In November 2020, as dusk settled in on the Trump administration, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to Israel. His trip not only confirmed that the new Israel-Arab peace deals were never about new peace deals – they couldn’t be because they made no new peace – but about recognizing and cementing the occupation and starting a new Middle East arms race that has Iran as its finish line.
Pompeo In His Own Words
In the most telling formulation of the of the Middle East peace deals uttered by an American spokesman since they were signed, Pompeo made it clear that the deals were really about two things: aggressively confronting Iran and setting the precedent that deals could be made in the middle east without considering the Palestinians while cementing the occupation.
In a little reported admission, Pompeo told the Jerusalem Post that central to the Trump administration’s "Vision for Peace" in the Middle East were the twin pillars of identifying and isolating "Iran as the prime actor who is causing instability in the Middle East, and finally [overturning] the notion that you can’t do anything until you solve the Israel-Palestinian conflict." With that confessional formulation, Pompeo made it clear that the plans with the United Arab Emirate (UAE), Bahrain and Sudan were really not peace plans, but war plans against Iran that not only allowed, but set the US stamp of approval on Israeli occupied territory. Pompeo called these new understandings of the Middle East "historic."
It’s About Iran
When the Trump administration used the promise of F-35 fighter jets and other advanced US weaponry to pressure the UAE and Bahrain into publicly recognizing Israel, it simultaneously reassured a nervous Israel that the jets sold to the UAE “would not erode Israel’s edge as they would be used to defend against the common enemy of Iran.” The New York Times put this reassurance into context: “Trump administration officials say the détente between the Emirates and Israel – and possibly future deals between Israel and other Arab nations – are also part of a wider effort to counter Iran. Administration officials have tried to placate Israeli concerns about an Arab nation getting the F-35 by emphasizing that the Emirates, like Israel, is an avowed enemy of Iran and that strengthening the Emirati military will help Israel’s security.”
That the focus of the deals was Iran is made clear by the roll call at the meetings between the US, Israel and the UAE. Always in attendance with Secretary of State Pompeo was Brian Hook, then US envoy for Iran. Hook promised that the Trump administration would help the UAE to defend itself against Iran while protecting Israel’s qualitative military edge. Speaking at the White House, Hook said that “Peace between the Arabs and the Israelis is Iran’s worst nightmare… And what we see today is a new Middle East. The trend lines are very different today. And we see the future is very much in the Gulf and with Israel. In the past, it was with the Iranian regime.”
And how would the US "help the UAE to defend itself against Iran while protecting Israel’s qualitative edge"? Not the way you’d think. The legal formula implies that Israel would receive weapons to offset the weapons acquired by the UAE to restore the military edge that existed prior to the UAE acquisition. That’s the implication, but not the realization. The UAE will acquire F-35 fighter jets, Reaper drones and EA-18G Growler jets that are capable of jamming enemy air defenses. So, the formulation implies that Israel would receive military equipment to keep up with and offset these specific acquisitions. But, while the $8 billion compensation deal negotiated by Israel may include combat helicopters, advanced communications satellites, 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 package could also includes bunker buster bombs. But UAE advances don’t call for bunker busters. Iranian advances do.
When Israel sabotaged Iran’s Natanz civilian nuclear enrichment facility on July 3, 2020, Iran would respond by renovating the plant underground. Iran has followed this legal nuclear security strategy before. Israel does not need to acquire bunker buster bombs to maintain a military edge over the new UAE, it needs them to restore an edge over Iran.
So, bipartisan legislation in the US congress takes care of that. If passed, new legislation would permit the sale to Israel of 30,000-pound bunker buster bombs, also known as MOPs, or massive ordnance penetrators, that can penetrate even facilities that are deep underground. Representative Josh Gottheimer, one of the authors of the legislation, offers the assurance that the Mops would "shore up Israel’s qualitative military edge." But not against the UAE, who will be receiving the US weapons as part of their deal with Israel: against Iran.
So, the architecture of the deal is that the UAE receives US weaponry "to defend against the common enemy of Iran," and, in compensation, to balance the acquisition, Israel receives weaponry to keep up with…Iran.
And in case there is still any doubt that the peace deals were more about war with Iran than peace with the Gulf States, then let Pompeo reverse those doubts himself. In the same Jerusalem Post interview, Pompeo insisted that "the maximum pressure campaign" against Iran "sent a strong message to the Middle East that facilitated the Abraham Accords [through] this central understanding, this isolation of Iran in ways that are deeply different than before – whether it’s the [United Arab] Emirates or Bahrain or Sudan or whoever signs the Abraham Accords next." It couldn’t be clearer: pressuring and isolating Iran "facilitated the Abraham Accords."
Cementing the Occupation
The Abraham Accord peace plans were palatably packaged as trading, not weapons for peace, but as trading the end of the annexation of 30% of the West Bank in exchange for peace. But the packaging was a sleight of hand. The agreements never require Israel to “stop” annexation of the 30% of the West Bank promised to it in Trump’s Middle East peace plan. The text of the agreement says “suspend,” not stop. And “suspend,” according to Jared Kushner, means that the annexation won’t happen "for some time." But any amount of time is some time. Trump explained it as "right now it’s off the table" and added that "I can’t talk about some time into the future." American Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman was a lot clearer: “The word ‘suspend’ was chosen carefully by all the parties. ‘Suspend,’ by definition – look it up – means ‘temporary halt.’ It’s off the table now, but it’s not off the table permanently.”
Trump never actually asked Netanyahu to stop the planned annexation. According to a senior Israeli political source, the Trump administration asked only "that we temporarily postpone declaring [sovereignty over parts of the West Bank] in order to achieve the beginning of this historic peace agreement with the Emirates."
The UAE/Israel agreement gave the Palestinians a suspended annexation that had already been suspended. Yisrael Katz, a member of Netanyahu’s cabinet, clarified: "the annexation of parts of the occupied West Bank was already suspended before the announcement of a deal to normalize relations with the United Arab Emirates." He then explained that "presenting the agreement as related to [the annexation] is more suitable to all Arab countries": mere sleight of hand.
Last year, Bahrain’s foreign minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa telegraphed his kingdom’s abandonment of the Palestinians. No longer keeping one eye on Palestine and the other on Iran and its own interests, he explained that “We grew up talking about the Palestine-Israel dispute as the most important issue. But then at a later stage, we saw a bigger challenge. We saw a more toxic one, in fact the most toxic in our modern history, which came from the Islamic Republic, from Iran.”
The Abraham accords do just what Pompeo said they do: they act as assassins of the rule "that you can’t do anything until you solve the Israel-Palestinian conflict." They allow Arab countries to step out of the Arab consensus as enshrined in the Saudi peace initiative that shuns a separate peace made with Israel without first negotiating a settlement for the Palestinians. They allow the Israeli occupation to continue with Arab and American approval.
And Pompeo backed his words with actions. During his trip to Israel, Pompeo became the first US secretary of state to visit an Israeli settlement in the illegally occupied West Bank and Golan Heights. When Pompeo stepped into the winery in Psagot and ate lunch, he effectively toasted Israeli control of the occupied territory.
He then went one step further in recognizing the occupied territory as Israeli territory. On November 19, 2020, Pompeo issued a State Department Press Statement that announced guidelines declaring that from now on, consistent with a "reality-based foreign policy," all products made in Area C of the West Bank "will be required" to be labeled"Product of Israel" or "Made in Israel." With that Press Release, the US explicitly recognized the occupied territory as Israel territory.
What has always been implicitly clear about Trump’s new Middle East peace plans has now been made explicitly obvious by Pompeo’s trip to Israel. The real achievement of the Abraham Accords was not pace between Israel and Arab countries they were already at peace with. The real achievement was reinforcing an alliance against Iran and legitimizing the occupation of the West Bank.
Ted Snider has a graduate degree in philosophy and writes on analyzing patterns in US foreign policy and history.