UAE funds Turkey and Israel: Cold Peace in the Middle East
The official visit of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (MBZ) to Turkey on November 24 was analysed from a commercial and economic perspective in Turkey. The political significance of the visit was largely ignored by Turkish mainstream media. And it wasn’t questioned why Turkey and the UAE, who were on very bad terms, suddenly agreed to reconcile.
To understand this, we need to look at a series of developments unfolding in the Middle East with a focus on radical changes triggered by the Arab Spring.
Perhaps most importantly, we are witnessing a shift in Arab – Israeli relations. Israel has established diplomatic relations with almost half a dozen Arab countries, thanks to the momentum created by the US-led Abraham Accords.
Israel also signed an agreement with Morocco last week, which provides for expanded intelligence cooperation, joint exercises, defence industrial cooperation, and Israeli military sales. Israel has long enjoyed unofficial ties with Morocco, which briefly became official in the aftermath of the 1993 Oslo Accords, but the MOU is the first of its kind between Israel and an Arab state.
The UAE created a $10 billion fund for investments in Israel.
In addition to Morocco, relations between the signatories of the Abraham Accords, the UAE and Bahrain, improved significantly as well. Businessmen from Abu Dhabi and Dubai have started investing in projects of Israeli entrepreneurs, especially in high-tech. For Israelis, Dubai and Abu Dhabi have now become tourist havens. The UAE set aside a $10 billion fund for investments in Israel, just as it did for Turkey. Bahrain and Israel have completely removed the trade barriers between their countries.
And from a strategic angle, Israeli, Emirati and Bahraini naval forces conducted a joint exercise in the Red Sea with the participation of the 5th U.S. fleet. It is obvious that this exercise was organized as a message to Iran.
There are those who refer to the cooperation that Israel developed with the UAE and Bahrain in the context of the Abraham Accords as the Middle East QUAD. It seems that a new QUAD, like the one in Asia consisting of the US, India, Australia and Japan, which was set up in order to contain China, has begun to take shape in the Middle East this time to contain Iran.
Is there a shadow player?
Considering Israel’s long-standing relations with Jordan and Egypt, it would not be incorrect to state that the relationships of Arab countries in the region with Israel are being restructured under the leadership of the US and by practical efforts of the UK.
There are at least three regional countries that could follow the UAE and Bahrain example. The least surprising would be Oman. Saudi Arabia (SA), on the other hand, seems to be waiting a little longer to follow suit but is already much more moderate towards Israel than it used to be. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), who has not been able to consolidate his power in Saudi Arabia may be pressured to establish relations with Israel by the USA and the UK.
Obviously, all these shifts and changes do not happen by themselves. Fierce competition between global powers to expand their spheres of influence in the Middle East is a major determinant.
The UK, which has recently left the European Union (EU) is leading the shaping of a new order that is being structured in the Middle East. Similarly strategic rapprochement between the UK and the US plays an essential role.
Britain, the Muslim Brotherhood and Turkey
The UK is also steering the Middle East policy of the United States, which is suffering a sudden lack of interest in the Middle East and is prioritizing global competition against the Sino-Russian axis. This works well for the Biden administration, which welcomes taking a backseat fearing backlash from the left wing of the Democrats in the Congress.
Combined with the historical hegemony that the UK enjoyed in the Middle East this dynamic will solidify British prominence in the region. In this context it is interesting that the UK officially recognized Hamas as a terrorist organization last week. This also signals a complete break with the Muslim Brotherhood. The move greatly pleased both Israel and the Gulf countries. Egypt, Jordan and Syria also welcomed the news.
As a regional power, Turkey has suffered substantial loss of ground in the Middle East in the last decade. Institutional and diplomatic relations with regional countries, especially with Syria, Israel and Egypt were interrupted.
This dynamic has prevented Turkey from playing a leading role as a regional actor and from helping guide the re-shaping of the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean. By miscalculating the significance of the Abraham Accords, President Erdogan’s government has allowed the emergence of a powerful front that can unite against Turkey.
British prominence in the Middle East
Turkey is now seen as a bad team player and a political nuisance due to inconsistent and unpredictable policies by the US and the UK, who are leveraging a convergence of interests on issues such as containing Iranian influence in the region. On the other hand, the obvious strategic position of Turkey in the new cold war between the USA and China is too important to ignore.
The USA and the UK also want to prevent Turkey, which has shown a willingness to play hardball, from getting closer to Russia. It is still critical to the alliance that Turkey remains within the Western axis, especially given the ongoing confrontation between China/Russia and the USA/EU. In this context, the USA and the EU have been tolerating and even adapting to certain bold policies that Turkey has been pursuing in recent years. This is also why the USA and the UK prefer to outsource concerns on democracy and fundamental civil rights to the EU.
Especially the United States has completely abandoned a responsibility for managing the détente we are now witnessing in the Middle East entirely in the hands of the UK.
Conditions defining the Cold Peace
After the UAE engaged more ambitiously than it could realistically handle, the discomfort this created in Iran, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the dominant countries of the region, as well as in Turkey and some other Arab countries, began to threaten the new order now being shaped. Emirati relations with Saudi Arabia have also become somewhat strained. Cooperation between MBZ and MBS deteriorated. Recently, the UAE has begun to lose the prominence it used to enjoy in the Gulf.
In contrast, Erdoğan’s administration has been trying to break out of the loneliness it is suffering. However, Erdoğan‘s efforts to normalize Turkey’s relations with regional countries such as Egypt and Israel proved futile amid a deepening economic crisis and dire need for foreign investment. And it became more urgent to restore relations with the richest countries in the region.
The UK capitalized on this momentum and facilitated the rebirth of Turkish Emirate relations after selling them the idea of a “cold peace”. It created an opportunity for both governments to abandon their political loneliness. It is now up to the leadership of both countries to consolidate this fragile rapprochement meaningfully and turn it into a productive bilateral relationship. Time will tell whether they will succeed or not.