Two massive Earth-shattering shocks rocked the Middle East within days of each other, sending shockwaves across the world, one of which was highly destructive and the other a political game-changer that could bring peace and also profoundly shifting the political landscape in the embattled region.
A massive explosion of 2,750 tons of weapons-grade ammonium nitrate that had been illegally stored in Beirut’s port exploded on August 4 and killed more than 170 people, wounded some 6,000, and utterly pulverized the port and its residential surroundings. The devastation left more than 300,000 Berutis homeless and sparked days of violent protests that brought the much-maligned Lebanese government down on August 10. It will take years and billions of dollars to restore the port, but the frayed nerves of Beirut’s beleaguered citizens will most likely never be properly healed.
The following shock – of the non-lethal variety, but with even more profound impact – was the landmark peace agreement, which will be called the “Abraham Accord” after the “father of all three great faiths”, between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. The deal, which was reached on August 13, will establish full diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Once signed at the White House, as is expected in the next few few weeks, the UAE will become the third Arab country, after Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994, to formally normalize its relations with the State of Israel. It will also become the first Persian Gulf country to do so. In return, Israel has agreed to suspend plans to annex large strategically important swathes of the West Bank.
The U.S.-brokered agreement formalized what had long been a tacit diplomatic relationship between both Israel and the UAE, an unofficial cooperation that had long been regarded as one of the worst-kept secrets in the region.
Most importantly, the new deal is likely to change the political landscape of the Middle East forever and speed up efforts for a solution to the Palestinian question. It may also consolidate and reveal the long-cemented religious and sectarian fault lines and the divergent and hostile interests of the many Arab countries towards Israel and each other.
Trump has hailed the “historic” deal and said that the accord between Israel and the United Arab Emirates could possibly pave the way for other Arab neighbors to follow suit. To close the deal, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had to suspend his plan to annex territory in the West Bank in exchange for establishing formal ties with the small, yet politically and economically influential Gulf state.
Jared Kushner, Trump’s adviser and son-in-law, heralded the new “strategic realignment” of the Middle East, which is now taking place under Trump’s watch.
Europe has said it welcomed the deal and announced that it is ready to work with both Israel and the United Arab Emirates to move forward towards a wider Middle East peace deal. The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, has released a statement that welcomes the accord, which Brussels is taking as a sign that the whole of the EU is fully behind the deal.
The normalization will, in fact, be a huge benefit for both, and it is important for regional stability, a European Commission spokesperson said. The deal will lead to greater cooperation in the areas of tourism, security, education, technology, and energy.
French President Emmanuel Macron called Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and voiced his commitment to work for peace in the Middle East. Resuming negotiations to reach a fair solution that respects international law remains the priority of the French government, Macron said in his statement.
The Global Council for Tolerance and Peace (GCTP) has also praised the deal as a historic diplomatic achievement that will enhance peace in the Middle East and the world at large.
A highly influential group, the GCTP comprises the International Parliament for Tolerance and Peace with representatives of over 70 parliaments from around he world and the General Assembly, which includes world leaders, universities, and thinks tanks.
“The agreement between the United Arab Emirates, Israel and the US is a testament to the bold diplomatic and sound vision of the UAE’s leadership in making this diplomatic breakthrough. As a result, Israel will stop the annexation of Palestinian lands under the Trump Peace Plan,” said GCTP President Ahmad bin Mohammad Aljarwan in a statement on August 14.
Praising the courage of Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Aljarwan said this “historic diplomatic milestone will chart a more secure and peaceful future for the people of the world and realize development, prosperity, and a decent life for the whole humanity.”
Alberto Enrique Allende, Speaker of the IPTP, said the agreement will further promote peace and tolerance in the region and the world.
The largest pro-Israel group in the US, AIPAC, called the agreement “a historic breakthrough for peace and reconciliation in the Middle East. “The UAE joins Egypt and Jordan in paving the way towards peace through recognition and engagement rather than by seeking to isolate and boycott the Jewish state.
With this announcement, Israel and the UAE now join the United States in launching a Strategic Agenda for the Middle East to expand diplomatic, trade and security cooperation,” AIPAC said, whole adding that it urges other Arab states and the Palestinians to follow their lead and puts the onus on the Palestinian leadership to end its boycott of Israel and the US and to return to the negotiating table.
According to a Muslim scholar, the peace deal that could change the world over the next century. “It’s just very difficult to explain the scale of this (deal). This is epic and historic,” Dr. Qanta Ahmed told Fox News. “The peace deal will “end the game for the Islamist mothership – the Muslim Brotherhood – and put Iran on the defensive.”
Not surprisingly, on the other side of the fault line, Iran and Turkey have both both come out vehemently, and almost violently, opposed the deal, and have sparked fears that it will lead to more instability in the region.
Iran called the deal a “dagger that was unjustly struck by the UAE in the back of the Palestinian people and all Muslims.” The rhetoric employed by the Islamic Republic comes as a brewing crisis looms over Iran, which could easily worsen. Iran faced scheduled presidential elections next year and the agreement could serve as a justification for a hardline conservative candidate to run on a platform that argues that Iran has become isolated and is surrounded by hostile Arab powers who now have good relations with the US, Israel, and Europe.
With its now fully-expected belligerence, Turkey also condemned the agreement and said that it added to the series of already ongoing disputes that the Turks have with the UAE, including Libya, the blockade of Qatar, and the drilling for natural gas in the Eastern Mediterranean.
In response to the deal, Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, threatened to completely cut off his country’s ties to the UAE, a move that would further complicate diplomacy in the region as Turkey has aligned itself in full hostile opposition to its former allies, Israel and the U.S. allies. Erdogan’s aggressive tone towards Israel and his warm embrace of Palestinian terrorist groups like Hamas are in stark contrast to Turkey’s past relationship with Israel. The Turks were the first Muslim nation to recognize the State of Israel in March 1949.
The response from Tehran and Ankara has led a Saudi political analyst to say that Iran and Turkey are now the main threats to the region of the Near East. “Iran has been trying to seize control of Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen while the Muslim Brotherhood, via Turkey’s ruling Islamist AK party, is expanding its influence in Syria, Lebanon and Libya. These are the real enemies, especially for the people of Saudi Arabia, the UAE. and Bahrain,” Ahmad Al Farraj said.
The embattled Palestinian Authority called the deal a “betrayal of Jerusalem, the al-Aqsa Mosque, and the Palestinian cause,” while adding that “the Palestinian leadership rejects and denounces the surprising UAE, Israeli and US trilateral announcement,” a senior adviser to Abbas said.
Hamas, the main Palestinian Islamist terrorist group that de facto runs the Gaza Strip, and who views the relationship with Israel as a fight to the death, called it a “stab in the back of our people by the United Arab Emirates.”
Analysts in the region believe that if the Arab states agree to back the Abraham Accords, it would dramatically consolidate all Sunni nations in the region, with Israel, in a wider struggle against Shi’a Iran.
Iran, facing fresh sanctions from the US, and its proxies and allies in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, have all been weakened by domestic turmoil, a collapsing economy and broken by war, ISIS and al-Qaeda.
Hezbollah, the powerful Lebanese terrorist group that was founded by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and which Israel has treated as enemy number 1 for years, faces its most serious domestic backlash after the explosion that destroyed whole districts of central Beirut.
A strange twist in all of this is that Russia, which is Turkey’s main mentor these days and a staunch ally of Syria, has yet to react to the situation. This is highly uncharacteristic as Moscow is usually quick to the draw in the Middle East. China, as well, though Beijing is a major investor in the region, has also been fairly silent…so far.