Desperately chasing a single foreign policy accomplishment in the dying days before the election, Donald Trump is frantically pursuing a Middle East peace plan. Not the Israel/Palestine one he promised – in four years in office, that never came close – but the illusory peace plan between countries who were already at peace.
How far would Trump go to offer the voting public this sleight of hand? To
purchase peace in the Middle East, he would inject massively more arms into
the Middle East, legitimize an occupation – not the occupation of Palestine:
an additional occupation – and support terrorism. Arms, occupation and terrorism.
All to purchase very little – if any – peace.
The Deals We Have: United Arab Emirates and Bahrain
The first two deals cannot qualify as peace plans because the signatories were all already at peace. Both the UAE and Bahrain were already at peace with Israel: neither has ever gone to war with Israel. The plans merely made public what was already true in not so well kept secrets.
Commercial relations between the UAE and Israel go back a long time before the agreement. So do diplomatic relations: senior Israeli officials have been welcomed in the UAE for years. More importantly, defense and security ties long preexist Trump’s breakthrough deal. According to Rashid Khalidi, professor of modern Arab studies at Columbia University, the UAE’s air defense system and missile defense system are manufactured in Israel. They are made by Raytheon, which is an American company, though they are largely made in Israel. And the ties between Israel and the UAE are not new. Reporting by UPI in January of 2012 had already revealed that the UAE had “discreet ties with private security companies in Israel to protect its oil fields and borders.” They report that ties between the UAE’s Critical National Infrastructure Authority and several Israeli companies may go back to as early as 2007. Shockingly, and little discussed, clandestine ties go back even further than that. According to intelligence columnist for Haaretz, Yossi Melman, Israel and the UAE established intelligence community ties at least as early as the 1970s. And, he says, “Every head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency since then has had a relationship with his counterpart in the UAE.”
The deal with Bahrain is no more of a breakthrough. Stephen Zunes, professor of politics and international studies at the University of San Francisco and an authority on the Middle East, told me in a personal correspondence that there have been informal economic relations between Israel and Bahrain going back at least a couple of decades. Israel has reportedly sold spy software to Bahrain. According to reporting by the New York Times, Bahrain had already hosted an Israeli cabinet official as early as 1994. Three years ago, in 2017, Bahrain even sent a delegation to Israel. In the same year, at a security conference in Munich, Bahrain’s foreign minister approached Israel’s foreign minister to pass on a message from the king that he had already decided to “move towards normalization with Israel.” There’s no new peace here.
Far from introducing peace between Israel and the UAE, Trump’s deal introduced an arms race. Long denied acquisitions of American arms – including F-35 fighter jets, Reaper drones and EA-18G Growler jets that are capable of jamming enemy air defenses – was the price of the UAE’s signature, a price which just triggered an Israeli demand for $8 billion worth of American arms to stay ahead in the race. The new weapons in Israel could include combat helicopters, advanced communications satellites, bunker buster bombs, more F-35s, KC-46A tanker aircrafts that are capable of refueling many aircrafts simultaneously and V-22 aircrafts that can transform form helicopter to airplane.
The Israel-UAE agreement looks more like an arms race than a peace treaty.
The Promise of More: Sudan and Morocco
Two of the next countries that seem to be in Trump’s sights are Sudan and Morocco. Unlike the UAE and Bahrain, Sudan has gone to war with Israel, but not in over half a century, although both have been accused of supporting rebel groups in each other’s countries. Relations between the two countries improved in 2016 when Sudan cut ties with Iran. They improved still more last year when Sudan changed governments. Sudanese and Israeli leaders had already met publicly by February 2020, at which time Sudan began to permit Israeli planes to fly in Sudanese skies.
But, as in the deals that preceded it, there was a price for Sudan’s peace. The economically struggling nation of Sudan is handcuffed by being barred from U.S. and international assistance by its inclusion – along with Iran, Syria and North Korea – on the US list of State Sponsors of Terrorism. Sudan has been on the list since 1993 over a number of charges, including helping Hezbollah and Palestinian groups and providing a home for Osama bin Laden. The US also accuses Sudan of being complicit in al Qaeda attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and the on the Navy Destroyer Cole.
Whether or not Sudan still deserves to be on the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism, Trump’s bargain makes it clear either that they were on the list when they shouldn’t be to extort recognition of Israel or that they were on the list because they should be, and Trump will turn a blind eye to terrorism if that’s the price to get his peace plan.
On October 19, Trump announced on Twitter that he "will lift Sudan from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list."
Like the UAE and Bahrain, Morocco is not at war with Israel. The two countries have cooperated closely for a long time. In 1986, Prime Minister Shimon Peres officially visited King Hassan II in Morocco. Earlier Prime Ministers had Foreign Ministers had long visited Morocco in secret. The two countries have also long cooperated on strategic and military matters. Though Iran, Turkey and Ethiopia are more commonly mentioned as Periphery Doctrine Partners of Israel, Morocco, too, was an important partner. Israel traded Morocco technological and intelligence information in exchange for a permanent Mossad station in Rabat. Israel used that Moroccan station to spy on Arab countries.
So close was Morocco’s relationship with Israel that King Hassan II gave his permission for Mossad to bug the meeting rooms and private suites of all the Arab leaders in attendance in Casablanca for a secret Arab summit in 1965. He also provided them with recordings of their conversations. The leaders were in Casablanca to discuss strategy for future wars with Israel, and Morocco let Israel listen in. According to Ronen Bergman, in Rise and Kill First, this eavesdropping "gave Israel an unprecedented glimpse into the military and intelligence secrets of its greatest enemies." It was here that Israel learned that the Arab armies were not prepared for a war with Israel, information that formed the basis of Israel’s decision to go to war in 1967 and provided the crucial intelligence it needed to prepare for the 1967 war. In return, by the way, Moroccan intelligence asked the Mossad to assassinate an opponent of the King. Bergman says that internal Mossad cables and records confirm that Mossad was deeply involved in his murder.
If the price for a public peace in the first deals was arms, and in the Sudan deal, terrorism, then the price of the Moroccan deal, perhaps most stunningly, is the legitimization of an occupation that is illegal under international law. And not the one you think. While all the deals legitimize the Israeli occupation of Palestine by breaking with the Arab League promise not to recognize Israel until Israel makes a peace with Palestine, a Moroccan deal would also legitimize Morocco’s occupation of the Western Sahara.
More than forty-five ago, as Western Sahara was on the verge of winning her independence from colonial Spain, Morocco, in an act of international phagocytosis, engulfed her, making her part of Morocco. Both the U.N. and the International Court of Justice have ruled in favor of Western Sahara’s right to self governance. But the US and France have thwarted the UN’s ability to act on its resolutions. Though seldom discussed, Stephen Zunes, Professor of Politics and International Studies at the University of San Francisco and an authority on Morocco’s occupation, told me many years ago in a personal correspondence that he knows of no police state worse or more repressive than Moroccan occupied Sahara. Zunes said that the US sees Morocco as a loyal friend and long time ally in both the cold war and the war on terror. America sees the Moroccan monarchy as damn against a left wing nationalist movement.
Morocco’s willingness to publicly normalize relations with Israel is apparently contingent on the US recognizing Morocco’s control over Western Sahara, shattering international law and legitimizing the occupation. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly been pressuring the US to do just that.
Having failed to deliver his promised peace plan between Israel and Palestine, Trump is desperately chasing down illusory peace plans in the Middle East. The two deals he has struck, and the two he is pursuing, show just how far he is willing to go to get them. Rather than bring peace to the Middle East, his plans bring a new arms race, either turn a blind eye to terrorism or use terrorism as extortion to get a plan, and legitimize an illegal occupation.
Ted Snider has a graduate degree in philosophy and writes on analyzing patterns in US foreign policy and history.