On the 13th August we heard announcements of the normalisation of diplomatic relations between the United Arab Emirates and Israel, a peace deal said to be brokered by the United States. The historic links between UAE and Israel caused considerable reaction across the world. Why so controversial?
Historic Links Between UAE And Israel
Following the peace deal also referred to as the Abraham Accord, EL-AL, Israeli flag carrier was quick to fly on a direct mission to Abu Dhabi, believed to be carrying top level delagates of Israel and the USA.
The flight took place yesterday, 31st August 2020. The marks first time that an Israeli aircraft has landed on UAE soil. However, it was not the first direct flight between the two countries.
This also follows and provides some context to a recent direct cargo flight by Etihad Airways into Israel, which transpired to be carrying coronavirus relief supplies for Palestine (presumably the deal would have been agreed or in the final stages behind the scenes at the point)
What We Know Of The Deal
Some state this deal is merely just openly formalising co-operation between UAE & Israel that on many levels have happened for years. The announcements so far are just setting the scene for further formal agreements in specific sectors such as finance, investments and no doubt, intelligence sharing. Potentially trade deals will open up economies and benefit both countries and their allies.
On a more contentious point, the UAE seems to have done little to extract more concrete concessions from Israel with regards to its illegal occupation of Palestinian territories. Indeed some countries still do not recognise Israel as a country. Others refuse to accept Israel until the formal creation of a Palestinian state and peace accord between the Palestine and Israel.
You have to wonder, did this deal have more to do with the UAE’s regional economic ambitions? Or intelligence sharing and protecting itself from Iran? Did the UAE agree to this deal more to win favour with the US (as a firm ally for new deals) than perhaps what the UAE and the Arab people want in relations which could risk undermining a just solution to the Palestinian people’s plight?
The Palestinian Authority said to have rejected the agreement, and has accused the UAE of betrayal. In what is arguably a very sensitive and complex topic. Palestine has itself sometimes been accused of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.
Elsewhere in the Arab world, Bahrain and Egypt have openly welcomed the deal while most remain silent.
Israeli Flights Over Saudi Airspace
Another notable event of the recent direct flight between Israel and UAE, is that it flew directly over Saudi Arabian airspace.
Interesting fact: El Al is the only known commercial airline to equip its planes with anti missile defence systems.
Normally Israeli aircraft (or indeed any aircraft flying to Israel) do not have permission rights to fly over Saudi. So it is significant in itself that Riyadh agreed to this. This is the flight path is took.
Only a few weeks prior to this, Etihad’s aircraft could not fly direct to Israel over Saudi airspace, and had to be rerouted. That begs the question, what is Saudi Arabia’s stance on this deal? Officially it has thus far remained quiet. With Saudia Arabia and Iran being the regional powerhouses, it’s opinion matters. This move certainly bodes well for further prospects with the Kingdom.
Will other Arab and Muslim countries follow in establishing relations with Israel?
I believe open dialogue and maintaining good diplomatic relations is always a good thing. But the saying that your enemies enemy is your friend rings louder than ever. Here’s to hoping there is more to this deal than we know that ultimately this leads to a stronger regional cooperation and a peaceful two state solution.
Politics aside, this is still great news for connectivity in that region. Moreover, it must be good news for Emirates to expand and perhaps boost flight options for people. I cannot imagine this being too great for Israel’s ailing flag carrier El Al however. It would be interesting to see what actual bi-lateral air service agreements might come out between the 2 countries and the level of flights the carriers may eventually start in the others respective markets.