undoubtedly the greatest diplomatic triumph of the Trump Administration, is painful to observe. Not only does the Biden Administration not full-throatedly endorse the Accords, but it shows no desire to work to enlarge them, by persuading other Arab states to emulate the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco. Just as disturbing, the Biden Administration has been holding up the sale of F-35s, the top-of-the-line Stealth fighter plane, that the UAE was promised as part of its agreement to normalize relations with Israel.
Now, four months into his presidency, Biden has finally approved the sale. A report on this exhibition of sanity is here: “Biden Administration to Proceed With $23 Billion Arms Sale to UAE,” JNS, April 14, 2021:
US President Joe Biden’s administration has told Congress it is proceeding with more than $23 billion in weapons sales to the United Arab Emirates, including advanced F-35 aircraft, armed drones and other equipment, congressional aides said on Tuesday….
The Democratic president’s administration had paused the deals that were agreed to by former Republican President Donald Trump in order to review them. The sales to the Gulf nation were finalized right before Trump left office.
The Trump administration told Congress in November it had approved the US sale to the UAE as a side deal to the Abraham Accords, a US-brokered agreement in September in which the UAE agreed to normalize relations with Israel.
In the last months of the Trump administration, Israel reached deals with the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco as part of the accords….
Israel said it did not object to the sales….
The State Department spokesperson said on Tuesday that the estimated delivery dates on the UAE sales, if implemented, were for after 2025 or later.
This provides extra protection for Israel. If in the next four years, the UAE continues to weave the ties that bind – trade, tourism, technology, sports, music, healthcare, people-to-people exchanges – with Israel, in 2025 the sale can go through. If, on the other hand, there are troubling signs that the UAE has become less committed to the Abraham Accords, there will be plenty of time for Washington to rethink the sale.
The government anticipated “a robust and sustained dialog with the UAE” to ensure a stronger security partnership, the spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
“We will also continue to reinforce with the UAE and all recipients of US defense articles and services that US-origin defense equipment must be adequately secured and used in a manner that respects human rights and fully complies with the laws of armed conflict,” the statement said….
The decision to honor Trump’s commitment to the sale of 50 F-15s to the UAE is a good sign. It suggests that the Biden Administration is coming around to recognizing the benefits of the Abraham Accords, and especially, noting the enthusiasm with which the Emirates have plunged headlong into their normalizing of ties with Israel, with Emirati businessmen, investors, bankers, and entrepreneuers arriving en masse, sealing deals with Israelis on technology, including in those areas such as solar energy, and water management (desalination, wastewater management, drip irrigation, producing water from the circumambient air) where Israel is a world leader, while their Israeli counterparts scour the Emirates looking for possible areas of investment and collaboration. And of course, $23 billion in weapons sales to the UAE would give a boost to the American economy, and these days, such a boost is not to be sneezed at.
What about the other Arab states in the Abraham Accords? In Bahrain, an American naval base (Naval Support Activity Bahrain) helps guarantee the unhindered passage of oil tankers and vessels in the Gulf, and also provides an American security umbrella to the Bahraini ruler, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, in case of Iranian attack. King Khalifa is a Sunni whose people are 60% Shi’a, and as a consequence, they chafe at his rule. Iran has also tried to foment discontent among the Shi’a Bahrainis. So far he has suppressed dissent with the help of Saudi and Pakistani mercenaries. Will the Biden Administration continue to offer its support to Bahrain, even if the ruler is opposed by the Shi’a majority, and even knowing that, were he to be overturned, Bahrain would move into the Iranian orbit and become part of the Shi’a crescent Teheran is intent on building from the Gulf to the Mediterranean? Some sentimental Bidenites may believe that Bahrain’s king should be cut loose in the name of “human rights” – there are simply many more Shi’a in the country than Sunnis, and many of them do not want a Sunni ruler, however enlightened King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa may be. Others in the administration more sensible, will argue that the King is indeed enlightened, and a Shi’a regime in Bahrain would only strengthen the chief threat to peace in the Middle East, and a mortal enemy of America and Israel — the Islamic Republic of Iran. They will argue, correctly, for continued support for the Bahrain King, and encourage him to strengthen his security, and other tie with Israel.
As for Morocco, the third Arab state to join the Abraham Accords, the Biden Administration cannot at this point renege on Trump’s offer to recognize Moroccan sovereignty in the Western Sahara, where the Polisario Front has been fighting a long war for the independence of the Sahrawi Arabs. The Moroccans were ecstatic when the Trump Administration recognized their sovereignty in the Western Sahara and any retreat from that recognition would precipitate a crisis between Morocco and the United States. That is one more problem in the Maghreb that we do not need.
Morocco has long been one of the most pro-American Arab states; its support for the U.S. has been sky-high ever since Washington’s decision to recognize Morocco’s sovereignty in the Western Sahara, but that could all be undone if the Biden Administration were to fail to honor Trump’s pledge to back Morocco against the claims of the Polisario Front. Though nothing publicly has been said, it’s certain that the Biden people will continue to honor that pledge.
Sudan agreed to normalize ties with Israel not only because of all the benefits it would receive from Israel, especially help for its farmers in water management (waste water management, desalinization, producing water from the ambient air, drip irrigation) and in solar energy, but because the Trump Administration agreed to remove it from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. This was not a favor to Sudan, but an act of justice. Sudan had, in fact, stopped all support for terrorists as soon as the dictator Omar al-Bashir was deposed in 2019. The Biden Administration will not undo what, even if the Abraham Accords were out of the picture, it should have done in taking Sudan off that list.
Now what? On the one hand, it appears that the Biden people, in approving the sale of 50 F-35s to the UAE, are willing to honor the pledge made by Trump to persuade the UAE to be the first Arab state to normalize ties with Israel. That’s a good sign.
On the other hand, the Administration has expressed no interest in further enlarging the Abraham Accords. There are no rumors of quiet outreaches by the Americans to likely candidates, the same ones mentioned – Oman, Mauritania, Indonesia — in the waning days of the Trump Administration. There has been not a single speech delivered by President Biden, Secretary of State Blinken, or National Security Advisor Sullivan, about the Abraham Accords, praising their existence and vowing to help persuade other Arab and Muslim states to join. The Biden Administration wants to put the Palestinians back in the center of things; the Abraham Accords shunted them to one side, by showing that Arab states were fully prepared to make peace and normalize ties with Israel without any movement on the Palestinian-Israeli front. This view is anathema to the peace-processors in the new administration.
Perhaps the Administration will come to its senses, recognize the great good being brought about by the Abraham Accords, in the views that Arabs and Jews hold of each other – especially to be observed in the remarkable development of ties between the UAE and Israel — and try to add a few more states as signatories to the Abraham Accords. As of now, the Administration has not even bothered to create a position in the State Department for an official tasked full-time with ”the encouragement and enlargement of the Abraham Accords.” Is that too much to ask?
First published in Jihad Watch.