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Opinion | Israel’s ‘Dirty War’: The Dark Side of the Abraham Accords – and Why Saudi Arabia Wants to Join

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In view of conflicting media reports about the chances of success of the tripartite negotiations between the Biden administration, the State of Israel and Saudi Arabia to draw up a normalization agreement between the latter two countries, one should look at the last decades and understand that such an accord is inevitable – but has a dark underside to it. A historical examination of how other countries have severed and renewed their relations with Israel indicates that the danger to the rights and freedoms of hundreds of millions of civilians should normalization be achieved.

Relations severed

After the State of Israel’s founding in 1948, it immediately engaged in providing military and civilian aid to countries worldwide, many of them with dictatorial and military regimes, with the aim of establishing diplomatic relations, and counteracting what would become an ongoing campaign to eliminate Israel physically and politically.

In a nutshell, the main spoiler of Israel’s international aspirations was Egypt, under the leadership of Gamal Abdel Nasser, who became its ruler in 1956; subsequently Libya played a similar role, after Muammar Gadhafi came to power, in 1969. Egypt wielded its political, military and economic power to dissuade other states from establishing relations with Israel, or to cut or downgrade existing ties. Gadhafi used mafia-type methods, threatening to destabilize regimes that had ties to Israel. The Arab pressures were successful, and after the wars of 1967 and 1973, dozens of states, with both non-Arab Muslim and non-Muslim populations, officially severed or downgraded their relations with Israel. These were not just African countries. While today BDS, the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, is successful in preventing international pop stars from performing in Israel, Arab countries, under the leadership of Egypt and Libya, over the years, for example, successfully imposed oil embargoes on countries and sanctions on companies that did business within Israel, and even managed to force European governments to limit their relations with it in certain realms.

Following the waves of severed relations with Israel after the wars, Israel looked elsewhere and was largely successful in keeping and strengthening its ties with regimes ostracized by other countries, among them the leadership of apartheid South Africa. Israel also established strong ties with military juntas in Latin America during their various “dirty wars” – the internal campaigns they waged from the mid-1970s to the early ‘80s to eliminate domestic political opponents. The military regimes in the so-called Southern Cone of Latin America launched an effort called Operation Condor, in which they cooperated in locating, capturing, torturing and eliminating opposition and guerrilla activists. For its part, Israel helped each junta separately in implementing Operation Condor in its territory, but unlike the involvement of the United States in that effort, there is no evidence that Israel was involved in the overall coordination of the operation.

Relations renewed

After Israel and Egypt signed the Camp David Accords, in September 1978, Israel was liberated from its main “spoiler,” and slowly, other states began renewing or establishing relations with Jerusalem. As has been reported over the years in Haaretz and other media outlets, with many countries, this renewal was based on Israel selling military services and equipment, and more recently surveillance technology, even to murderous regimes.

In the 1990s, with the end of the Cold War, the signing of the Oslo Accords with the PLO and the peace agreement with Jordan, what was a trickle became a wave. Israel was able to resume and build relations with most countries of the world, but still encountered difficulty in normalizing its ties with Arab and non-Arab Muslim countries. However, it became clear that the continued demand of the Palestinian leadership that such countries avoid joining this wave, was lacking any credibility. The PLO not only normalized its relationship with Israel, but the Palestinian Authority became an important subcontractor in administering Israel’s apartheid regime in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. That made it politically easier for other countries to negotiate with Israel and agree with it on normalization steps.

This bogus nature of such anti-normalization didn’t begin during the Oslo period, but several decades earlier, when many countries may have severed formal relations with Israel, but continued doing business with it. One example is Chad, a country with a Muslim majority that officially cut ties with Israel in 1972, and renewed them only in 2019. Yet, a document prepared by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in May 1985 and recently declassified by the State Archives, states that as early as 1982 Israel, initiated contact with Chad’s then-dictator, Hissène Habré. The following February 1983, an agreement was signed with him, according to the 1985 document, on “Israeli military assistance to Chad in manpower and equipment, and also for establishing a secret Israeli mission in Chad.”

At the time, President Habré was responsible for mass murder, disappearances and rape within his own country, leading in 2016 to his conviction by an international tribunal for crimes against humanity. Habré was overthrown in a 1990 coup, but in 2008, his successor, Idriss Déby, bought armored vehicles from Israel whose roofs were fitted with devices for mounting machine guns. Déby, a former head of the country’s military, was in the midst of a bloody civil war when he purchased the vehicles. After the publication of reports and images of these vehicles in the media, Chad admitted their purchase from Israel and reported it to the United Nations.

Changing interests

It was not only a lack of credibility that undermined Palestinian leaders’ demands that Arab and non-Arab Muslim countries avoid normalization with Israel, but also a lack of feasibility due to the changing interests of those countries. Two historical events in the second decade of the 21st century changed the picture in the direction of rapid normalization with Israel. One was Iran’s decision to increase its regional provocations and other subversive activity, and the other was the Arab Spring of 2011. Despite their disputes, most Arab and non-Arab Muslim countries have come to the conclusion that they must cooperate in order to fight Iran’s regional power grab and also to rebuff any signs of a resurgence of the Arab Spring: that is, they must fight movements seeking to instigate regime change. One of the most prominent players among those latter groups is the political-Islam movement and ideology, and in particular the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates, although the greater movement’s ostensible commitment to democratic values differs from country to country, and in some of them its “success” means only replacing one dictatorial regime with another.

Since the Oslo Accords, and in light of increasing involvement and activity on the part of Iran and political Islam – and specifically the radical Palestinian version of the Muslim Brotherhood, the militant Islamic Hamas organization – those forces have replaced the PLO as Israel’s main archnemeses. This is a historic reversal. If David Ben-Gurion invented the doctrine of the “alliance of the periphery” – which included extending Israeli aid to regimes like that of the shah in Iran – now Israel is working with Arab and non-Arab Muslim countries to rein in Iran, while helping those countries maintain the stability of their own tyrannical regimes, while they in turn help Israel maintain its own own tyrannical regime in the West Bank.

The United States fully shares Israel’s opportunistic position and strategy regarding this historic reversal of interests; this was not just a whim of former President Donald Trump. Evidence of this was mentioned by Maj. Gen. (ret.) Amos Gilad, a former longtime senior member of the Israeli security establishment, who for years was involved in building Israel’s relations with Arab and non-Arab Muslim countries, as well as maintaining ties with America, in an interview aired in political commentator Nadav Perry’s podcast, on April 16, 2023 .

In response to the question of how Israel should relate to Saudi Arabia in light of the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the dismembering of his body, Gilad answered, “I, who have dealt a lot with Arab countries, have come to the conclusion that the State of Israel should do everything to strengthen ties with Arab countries without really considering the regimes there. There is no chance of there ever being a democracy in the Middle East, except for Israel… The regimes, such as in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the principalities and the Emirates, are stable regimes, [and] their stability serves the national security interests of Israel and the entire free world, even the Americans understand this.

“The difference between the United States and China is that the United States doesn’t need oil, unlike in the past, and an administration like that of President Biden gives high priority to democratic values. But I see a moderation in the American attitude toward the Arab world… Biden also reached out to [Saudi Crown Prince] Mohammed bin Salman… I detect a more sober attitude there, even vis-à-vis Egypt; they [the Americans] hardly condemn the Egyptians.”

In an article that Gilad published in Cyclone (a Hebrew publication of the The Institute for Policy and Strategy) in February 2021 to mark the 10th anniversary of the Arab Spring, he wrote: “The understanding has been internalized both in Israel and in large parts of the international community that an accelerated opening of the political systems in the Arab world to democratic processes could lead to the rise of radical forces, led by representatives of extreme political Islam.” Prior to that, at a December 2019 conference of the Israeli military industries, Gilad had said: “The problem is, how do you deal with revolutions? … Any Israeli military equipment that contributes to building a force that could be used to attack Israel, given a revolution there [in an Arab country], is undesirable and should be prevented. Everything related to regime stability – and here moral questions arise about using it against opponents [of those regimes] – I support preservation in Israeli aid.” Moreover, Gilad added, “We also have incredible security cooperation with the Gulf countries, Saudi Arabia.” That is, as long as there is no fear that Israeli knowledge and weaponry will be used against Israel itself, Israel should not limit its exports for fear that it will be used for internal repression.

The concept, Gilad explained, stands at the heart of the Abraham Accords and of emerging agreements with other Arab and non-Arab Muslim countries. According to this arguably racist strategy, since the states in question are not ripe for democracy, and in order to help preserve the “free world” and/or Western civilization – the United States and Israel should help their tyrannical regimes when they resort to violence to suppress opposition elements, journalists, women and other minorities. Political Islam has replaced the “communist threat” and Iran has replaced the USSR. These are the same self-righteous arguments that were used to justify America’s war in Vietnam, and the military aid the U.S. and Israel provided, for example, to the Pinochet junta in Chile when it perpetrated crimes against humanity in the 1970s and ‘80s. Now they are being summoned to support the geopolitical reorganization of the Middle East and North Africa.

‘Operation Condor 2.0’

Long shuttered is the School of the Americas in the Panama Canal, where the United States trained tens of thousands of officers from across Latin America, many of whom returned to their countries during the Cold War to participate in military coups, mass torture, murder, rape, genocide and terrorism. But, according to what Maj. Gen. Gilad noted in Perry’s podcast, most of the officers in the Arab countries’ military are still being trained in the United States, in an effort to preserve their regimes’ dependence on the latter, and to prevent their transition to full reliance on China. It is clear that the spreading of democratic values is not of high priority in the American officer training program. The nonprofit news organization Intercept has confirmed that U.S.-trained military officers, most of them in Muslim-majority states, have taken part in 11 coups in West Africa since 2008, most recently in Niger. Following the Abraham Accords and other normalization agreements entered into by Israel, in addition to its providing sophisticated surveillance and weapons systems to a variety of problematic regimes, army officers from those regimes will likely receive training and intelligence from Israel as well, which the latter has acquired and developed also thanks to its oppression and control of the Palestinian population.

All these developments will not guarantee the stability of Arab and non-Arab Muslim dictatorial regimes, as their existence will always be conditional and challenged. A clear example of this is Egypt, which receives the most U.S. military aid after Israel, and is still one of the most unstable countries in the region. The greatest enemy of the Egyptian people is their own regime, which wastes its huge human and natural resources and is focused on a ceaseless war against the majority of citizens who do not belong to the elite that rule the country. To maintain the appearance of stability in Egypt and other regimes in the region, an endless cycle of oppression and violence is necessary. In situations like these, if they feel it is necessary, such regimes won’t blink – that is, there will be many more horrific cases like the murder of journalist Khashoggi.

Unlike the role it played in the 1970s and ‘80s in Latin America, nowadays, as part of “Operation Condor 2.0” in the Middle East and North Africa, Israel will not be a secondary actor but one with a leading role in its overall coordination. As with heroin, these regimes will become addicted to Israeli surveillance equipment, weaponry, training and intelligence, and will only pay lip service to the Palestinian issue. This time the fight to maintain the stability of the regimes, including the stability of Israel’s own apartheid regime vis-à-vis the Palestinian population, will be waged with more advanced technology than the Uzi machine guns and Galil rifles that were peddled by Israel for the elimination of masses of opposition and leftist activists in Latin America. And yet, in its essence, it will still be the same “dirty war.”

Eitay Mack is a human rights lawyer and activist specializing in the issue of Israel’s arms trade.

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Article source: Haaretz | Eitay Mack |Aug 18, 2023

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Israel’s Arab Allies Signal Business as Usual, Despite Far Right’s Rise

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TEL AVIV — When Benjamin Netanyahu won a general election last month, analysts wondered how three Arab countries that normalized relations with Israel in 2020 — Bahrain, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates — might react.

Mr. Netanyahu forged the deals himself when last in office, but his new far-right allies have a history of anti-Arab statements that some thought might prove too objectionable for leaders in the three Arab states.

Ahead of the election, the Emirati foreign minister, Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, met privately with Mr. Netanyahu and expressed discomfort at his alliance with the far right, according to two people briefed on the conversation who requested anonymity to speak more freely.

But since the election, that unease has quickly morphed into a more pragmatic approach: Business as usual, at least for now.

In recent weeks, both Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates invited Itamar Ben-Gvir, one of Mr. Netanyahu’s most extreme allies, to their national day celebrations in Tel Aviv. All lawmakers, from the left and right, were sent invitations to both events, but Mr. Ben-Gvir’s inclusion — and an especially warm embrace by the Emirati ambassador — raised eyebrows and made headlines in Israel.

While other countries, notably the United States, have avoided Mr. Ben-Gvir, who has been convicted in Israel of anti-Arab incitement, the Bahraini and Emirati missions have not.

“Any change of government will not affect Bahrain’s approach to developing positive relations with Israel,” Khaled Al Jalahma, the Bahraini ambassador to Israel, said in a text message on Thursday night. “Bahrain’s stance on the change of administration in Israel is the same as it would be with any other country.”

But, Mr. Al Jalahma added, “As with any government, we will voice concern if policies enacted are of a nature that could strain relations.”

That stance reflects the extent to which the Abraham Accords, as the 2020 deals were called, redrew the contours of Middle Eastern geopolitics. For decades, all but two Arab governments refused to formalize their relationships with Israel until there was a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Open ties with Israel, let alone its most extreme politicians, were out of the question.

The signing of the accords underscored how solidarity with the Palestinians had been eclipsed, for certain Arab leaders, by national self-interest. Shared fears of a nuclear Iran, coupled with enthusiasm for better economic, technological and military ties with Israel, prompted the accords’ signatories to prioritize relations with Israel above the immediate creation of a Palestinian state.

Two years later, those fears and hopes have also now helped nudge the signatories into accepting Mr. Netanyahu’s chosen partners, even as some of Israel’s longtime supporters, like the United States, adopt a more cautious approach, analysts said.

“This is what Israel is — and countries like the U.A.E. have decided to deal with whoever the Israelis elect,” said Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, an Emirati political scientist. “There is no going back on this treaty, the Abraham Accords, and we are stuck with someone like him,” Professor Abdulla added, referring to Mr. Ben-Gvir.

Mr. Ben-Gvir’s acceptance has drawn particular attention because of his history of anti-Arab extremism. While he says he has recently moderated his views, until 2020 Mr. Ben-Gvir displayed in his home a portrait of a Jewish gunman who in 1994 shot dead 29 Palestinians inside a mosque.

In Mr. Netanyahu’s likely new government, Mr. Ben-Gvir is set to become minister for national security, a role that oversees the police. Before the alliance formally enters office, it is attempting to pass a law that would give Mr. Ben-Gvir greater power over police activity.

That has raised fears that his tenure could provoke even more confrontations with Palestinians, particularly in sensitive places like the Aqsa Mosque compound, known to Jews as Temple Mount, where Israeli police frequently clash with Palestinians at a site sacred to both Jews and Muslims.

Despite these concerns, the Emirati ambassador to Israel, Mohamed Al Khaja, greeted Mr. Ben-Gvir warmly at a gala organized by Ambassador Al Khaja in Tel Aviv this month — tightly clasping his hand in front of several photographers.

The United Arab Emirates’ foreign ministry declined to comment but Mr. Ben-Gvir’s office used the encounter as evidence of his increasing acceptance.

The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain “recognize Ben-Gvir for what he is, which is a law-and-order party leader, and not a racist leader, as is much suggested in Western media,” said Yishai Fleisher, a spokesman for Mr. Ben-Gvir.

Mr. Al Khaja later paid a visit to Bezalel Smotrich, another far-right leader with a history of anti-Arab comments. Both Mr. Smotrich and Mr. Ben-Gvir were then invited to Bahrain’s national day ceremony in Tel Aviv on Thursday night but, like many coalition lawmakers, did not attend because of political commitments in Jerusalem.

At the event, the Bahraini ambassador, Mr. Al Jalahma, said in a speech that the Palestinian cause remained important to Bahrain. But the overall tone of the evening, in which Mr. Netanyahu appeared via video link, was that business continued as normal. This month, Bahrain also welcomed Isaac Herzog, Israel’s centrist president, in the first visit to the country by an Israeli head of state.

The Moroccan government has avoided the Israeli far right, but it has signaled through other means that its relationship with Israel continues as normal.

This week, Morocco sent a senior military officer to participate alongside Israeli, Bahraini and Emirati counterparts at a meeting in the United Arab Emirates about cybersecurity.

Last week, Morocco hosted a conference for education officials and academics from Israel and seven Arab countries, including citizens of two countries, Oman and Sudan, that do not yet have full diplomatic relations with Israel. Participants discussed how to improve collaboration between their education systems, including an exchange system for Israeli and Arab university students.

Several Israeli, Emirati and Bahraini participants watched games from the World Cup together, including Morocco’s surprise victory against Spain.

That sort of interaction highlights the complexity of Israel’s place in the Arab world: Even as certain Arab leaders deepen their relationships with Israel, polling shows that this process remains unpopular among ordinary Arabs.

During the World Cup in Qatar, many Arab attendees — and some players, including the Moroccan team — have stressed their support for the Palestinians and refused to speak with Israeli journalists covering the tournament.

“What’s happening at the top has nothing to do with what’s happening among people,” said Elham Fakhro, a research fellow at the Center for Gulf Studies at Exeter University in Britain.

The Moroccan foreign ministry declined to comment for this article. But analysts say that key Arab leaders are happy to ignore the protests of their citizens and the Palestinians because their countries greatly benefit from military and economic partnership with Israel.

Israel is working together with the Abraham Accords countries and the United States to protect against Iranian missiles and unmanned drones.

The Israeli Defense Ministry has signed public agreements with its Bahraini and Moroccan counterparts, making it easier for the three countries to coordinate and share military equipment, and quietly supplied an air defense system to the United Arab Emirates, satellite photos published in October suggested.

Trade is also flourishing. This month, Israel and the United Arab Emirates made the final touches to a deal that will cover 96 percent of bilateral trade — the most detailed trade agreement between Israel and an Arab country.

“This was always a pragmatic arrangement which they see as being in their long-term strategic interests,” said Dr. Fakhro. “It doesn’t change just because Ben-Gvir is now around. They won’t trade those interests for the Palestinian issue.”

Saudi Arabia has frequently said it will not seal full ties with Israel before the establishment of a Palestinian state. Analysts also believe it will not follow the United Arab Emirates in normalizing with Israel unless it receives more support from the United States, including the supply of more sophisticated arms or support for a nuclear program.

But Mr. Netanyahu has repeatedly promised since his election victory in November that he will try to normalize relations with Riyadh.

“We can have a new peace initiative that will form a quantum leap,” Mr. Netanyahu said Thursday on Al Arabiya, a Saudi-owned television network.

“Of course, I’m referring to what could be a truly remarkable, historic peace with Saudi Arabia,” he added.

Myra Noveck contributed reporting from Jerusalem and Vivian Nereim from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

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Article source: New York Times | Patrick Kingsley| Dec. 16, 2022

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Sidney Nolan, portraits of the Holocaust

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A few weeks ago, on Tuesday August 16, Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, was in Berlin seeking help and support from the German government. The cause of the Palestinian people has of course been rather beleaguered since other Arabs finally realised that they had a lot more to gain from positive engagement with Israel. Even Turkey, which has stood up for the Palestinians in the past, has just restored full diplomatic relations with Israel.


Opinion | The Abraham Accords Might Bring an End to Israel’s Occupation After All

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Monarchies have a different concept of time. Their tyrants have patience, of the kind that a country which goes to the polls approximately once every two and a half years on average – and recently has changed prime ministers like pairs of socks – does not have. And this patience can be seen in every step in the growing normalization between Arab countries and Israel. Here is a gesture, there a gesture, and here and there is the slow building of local influence.


Opinion | Why the Palestinians Should Join the Abraham Accords

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One of President Joe Biden’s major stated goals for his trip to the Middle East is to bolster the Abraham Accords. Mind-bogglingly, the Accords were initiated by none other than the Trump Administration in 2020. They were designed to bypass the thorny Palestinian-Israeli conflict by forging direct ties between Israel and Arab states.

However, even the achievement of peace between Israel and every single Arab country will not bring real tangible peace on the ground, unless there is a permanent and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, based on a two-state solution. It is clear from the statements of Biden administration officials that, outside of stating his support for a two-state solution and increasing humanitarian aid, President Biden will not expend energies or political capital on reinvigorating the Israel-Palestine track of the peace process.

Given these minimal U.S. intentions, and to avoid complete exclusion from a new and growing axis of influence, if President Biden should offer the Palestinian Authority to join the Abraham Accords, it should accept – and with alacrity. If President Biden does not make such an offer, the Palestinians should proactively seek to join the Abraham Accords themselves. It would be very difficult and counterproductive, especially for Israel, to refuse such a Palestinian request.

There are still a few holdout Arab countries who are refusing to join the Abraham Accords at this time, namely Saudi Arabia (so long as King Salman is still alive), Kuwait, Lebanon, Syria, Algeria, and Tunisia. Sadly, the Palestinians do not enjoy anything like the leverage required to stop any Arab country from joining the Abraham Accords, not least if that accession is coupled with U.S. pressure or incentives.

The Palestinians recognized Israel back in the 1990s. Thus the notion that Arab countries’ refusal to recognize Israel can be used to extract concessions from Israel for the benefit of the Palestinians is an outdated and defunct idea.

The smart thing for the Palestinians is to join the Abraham Accords and leverage the influence of those Arab countries who are already members of the Accords to influence, and even pressure, Israel into beginning the final status negotiations between Israel and Palestine, within a defined period. Arab countries outside the Accords have zero or little influence over Israel.

Thus, instead of being on the outside, the Palestinians would be on the inside, exerting influence on the agenda and actions of the Arab participants of the Abraham Accords. Instead of leaving the Abraham Accords as a playing field for Israel only, Palestinian participation would be a pre-emptive strike that would turn the notion and goals of the Abraham Accords upside down.

For Israel, the participation of the Palestinians in the Abraham Accords, could make it justifiably easy for many more Arab and Muslim-majority countries to join the Accords – a goal of both successive U.S. administrations and Israel.

Unfortunately, senior Palestinian advisors close to President Mahmoud Abbas would automatically veto that course of action. To those Palestinian advisers and influencers, I say, “Wake up! Take advantage of the emerging political regional trend.”

Being part of the Abraham Accords would give the Palestinians tremendous power and influence on the normalization of ties between Israel and Arab countries. The Palestinians did not say a word when Morocco joined the Abraham Accords. I am not privy to what the King of Morocco told Abbas in the phone call that the king initiated with him prior to Morocco’s announcement that it planned to join the Accords. The Palestinian reaction was outright silence, surely the very definition of what it means to be sidelined.

It will be difficult for many Palestinians to think in an astute and unconventional manner thanks to all the negative propaganda they were fed following the launching of the Accords.

In my view, it would be a missed opportunity for the Palestinians not to join the Abraham Accords before the train travels too fast and too far without them. Palestinian influence over the course of the Abraham Accords will diminish with the passing of time and with it, any tangible hope for a Palestinian state.

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Article source: Haaretz | Bishara A. Bahbah |Jul 11, 2022

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