Israel is following up expansion of its diplomatic presence in the Persian Gulf by promoting, according to a report from the Israeli television channel i24News, a “defense alliance” to include itself, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. The would-be Arab members of the alliance appear wary of getting that deeply in bed with Israel, but the move puts into perspective the recent upgrading of relations between Israel and several Arab states.
Few developments have been as overly lauded as this upgrading, on which someone bestowed the august label “Abraham Accords,” as if harmony had suddenly broken out among adherents of the world’s monotheistic religions. Certainly, in general, it is better for all countries in a region to have full relations with all other countries in the region than not to have them, if only as assurance that people are talking to each other. But the main driver of the hosannas for the Israeli-Arab relationship upgrade is not any breakout of goodwill and peace. It is instead the strong desire of the Israeli government to demonstrate that continued festering of its conflict with the Palestinians and continued de facto annexation of Palestinian-inhabited territory will not condemn Israel to pariahdom.
Whatever the Israeli government desires significantly affects, of course, how any matter is treated in American political discourse. In the matter at hand, this connection was especially conspicuous during the Trump administration, which hyped the relationship upgrades not only to appeal to constituencies that follow the Israeli government’s lead but also to claim the upgrades as foreign policy “accomplishments” in a presidency with a scarcity of them.