WEST Asia has become a stage for the bipolarity of geopolitics.
Each pole in this equation have internationalist ambitions: one being the so-called “liberal-democratic” internationalism bolstered by the United States and its allies, the other being the “Axis of Resistance,” a counterforce to “liberal-democratic” interventionism represented by Iran, Syria, Palestine, and other key actors.
What ‘Peace with Israel’ Means for the United States
In order for the United States—more largely, “liberal-democratic” internationalism—to maintain its stronghold in West Asia, it must forge strong ties in the region. Stifling the Axis of Resistance and asserting American hegemony in West Asia necessitates fostering alliances between its client states. Most crucially, this means establishing peace deals between the major client state of Israel with Arab nations that have hitherto outwardly presented as “pro-Palestinian.”
The establishment of “peace” between Israel and the UAE—and now Bahrain—means greater hegemony in the region and greater suffocation of the Axis of Resistance. More critically, such an alliance intentionally creates a strong affront against Iran (a crucial player in this Axis).
This, in fact, is not remotely a matter of conjecture. Israeli leaders themselves are seeing as this as an affront to Iran, with Israel’s MP stating that the “peace deal is the new front against Iran.” Similarly, Brian Hook, the Former U.S. Special Representative for Iran has stated that “the future is very much in the Gulf and with Israel, and the past is with the Iranian regime.”
Despite the UAE claiming that the deal was not meant to be an affront to Iran, it is evident, with both the claims of the Israel and the United States, that this move was an attempt to weaken Iran’s position in the region considerably.
What ‘Peace with Israel’ Means for the UAE and Bahrain
While the interests of Israel and the US are clear, the motives of the UAE and Bahrain are naught but strategic moves to secure their own positions in the region.
For Bahrain’s monarchy, an alliance with the United States and Israel is critical for strengthening its state apparatus against persistent endogenous shocks. The Bahraini state was able to quell a great portion of internal dissent in 2011 with the help of Saudi Arabia and the UAE. An alliance with the “liberal-democratic” order thus allows for Bahrain to beef-up its repressive state apparatuses.
For the UAE, this peace deal could be a strategic response to their own dire economic circumstances given low oil prices, with the UAE recently entering the debt market with a 50-year bond.
Yet the UAE is far from a monolith, with Dubai sometimes serving as a rival to the interests of Abu Dhabi. Given Iran’s economic isolation as a result of sanctions (particularly from the United States), Dubai has served as an important centre for trade and banking for Iran. Iranian banks such as Melli and Saderat which have typically been blacklisted by US sanctions have been able to operate with moderate success out of Dubai.
However, this relationship has been threatened for the past few years, with US sanctions pressuring Dubai to cut ties with Iran. Evidently, the deal with Israel can only make such tension stronger and can potentially lead to further economic isolation. Such economic tension will likewise affect the UAE, with the Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces General Mohammad Baqeri stating that “the Iranian nation’s attitude towards this neighboring state (UAE) Will change fundamentally.”
Despite such warming up to the “liberal-democratic” order in the past, the UAE—and especially Dubai—nonetheless offered a haven for Iranian trade and banking in the face of sanctions. It is, in the face of debt and insecurity, in the UAE’s strategic interest to balance the interests of both axes. Thus, it is likely that such a strategic relationship between Iran and the UAE will persist—one which is outwardly hostile but quietly economically cooperative.
The relationship is evidently subject to future fluctuation, not dissimilar to Qatar’s change in relationship with Iran in the wake of the diplomatic crisis of 2017. Though the deal may be cited as a clear move by the UAE and now Bahrain, its potential aftermath is beyond prediction.
Nazanin Zarepour is a graduate student and researcher at the University of Toronto. She is Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations at the University of Toronto, with the twelfth edition available here.
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