No big deal?

The Pak Banker - - FRONT PAGE -

The for­eign min­is­ters of Is­rael and the UAE openly ex­changed phone calls this week. It was more a case of 'hear my ring' than 'wear my ring', but the en­gage­ment has none­the­less pub­licly been for­malised, and a mar­riage made in Wash­ing­ton is on the cards.

Per­haps it should not have come as a sur­prise. It was an open se­cret that the two par­ties had been flirt­ing for decades. In­tel­li­gence links re­port­edly stretch back as far as the 1970s, but the re­la­tion­ship blos­somed into a more mean­ing­ful ro­mance more re­cently, when the old ' en­emy of my en­emy is my friend' dy­namic ac­quired greater po­tency dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion's over­tures to Iran.

Then Don­ald Trump ap­peared on the Amer­i­can elec­toral land­scape, and their Is­raeli links helped both the Saudi crown prince, Mo­hammed bin Sal­man (MBS), and his re­gional men­tor Mo­hammed bin Zayed (MBZ), the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, gain ac­cess to the in­ner cir­cles. Jared Kush­ner, the pres­i­dent's son-in-law, was an ob­vi­ous con­duit.

All of the Gulf states have long been loyal al­lies of the US. And for much of that pe­riod their overt hos­til­ity to Is­rael has been tem­pered by a covert envy re­lat­ing not only to the na­tion's tech­no­log­i­cal prow­ess and its nu­clear ca­pa­bil­ity, but to its priv­i­leged sta­tus as Un­cle Sam's golden child in the Mid­dle East. Apart from be­ing by far the most favoured re­cip­i­ent of Amer­i­can largesse in the re­gion, in the eyes of suc­ces­sive US ad­min­is­tra­tions it could also do no wrong. Par­tic­u­larly egre­gious ex­cesses earned, at best, a mild and mean­ing­less rep­ri­mand.

Ev­ery ref­er­ence to Is­rael had to be changed to 'the Zion­ist en­tity'.

MBS and MBZ wanted a piece of that, and un­der Trump - a fel­low wor­ship­per of Mam­mon - they have largely suc­ceeded. It doesn't hurt, from the Amer­i­can point of view, that the UAE, along­side Saudi Ara­bia, is among the keen­est clients for US mil­i­tary hard­ware - and both na­tions' propen­sity to de­ploy it against much weaker foes has been am­ply demon­strated in Ye­men for more than half a decade.

Reach­ing a peace deal in Ye­men might in­deed have been an achieve­ment for the UAE, five years after it col­lab­o­rated with the Saudis in an in­ter­ven­tion that both naively thought would achieve its ob­jec­tives within months, if not weeks. In­stead, it finds cause for pride in mak­ing peace with a na­tion with which it has never been at war.

Un­like Egypt in 1979 and Jor­dan 15 years later, the UAE's ac­com­mo­da­tion with Is­rael isn't a shift from hos­til­i­ties to fri­vol­i­ties and frater­ni­sa­tion. Abu Dhabi and Wash­ing­ton have sought to frame Is­rael's sus­pen­sion of its de­clared in­tent to an­nex more of the oc­cu­pied West Bank as a key as­pect of the deal. That is sheer non­sense, given that Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu's elec­toral prom­ise has al­ready been on hold pend­ing a green light from the White House, with the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion get­ting cold feet over the idea of en­dors­ing such an out­ra­geous vi­o­la­tion of in­ter­na­tional law by its pet state.

The song sheets were not co­or­di­nated, though. Trump says an­nex­a­tion is off the ta­ble. Ne­tanyahu says it def­i­nitely is not, but the set­tlers who live on oc­cu­pied Pales­tinian ter­ri­tory aren't con­vinced. David Fried­man, the US am­bas­sador to Is­rael, says the word 'sus­pend' was cho­sen care­fully, and it means a 'tem­po­rary halt'. It's un­likely the UAE will have any say in if and when that 'halt' slides to 'go' - but then, the Emi­rates ha­bit­u­ally thrive on fan­tasies.

When I worked for a news­pa­per in Dubai from the late 1980s to the mid

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