The dawn of a new order in the Middle East. Trump has shown that another way is possible, Palestinians with no more alibis

To understand the Abrahamic Agreements signed in Washington on September 15, 2020, we must not start from the Trump presidency, but from that of Barack Obama. It was President Obama who created the environment that Trump then cleverly exploited to reach an agreement between Israel and the moderate Sunni Arab world in the Gulf.

But mind you: it is not a certain compliment to the former US president. In fact, the context left by the Obama administration is the result of the failure of its strategy in the Middle East, but it has allowed an important part of the Arab world – the one that promoted the Arab League's peace proposal in 2002 – to definitively understand that Israel is not the real enemy and that the Palestinian question could no longer be a sine qua non for signing an agreement with the Jewish state.

What did Obama want? It is easy to say: 1) a balance of terror in which Iran was practically on a par with Israel, only partially blocking Tehran's nuclear program; 2) a new equilibrium in the Sunni world, which de facto abandoned to themselves the old reigning monarchies, now considered almost without legitimacy. In fact, the Obamian policy has been translated, tightening to the maximum, in guaranteeing freedom of movement for Iranians throughout the Middle East and in guaranteeing the support of the US administration to the Muslim Brotherhood, because it is erroneously considered representative of the social demands of Islam ( with all due respect to civil rights, women's rights and sexual minorities). In short, as they would say in Naples "nu papocchio" .

Unfortunately for Obama, the moderate Sunni political forces and monarchies of the Gulf, which he so disliked, managed to hold the helm, reacting to what they perceived as a direct threat to their existence. They managed to block the expansion of Islamism in countries such as Egypt and directly reacted to the Iranian threat in hot areas such as Lebanon, where Hezbollah was now ruling. If Lebanon has failed, it is not only because its national pact has failed or because the peg to the dollar wanted by Rafiq Hariri has failed, but above all because the Gulf monarchies – Saudi Arabia above all – have divested from Beirut and the remittances of the Lebanese living in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have failed. A constant and silent reaction to the Khomeinist Shiite power, which in fact proved to be successful (the crisis in Lebanon, let us remember, was not born with the explosions in Beirut, but much earlier).

Now we come to Trump. The "scoundrel in chief" Trump, as some like to call him, continued on the path of American disengagement from the Middle East, which has been going on for decades and which had also advanced with Obama. Trump, however, has overturned the paradigm: withdrawal yes, but by rebuilding traditional American alliances in that region and putting back the real threat to the instability of that area, namely Iran. In four years, the Iranian regime has been economically crushed, with a strategy that – despite the mega agreement between Tehran and Beijing – is also forcing China to condition its ties with the Islamic Republic based on some limitations of the rule of law ( such as the reform of the Iranian banking sector requested for years by the Financial Action Task Force ).

The reconstruction of traditional American alliances, therefore, had to go hand in hand with the empowerment of local actors (just as Trump is asking NATO partners to have a more active role in managing the expenses and burdens of the Atlantic Alliance). Obviously, this accountability went directly to a geopolitical agreement that was able to bring together the strongest regional actor, Israel, with the moderate Sunni allies of the West, Saudi Arabia in the lead, increasing the security of all. Probably, when Trump himself presented "the deal of the century" between Israelis and Palestinians, he already knew that the annexation of the Jordan Valley would be the good excuse to normalize diplomatic relations between the Jewish state and some Gulf countries, showing how the Palestinian question still remained within the agreement (obviously the Palestinians have expressed their umpteenth refusal, but by now we are all used to this).

Thus, while sharing with Obama the trend of progressive American disengagement from the Middle East, but overturning his failed strategy, which has only produced destabilization, Trump has succeeded in a historic enterprise, which promises to change the face of the Middle East forever. It is perhaps the dawn of a new regional geopolitical order which, precisely, has in political Islamism, both Shiite and Sunni, the enemy to fight.

If we want, historically speaking, today's Middle East has betrayed Ben Gurion, to go back to the times of Feisal and Weizmann. Ben Gurion dreamed of a normal geopolitical alliance between Israel and non-Arab countries, Iran and Turkey in the lead. This has been the case since the beginning of the Cold War, until the Baghdad Pact (1955) was valid. But then things changed, first with the Iranian revolution of 1979 and then with the arrival of Erdogan in Ankara. Thus, the Jewish world returned to that 1919 understanding between the then president of the World Zionist Organization Weizmann, later Israel's first president, and the son of Hussein the Sheriff of Mecca. An agreement in which the Arabs, allies of the British, said they were in favor of the Balfour Declaration and the Zionist project in Palestine. For the British, today it is enough to replace the Americans and the game, brutalizing the comparison to the maximum, is done.

Mind you: to think that the one between Israel and the Sunni Arab world is an agreement only against Iran would be a trivialization of something enormously greater. As already written, the construction of a new Middle East and a close dialogue between the Jewish world and the moderate Sunni world are at stake. A strategic partnership, which passes through financial agreements, in the construction sector, in the science and hi-tech sector and in the commercial sector. For years, Israel had relaunched the “ railway for peace ” project, a large railway line that intends to connect the port of Haifa with Saudi Arabia, via Jordan. Today, coincidentally, in the port of Haifa, they want to invest the Emiratis directly (the Haaretz newspaper talks about an upcoming agreement between the Israeli company Israel Shipard and the Emirate of DC World ). The volume of trade calculated annually between Israel and the Emirates could reach the figure of 4 billion dollars a year, while from Manama they say they are willing to invest in Israeli infrastructure for a value of at least 500 million dollars.

As Trump later said, other countries will follow (we are talking about Morocco, Sudan, Oman and of course Saudi Arabia). As for Riyadh, we don't know when it will take the final step towards normalization, but it is clear to everyone that Bahrain has been pushed forward in this match with the full blessing of Mohammed Bin Salman. The Saudis could, as Morocco seems to want to do, first start direct flights with Israel, and then normalize diplomatic relations.

The move, from a geopolitical point of view, must therefore also be seen in an anti-Turkish key. In this case, if we look at what is happening in the eastern Mediterranean, the Abrahamic Agreement could easily be extended towards Greece and Cyprus, with France as the first European country willing to bless it, in order to counter Erdogan's activism and defend the military and energy interests of Paris.

In this context, Italy could certainly play its game, as long as it finally decides which side to take. For now, Rome plays in the middle, aware of having ended up in Erdogan's trap, but also unable to get rid of it clearly. How long this double game will last, it is not known. The fact remains that the Eastmed gas pipeline could arrive in Italy, which would allow the EU to diversify its gas supplies, especially from Russia. Eastmed seems to some not economically convenient, but it must be considered as a strategic geopolitical project, which among other things could easily be revised to join in the final part with the TAP coming from Azerbaijan.

Finally, a few words on the European leaders: their absence at the signing of the Abrahamic Agreement in Washington is shameful. An absence born of the Oslo ideology, the one that saw only the Palestinian question as the way to solve the problems of the Middle East. A “Dalemian” reading of international relations, which has always proved philosophically fascinating, but practically unsuccessful. Few recalling, in this sense, that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, before being such, was Arab-Israeli. Europe can therefore choose: either it follows the path traced by those who understood that, once the Sykes-Pikot agreements failed, it is time to rebuild a regional order based on peace and peaceful coexistence, or it will remain a prisoner of the 1980 Venice Declaration , the one with which the Europeans recognized the PLO, but which in fact made the diplomacy of the Old Continent a bureaucratic machine that has now totally jammed.

As Vasco Rossi would say, “history is made here!”. Whoever is able to get on this train now will enjoy the fruits, whoever lets it escape will pay the consequences for decades. In the second category, the one that constantly loses trains, up to now there have been Palestinians …

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This is a machine translation from Italian language of a post published on Atlantico Quotidiano at the URL on Thu, 17 Sep 2020 03:48:00 +0000.