How the Abraham Accords Will Change Security Cooperation in the Arabian Gulf
It will take time before we fully understand the opportunities and challenges presented by the recent signing of the Abraham Accords. However, most can agree that regional alliances will be altered. Middle Eastern nations will have to rethink their relationships and, while some tensions will increase, many more will decrease.
The first agreement between Israel and the Arab nations in over a quarter-century is a significant step forward for the participants, but these new emerging relationships have the potential to significantly alter the nature of security cooperation in the Arabian Gulf.
The first opportunity to consider is how the Arab countries that aren’t signatories intend to proceed. While the national security and diplomatic paths are at the fore in the agreement, non-signatories can utilize the opportunity to improve economic relations to the benefit of all.
They will be able to take other confidence-building measures that would ease regional tensions, improve economies, and provide a basis to address more intractable issues such as the Palestinian conflict.
How Saudi Arabia moves forward is the essential issue. How far Israel-UAE/Bahrain national security and military relations advance before Riyadh either joins in the process or rejects it remains the most significant question.
Whether the remaining Gulf Cooperation Council nations, each of which have exercised a certain amount of autonomy from Saudi Arabia over the last several years, follow the lead of the signatories or wait to follow the lead of Riyadh is also an issue of interest.
Qatar’s reaction will be especially important as the region evolves to become an environment in which the UAE and Bahrain have diplomatic relations with Israel but not with Qatar – a situation that can not long be sustained.
Iranian Reaction to Regional Power Shift
Iran will become increasingly isolated within the region as Israel’s ties with the moderate Arab camp expands. However, it remains to be seen whether this will translate into a change in the constant malign behavior by the regime in Tehran.
One significant challenge ahead is to further discourage Tehran’s regional disruption without pushing it to the point where the regime believes its power is at risk, particularly at a time of political uncertainty in both the United States and Israel.
The recent US snapback of sanctions supports a strategy that doesn’t over pressurize Tehran, but the net impact of the action is currently undetermined.
Security opportunities are now available which were not previously. This was nearly unthinkable even a year ago. Will the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) officers be welcome at regional US air and naval operational headquarters to discuss areas of mutual security concern? Will reciprocal visits from the UAE and Bahrain be welcome in Israel?
While it’s likely staff officer visits are within the realm of the possible, Israeli ship and aircraft presence outside of current areas of interest are assuredly a very long way off. Seeing IDF forces in the Gulf or UAE/Bahraini forces in the Mediterranean is not only a bridge too far, but is impractical and does not meet the current security requirements of any accord participants.
That said, staff officer presence is possible. It would serve as a confidence-building activity and allow for greater, mutually beneficial information exchange.
Another potential security opportunity is a gradual move toward more comprehensive integrated missile defense architectures, integrating early warning assets, information sharing protocols, and missile defense systems – with appropriate firewalls to maintain each nation’s national security.
Integrated missile defense is among the most complex of military activities, and success in this endeavor would require participation from two US combatant commands (EUCOM and CENTCOM), as well as the accord signatories.
Potential US Benefit
The US played a key role in turning the idea of an accord into a signed agreement. Washington’s efforts make clear the continued importance of maintaining regional security despite pressure caused by the Great Power Competition between the US, Russia, and China.
While American military and diplomatic presence will remain important, increased security eases the pressure to maintain large numbers of forces deployed in the region. A slightly smaller US force presence may be possible as the results of the accord unfold, Tehran’s reaction is better understood, and the signatories begin improving diplomatic and economic ties.
Over time, the potential security synergies of Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the other Gulf Cooperation Council nations may offset any perceived US withdrawal.
It remains to be seen how the benefits of the Abraham Accord will manifest but is clear that the signatories’ vision and their willingness to create opportunities for better security and economic development in the region is a noteworthy accomplishment and an excellent start.
Vice Admiral John W. Miller, USN (ret.) is former Commander of US Fifth Fleet and a participant of the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA) 2018 Generals and Admirals program.
Charles Perkins is the Director for US-Israel Security Policy at JINSA.
Originally published in The Defense Post