How is the signing of the Abraham Accords shaping a new reality in the Middle East? What role can Europe and Italy play? What are the implications of the Russian invasion of Ukraine for the MENA region? Geopolitica.info interviewed professor Uzi Rabi, director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies of Tel Aviv (Israel), to shed light on the dynamics that are shaping the new Middle East.
Almost two years have passed since the signing of the Abraham Accords. Could you give us an initial assessment of the outcomes of this new alignment?
This is definitely something that changed the region, with the potential to shape another reality. The most important thing in the Abraham Accords is that Arab states, while dealing with their own problems, jumped to the conclusion that Israel is not the enemy and that they can cooperate with and talk to Israel. The second thing is that there is a new geopolitical panorama, with the Arab states that normalized their relation with Israel even if there is no solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, yet. This says by itself that there is huge potential for different realignments and that simple fact creates a kind of Middle East which is very different from the one we used to have before.
How are the Abraham Accords shaping a new Middle East, both in the strategic domain and in the people-to-people dimension?
About the strategic relevance of the Abraham Accords, I have just said that there is huge potential for new realignments. Arab-Israeli cooperation against many challenges – geopolitically speaking – is pretty evident. But on top of that we should also remind ourselves that there is a huge cooperation in many other fields related, for example, to the “ecological challenges”. Of course, when it comes to economics and society at large, this is very promising. I would also say that, in sharp contrast to the peace treaties that Israel signed with both Egypt and Jordan, what we do see with the Abraham Accords is that we are developing a sort of people-to-people connection as well. This is very important because, for example, we can see cooperation in the academia and in the cultural life. When you have that kind of link between people, that is something that bears huge potential in order to create a sort of intimacy. This is definitely different. We do hope that it can make a kind of a breakthrough in the historic rivalries or hostility between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East.
The Israeli President, Isaac Herzog, declared in an interview with Israel Hayom that he hopes to visit publicly Saudi Arabia soon. How do you assess that declaration? What are the constraints that are preventing Riad from joining the Abrahamic framework?
Saudi Arabia is definitely part of the change in the Middle East that I previously described. Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince, is trying to provide a different direction to the kingdom. We do see that in many things, even if partially, related to women and society. Even though he is one of the “triggers” and one of the supporters of the Abraham Accords – for instance, Bahrain could not have signed that kind of treaty with Israel without a strict approval from Saudi Arabia – it is still difficult for Saudi Arabia to come to the front stage because of different reasons. First of all, Saudi Arabia is a sort of “religious state” which holds the most sacred sites of Islam and it has a significant religious establishment. Even people who are out of that establishment but are religious would not see it (the Abraham Accords n.d.r.) positively, yet. And I think that what Saudi Arabia needs is just much more time in order to make sure that there would not be pressures coming from within, politically and religiously. In the meantime, Saudi Arabia and Israel cooperate in many fields, from security to geopolitics and, of course, what I have mentioned earlier, from ecological issues to scientific projects. This is something that is well known.
What could be the Italy’s role within the Abrahamic framework? And Europe?
Regarding the European role…this is in very important and in my opinion significant. Europe could be a sort of auxiliary wheel by which further developing the positive outcomes of the Abraham Accords. First of all, when it comes to academia, scientific and culture cooperation, we have several tripartite accords with the presence of Arab and Israeli institutions which strive to cooperate in many fields. But going back to the strategic level, this is where the crucial things stand in my opinion. Europe can be important in further developing such realignments in the Middle East. And Europe can benefit from it. One example could be the Mediterranean gas project, which is far away from the Gulf but UAE, for example, are trying to work on creating more reliable maritime corridor in the region. Of course, that could be very constructive in the supply of gas and oil. The second element is Italy. Italy can be helped by us but, at the same time, it can help us, both Arab states and Israel. I am referring to the attempt of creating a more comfortable atmosphere in the region at large. And maybe Europe and Italy can use the Abraham Accords to bring in new solutions, even if partials, to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I do think that this is a crucial stage where Europe has a lot to do, and the Abraham Accords could work as a new platform to do that.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine is indirectly impacting the MENA region, mostly in economic terms. Do you see a connection between what is happening in Europe and the future developments of the Abrahamic format?
Well, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is another major event that has many ramifications in the Middle East. Two things should be recorded. Firstly, the energetic dimension where it is clear that Russia provides Europe almost half of the gas consumption that the European countries need. There must be an alternative coming from the MENA region which can come from states like Qatar or Algeria. Secondly, I think we should talk about the food security issue. Ukraine and Russia provide to the Middle Eastern countries a large part of basic commodities. Now we see that some countries like Tunisia and Egypt are already facing some problems due to the price increases, which are skyrocketing. This can represent a heavy burden on the shoulder of their economies. Basically, they are being helped by some regional states like UAE and Saudi Arabia and others, even Israel. Taking it from a different perspective, there is another problem that comes from the Ukrainian saga. Here there is a situation where a “bully” (Russia, n.d.r.) is smashing a peaceful country like Ukraine. This is another reminder to the Middle East. When there are such bullies – and there were examples like Saddam Hussein which played that role in the past, now there is Iran – this is a reminder for the other Middle Eastern countries to come together and to ally in order to ease the tension. So, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is something that should be taken into account due to the several ramifications we are witnessing in the region.