Two years of the Abraham Accords
Sep 21, 2022 | AIJAC staff
This Update contains two pieces outlining and analysing the extraordinary progress that has been made in Israeli relations with the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco since the Abraham Accords normalising relations were signed in Sept. 2020 – and what remains to be done. It also contains an essential backgrounder on the ongoing Israeli-Lebanon maritime boundary dispute, and the threat of war with Hezbollah it has precipitated.
We lead with Jerusalem Post strategic affairs writer Seth Frantzman, who begins by outlining the latest developments in the ongoing blossoming of relationships. These include an important visit by senior UAE officials to Israel and a major military innovation conference hosted by the IDF. Summarising the numerous other developments in economic, military and diplomatic relations since 2020, Frantzman makes the important point that the Abraham Accords are also having positive effects on other relationships, including with Egypt, Jordan and India. For this complete summary of the startling developments of the last two years, CLICK HERE.
Next up is former Israel National Security Advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat, who focuses more on what needs to be done to further capitalise on the considerable achievements of the Abraham Accords to date. He stresses that sustaining and further developing the relationships that have been built will require “effort and investment, initiative, creativity and constant innovation.” He then sets out a five-point plan for Israeli to fully capitalise on its post-Abraham Accords opportunities. For all Ben-Shabbat’s insights on building on what has already been achieved over the last two years, CLICK HERE.
Finally as noted above, we also have an essential backgrounder on the Israeli-Lebanon maritime boundary dispute situation, which makes good use of the extraordinary range of expertise on tap at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Simon Henderson compiled the piece, and called in six other Insititute scholars, including Ehud Yaari, Matthew Levitt and David Makovsky, to offer insights on this volatile dispute based on their areas of expertise. The backgrounder canvasses the energy issues at stake, the Israeli, Lebanese, US and Syrian approaches, and assesses the danger of war in the near future. Given that this is an issue that could come to a head any day now, this backgrounder is strongly recommended. To read it, CLICK HERE.
Readers may also be interested in…
- Additional articles reviewing the achievements of the two years of the Abraham Accords from Jason Isaacson of the American Jewish Committee and Gerald M. Feierstein and Yoel Guzansky of the Middle East Institute.
- An article on the opportunities to improve Israel-Singapore ties in the wake of the Abraham Accords.
- With an election in Israel coming up on Nov. 1, a guide to the parties contesting it.
- Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi created headlines by questioning whether the Holocaust happened in an interview with the US version of “60 Minutes”. Columnist Ruthie Blum points out both that no one should be surprised at what he said, and that Raisi made other statements almost as shocking in the interview that got no attention.
- Top strategic expert Jonathan Spyer explains the reason for a recent uptick in Israeli attacks on Iranian military sites in Syria.
- Some examples from the many stories and comments now appearing at AIJAC’s daily “Fresh AIR” blog:
- AIJAC Research Associate Dr. Ran Porat’s analysis of the latest International Atomic Energy Agency reports on Iran shows that Teheran’s nuclear breakout time is now effectively zero.
- Oved Lobel’s look at the “Axis of Proliferation” – featuring Pakistan, China, North Korea and Iran – which has been revealed since Israel launched a strike on Syria’s North Korean-built Al Kibar plutonium reactor 15 years ago.
- AIJAC video profiles of Israel’s fifth and sixth Prime Ministers, Yitzhak Rabin and Menachem Begin.
The Abraham Accords brought success – what are the challenges Israel faces ahead?
The importance reaches far beyond the UAE and Israel, to Israel’s ties to India; as well as peace with Morocco, Bahrain and other countries.
By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
Jerusalem Post, Sept. 18, 2022
Israeli PM Yair Lapid welcomes United Arab Emirates Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan (right), who was leading a UAE delegation to Israel, on Sept. 15 (Photo: Haim Zah, Israeli Government Press Office)
Two years after the signing of the Abraham Accords, relations between the United Arab Emirates and Israel are flourishing. A series of recent high-level meetings and events illustrate how the countries are forging ahead, showcasing that the agreements signed two years ago weren’t a hollow PR stunt. The importance reaches far beyond the two countries to Israel’s ties to India, as well as to peace with Morocco, Bahrain and other countries.
President Isaac Herzog attended the UAE Embassy reception celebrating the two-year anniversary of the Accords’ signing last Thursday in Herzliya. The event showcased how the Accords have brought together people from the region and helped create an atmosphere of peace, hope and prosperity.
The event was hosted by the UAE Ambassador to Israel, Mohammed Al Khaja, and was attended by UAE Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
In his speech, Herzog praised the UAE’s leadership, calling Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed “ a man of peace.” Herzog made many points that were likely shared by those attending and which symbolize the larger context in the region.
“The signing of the Abraham Accords in September 2020 was a very moving occasion,” he said. “It was moving because of the great potential that we wished to see in the accords, and because of the vision we were praying for, for the State of Israel and for all nations in the region. Witnessing that moment of historic importance, we hoped and prayed that this moment would provide us a path to the future to which we aspire: a future of partnership and prosperity, of renewal and peace.”
Herzog highlighted the important work of the last two years. He also mentioned other peace partners, such as Egypt and Jordan.
“On behalf of us all, I hope that we shall see more and more groundbreaking accords, including with our close neighbors, the Palestinians, and that the historic process, gaining unimaginable momentum, of Israel’s integration into this region will continue, layer upon layer,” he said.
UAE delegation visits Israel
Bin Zayed’s delegation to Israel last week included the UAE economic and tourism minister and officials, a testament to the importance the country gives to the Accords, and proof that economic ties and sustainability issues were on the agenda.
During the Thursday speech, Herzog also praised the leap in cooperative ventures between Israel and Morocco. His speech came during a week when the Israel Defense Forces hosted an International Operational Innovation Conference for the first time in history.
“The conference included the participation of chiefs of staff and commanders from dozens of militaries from around the world. The conference constituted a significant platform for strengthening the operational cooperation between the participating countries, while also providing an opportunity for intra-military learning. Approximately 3,000 IDF commanders participated in the week-long conference and transferred its contents to their soldiers,” the IDF said.
Significantly, seven chiefs of staff from Greece, Cyprus, Morocco, the Czech Republic, the Republic of Poland and the United States attended the event, in addition to 24 military delegations from around the world. Attendees examined multi-dimensional live-fire exercises, and the simulation also emphasized innovation in the modern battlefield, the IDF said.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz was expected to meet Bin Zayed on Sunday. Last week, Prime Minister Yair Lapid met Al Nahyan. Meanwhile, Herzog is also expected to visit Bahrain in coming months as a guest of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.
The wheels are in motion in the region, all emanating from the Abraham Accords. The trend in UAE-Israel ties is clear.
Ties with Bahrain are also strong.
“As citizens of this region, we must celebrate the milestones between our nation….If this past year is any indication, the relationship between Bahrain and Israel is strong and will continue to flourish,” Ambassador Houda Nonoo (ret.), the former Ambassador of Bahrain to the United States, said.
Partnerships between Israel and the Gulf
A RECENT FREE-TRADE deal came as bilateral trade has exceeded $600 million, according to reports in April. An important summit that links Israel, the UAE, India and the US, the I2US summit, took place in July. This is also an important trend; knitting together countries such as Israel and the UAE as part of a wider partnership with the US and India.
Broadening the circle of relations – US President Joe Biden, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid and UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan attended the first-ever I2U2 virtual summit this July (Image: Youtube)
These are one of many partnerships that are linking Israel and the Gulf and they clearly showcase how much the Gulf states and Israel have to share with each other. This is because in a shifting world order, these countries have much in common. They also have similar partners in places like Greece and France, and ties to places like the UK.
Part of a strategic system that stretches from Australia to Europe, important stops like Tel Aviv and Dubai are clearly on the map, and it makes sense that they work together. As such, they are stronger than the sum of their parts; meaning together, Israel and the UAE and partners such as Bahrain, Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, the US and India become stronger exponentially through the Abraham Accords.
In addition, business and innovation partnerships continue to grow. In early September the Abu Dhabi Global Market, Abu Dhabi’s leading international financial center, and Tel Aviv-based nonprofit organization Start-Up Nation Central announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding to advance collaborations between the innovation ecosystems of Israel and the UAE.
The UAE is expanding with various goals for its economy in 2050. It is innovating in projects such as work on climate change, transportation infrastructure healthcare and space exploration, according to recent reports of the UAE’s emphasis on new technologies. Much of this ties in with Israel’s own successes.
The UAE’s success is also linked to partnerships with Saudi Arabia. There continues to be hope regarding potential Israel-Saudi ties. An article at Bloomberg noted recently that the kingdom and Israel are obviously no longer enemies, but not yet friends. Another article at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Israel described the process as normalization at a snail’s pace. There is a lot of hope in this regard. In July, Saudi Arabia ended an airspace ban, and there is much else to be optimistic about.
Despite the many positive developments that have occurred in the last two years, there are still hurdles and challenges for the countries involved in the Abraham Accords. Some of the expectations were not met on both sides. In addition, the business culture of Israel and the UAE are not the same. Travel issues, such as tourism going both ways, is also an issue, with Israelis going to the Gulf but apparently fewer visits to Israel.
In terms of security in the region and partnership with US Central Command, there are questions about incorporating Israel into more joint drills in the Red Sea with the Combined Maritime Forces of 34 countries that partner with the US. The recent launch of Combined Task Force 153 is important because it is multinational and focuses on the Red Sea.
Despite those challenges, the fruits of the Abraham Accords are apparent – not only in the banquet halls celebrating its second anniversary – but on the ground.
Seth J. Frantzman is Senior Middle East Correspondent and Middle East affairs analyst at the Jerusalem Post.
Abraham Accords: A promising start with challenges ahead
It is essential that we invest serious effort to bolster the framework of the normalization agreement and expand it, while doing our utmost to prevent Iran from wielding its negative influence to halt the trend of progress.
By Meir Ben-Shabbat
Israel Hayom, Sept. 16, 2022
IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi (right) during his groundbreaking visit to Morocco this past July. (Photo: IDF spokesperson unit)
As we celebrate the second anniversary of the Abraham Accords, we can look back with immense satisfaction at the rapid and methodical progress gained in building the relations between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco. The Abraham Accords have managed to overcome the thorny challenges posed by Israel’s political and security situation, and their very existence has now become part and parcel of our daily lives.
The inherent potential in the accords is far from being fully exhausted though, and has actually grown with the opportunities created following the warming of relations with Turkey and in light of the broader global economic challenges.
Despite this somewhat optimistic view, it is essential that we invest serious effort to bolster the framework of the Abraham Accords and expand it, while doing our utmost to prevent Iran from wielding its negative influence to halt the trend of progress.
In addition to the security-related activity, and the economic, commercial progress being made, the policymakers in Israel would do well to consider adopting the following steps:
Firstly, strengthening the circle of peace-supporting countries and expanding it. It is important to invite Sudan and Chad (which was unjustly left out of the states party to the accords) to participate in all forums and working groups. It is important for them too to enjoy the fruits of peace and benefit from their decision to engage in normalization with Israel. As, if this is not the case, it might well result in negative momentum, possibly even leading to withdrawal – either publicly declared or discreetly – from the agreement. This will serve to encourage additional countries to join too.
Secondly, recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara. Although Israel provided no outright commitment to this, there is clear expectation of this in Rabat, especially after Washington and others have declared their recognition.
Thirdly, the opening of an overland trade route via Israel (or from it) to the Gulf States. Such a route would be considerably more efficient and less expensive than those currently in use, it would provide significant economic profits to the regional states and to the EU states too, which would be able to benefit from it for both the import and export of vehicles. This would be a tremendous boost to trade among the member countries of the AbrahamAccords, while also contributing to the global economy.
Fourthly, expediting joint ventures for marketing solutions to globally urgent problems in the fields of energy, food and water, while exploiting the relative advantages of Israel and the Gulf States.
Fifthly, expanding educational and cultural initiatives to reinforce deeply-entrenched attitudes in favor of peace and so weaken separatist approaches and radical Islamic ideas.
Stern Matty, Wikimedia Commons)
This is a critical component for establishing peace at the popular level, between citizens and peoples, rather than just between states and governments.
Who said making peace was easy? Signing treaties is always a festive occasion, which uplifts the spirit, filling us with joy and optimism. However, just as with a marriage, the wedding ceremony is only the start. The main task lies ahead in the days and years that follow it. In order to build a life together, we must realize that this is something we cannot take for granted. It requires effort and investment, initiative, creativity and constant innovation. Every success along the way bolsters faith in the partnership together with the belief that this is indeed the right way ahead. The common experiences add emotion and inject new, vital energy into the process.
Despite the political fluctuations, the Abraham Accords have been and still remain an issue of consensus. This is not only due to the clear advantages in the security, economic and technological aspects of the agreements, but also because above all they express the sincere hope for genuine peace, based on strength and security, and subsequently for a much brighter future.
Meir Ben-Shabbat, a visiting senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, served as Israel’s national security adviser and head of the National Security Council between 2017 and 2021.
Israel’s Karish Gas Field: Diplomatic Opportunity or Casus Belli?
by Simon Henderson, Hanin Ghaddar, Matthew Levitt, Ehud Yaari, David Makovsky, David Schenker, Andrew J. Tabler
Sep 20, 2022
This PolicyWatch was compiled by Washington Institute fellow Simon Henderson and includes sections by his colleagues Hanin Ghaddar, Matthew Levitt, Ehud Yaari, David Makovsky, David Schenker, and Andrew Tabler.
Before the end of the month, Israel is scheduled to begin production at the Karish natural gas field off its northern coast. The government’s announcement has prompted threats from Lebanese Hezbollah, ambiguous comments from certain Israeli officials, and suggestions of a possible U.S.-orchestrated diplomatic breakthrough. Karish is much smaller than Israel’s current producing fields, Leviathan and Tamar, but it has generated much more attention of late because it lies close to the disputed dividing line between Lebanon and Israel’s exclusive economic zones (EEZs)—a festering disagreement that Beirut recently exacerbated by claiming an additional maritime area south of its previous declaration. Karish North, a separate field due to come into production next year, lies within this extra claim.
Map showing Israeli and Lebanese maritime border claims in the east Mediterranean. (This map was originally published on the MEES website.)
In addition to complicating the countries’ broader maritime negotiations, the Karish site is also sensitive because of its potentially heightened vulnerability to attack. Unlike the production apparatus for Leviathan and Tamar, which are hidden beneath the waves and connected by long pipelines to processing platforms near the shore, Karish is tethered to a production and storage vessel floating just above the field; the same arrangement will eventually be used for Karish North. This offers a tempting target to Hezbollah, which flew three drones toward the vessel on July 2 (Israel soon shot down the aircraft). And all of these tensions are growing against a backdrop of other sensitive and relevant developments, including imminent elections in Israel and the United States, the October departure of Lebanese president Michel Aoun, and the ongoing global energy crisis prompted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Whatever happens, all parties should be mindful of the challenges and timelines associated with offshore gas development. Typically, it takes five years from signing an initial contract before gas actually flows to a customer. The area must first be seismically surveyed, and a drilling rig must then be brought in to explore likely oil or gas deposits. In the deep waters of the East Mediterranean, each hole requires around ninety days to drill, and commercially viable finds usually cannot be confirmed until around day eighty-five or so. Additionally, each hole costs around $100 million—an expense that license holders will not take on until they secure a long-term sales agreement with the sovereign government (i.e., fifteen to twenty years).
Beirut knows that failing to reach a deal would cause an internal backlash, since the country’s economy cannot afford more tensions with the international community. The political leadership hopes that agreeing to a U.S.-brokered deal on a broad maritime boundary will open other doors, such as facilitating the transfer of Egyptian (in reality, Israeli) gas to Lebanon while easing IMF and World Bank demands for reform. Given the threat of additional sanctions on corrupt politicians and the promised benefits that new gas supplies would hold for economically entrenched elites, an agreement with Israel does not sound bad at this point.
Hezbollah has its own calculations on the matter but may likewise let it pass. Crippled by internal financial problems, challenges within its fighting force, and ongoing Israeli attacks on its weapons facilities in Syria, the organization is well aware that starting another war would result in more losses than gains—at least for the time being.
If an agreement is realized, all parties need to keep in mind that the energy sector is still Lebanon’s most corrupt and failed sphere. Hence, any compromises on reform requirements will only strengthen this corrupt system and, inevitably, Hezbollah itself.
Hezbollah’s Military Caution?
In June, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah warned that his forces would take action to prevent Israel from extracting Karish gas unless it makes concessions toward a final maritime boundary deal with Lebanon. Israeli security officials understood this threat as a significant departure from Hezbollah’s traditional redlines, under which the group would carry out reprisal attacks only if Israel strikes Lebanese territory or targets Hezbollah operatives.
Threatening Karish is risky for Hezbollah, since many observers believe the group does not want a full-fledged fight with Israel at a time when Lebanon is suffering severe political and financial crises. Yet Nasrallah has also seemingly concluded that the potential costs of taking this risk are outweighed by the benefits of claiming that Israel’s concessions on Karish and related matters are made possible by Hezbollah threats. After taking much flak domestically due to its intervention in the Syria war, the group likely wants to show that its weapons are now being used in the service of Lebanon’s interests, not Iran or Syria’s.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has repeatedly threatened war over the maritime boundary dispute – and there are worries he may feel obligated to act on these threats even though a war clearly is not in Hezbollah’s interest (Photo: Wikimedia Commons | Licence details)
Israel’s Financial and Security Stake
Despite Nasrallah’s repeated threats, Israel has not been deterred from proceeding with its Karish production plans, creating a dangerous round of brinkmanship that could result in escalating local hostilities or even a larger confrontation. According to Israeli intelligence assessments, now that Nasrallah has made such serious public statements and conveyed additional warnings through intermediaries, he may feel obligated to act on his explicit threats. For their part, Israeli leaders may have boxed themselves into a corner by publicly insisting that the project will not be delayed.
Regarding the broader maritime border negotiations, Nasrallah seemingly aims to strong-arm Israel into fully conceding the prospective Qana gas field, which straddles the proposed boundary. To compensate Israel for its share of the field (reportedly 20-30 percent, worth approximately $200-300 million), the United States apparently suggested that the firm QatarEnergy buy out the Russian company Novatek, which recently withdrew from its partnership with French Total and Italian Eni in this block. This type of “unitization” arrangement would enable Beirut to claim that it is not dealing directly with the “enemy.” Earlier this week, the Lebanese government announced that it will take over Novatek’s 20 percent share in Block 9 (the Qana area) and Block 4 (north of Beirut).
U.S. envoy Amos Hochstein is still working to remove other obstacles preventing an overall deal. Earlier today, he discussed the issue with Israel’s national security advisor and Foreign Ministry director on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York.
The timing of the Karish project seems to be a key matter for the U.S. and Israeli leaders. This is partly due to the uncertainty of what will emerge from Israel’s November 1 parliamentary election; any progress on offshore issues before then could be seen as an achievement for caretaker prime minister Yair Lapid. Another mystery is whether Iran will give its Hezbollah proxy the go-ahead to permit a Lebanese deal at a time of broad regional uncertainty. For now, the various hopeful signals surrounding a potential breakthrough suggest that Washington is quietly urging restraint on Karish in order to give the rest of the diplomatic process time to play out over the next month or so.
The Biden administration has defined resolving the maritime boundary dispute as a “key priority” that will promote regional stability. Yet while an agreement on this frontier may remove one source of conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, it is unlikely to alleviate their spiking tensions along the Blue Line, the land boundary that runs from the coast to the Syrian border. Moreover, any service contracts and revenue stemming from an EEZ agreement could result in funds leaking to Hezbollah—in fact, such diversions seem inevitable unless international authorities insist on sufficient oversight and a Lebanese sovereign wealth fund, which might encourage the transparent collection and disbursement of related revenue.
The Biden administration is also apparently keen on brokering a maritime deal soon because it may influence the outcome of Israel’s election. Prime Minister Lapid is currently running neck and neck with former leader Binyamin Netanyahu, and the White House would prefer a Lapid victory in order to further its goals of improving relations with the Palestinians and maintaining the status quo in the West Bank. Whatever the final terms of a maritime agreement with Lebanon, reaching a deal would burnish Lapid’s foreign policy credentials and potentially help him at the polls.
The Syria Angle
In addition to maritime talks, the United States has spent more than a year in drawn-out negotiations to broker a Jordanian-inspired deal for supplying Lebanon with more energy. Under its terms, electricity generated in Jordan from Israeli gas—along with certain amounts of Israeli gas itself—would be transported over Syrian territory to Lebanon.
Much of the plan’s controversy stems from the fact that Syria’s Assad regime would reportedly receive 8 percent of any electricity and gas transiting its territory as a form of in-kind payment—this despite its continued status as a target of sanctions via the U.S. Caesar Act, the European Union, and the Arab League. Northern Lebanon has just one electricity generation station that is both adjacent to the Arab Gas Pipeline and capable of using gas as a feedstock, so Syria is the only party in a position to generate the amount of electricity Beirut currently needs. The Assad regime is also eager for this arrangement because its own generation stations often sit idle due to lack of feedstock.
Israeli sources describe the plan as an energy extension of their country’s “good neighbors” policy toward the Syrian people during the civil war next door. In other words, Jerusalem has sought to show that it wishes Syrian citizens well even though their country remains dominated by Iranian and other proxy forces.
Lebanon’s decision to take over Novatek’s offshore stake could be part of a synchronized move toward an imminent maritime border agreement—one that also allows for Qatar’s entry into the license consortiums. Despite questions about the nature and substance of any agreement involving Lebanon and Israel (whether directly or, more likely, indirectly), the nascent deal appears to have traction, reportedly including significant Israeli concessions on the final boundary line. Yet it remains an open question whether any near-term agreements will serve as a foundation for broader bilateral progress between Israel and Lebanon or collapse within a few months like past deals.