U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attend a joint press conference in the White House in Washington D.C., U.S., January 28, 2020. /Xinhua
Bahrain's announcement of a deal to normalize ties with Israel suggests a triumph for both U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and it is an important step for the U.S. to re-structure geopolitics in the Middle East.
After the normalization of ties between the UAE and Israel last month, many analysts maintained that Bahrain, Oman and Sudan would follow the trend to establish formal ties with Israel.
However, the leadership in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia were hesitating due to strong opposition from the Palestinian Authority. After the visits of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner to Gulf Arab states earlier this month, Bahrain started to adjust its attitude and finally recognizes Israel.
Trump perceives this deal as an important achievement and a major step toward the Nobel Peace Prize. From Bill Clinton to George W. Bush and Barack Obama, every U.S. president achieved something in the Middle East. Clinton facilitated the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the normalization of ties between Israel and Jordan, Bush organized several rounds of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestine, while Obama successfully signed a nuclear deal with Iran and other world powers in 2015.
After assuming power in 2017, Trump's Middle East policies have been focusing on two dimensions.
On the one hand, Trump hopes to reach a new deal with Iran through major concessions made from Tehran. He believes that not only Iran's nuclear capabilities should be monitored, but Iran's regional influence should be constrained. Therefore, he applied the "maximum pressure" strategy on Iran.
However, Tehran firmly resisted U.S. intention and pressure, making any direct talks between representatives from the U.S. and Iran unlikely in the near future.
On the other hand, Trump hopes to make breakthroughs in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Trump bases his strategy of facilitating lasting peace for Israel and Palestine on his new agenda, the so-called "Middle East peace plan." He recognizes Israel's legal ownership of Jerusalem and permits Israel's annexation of parts of the West Bank, and believes these are the foundations for the lasting peace between Israel and Palestine. Palestinians of course find this plan unacceptable, and the Palestinian Authority rejects any talks with Israel under the mediation from Washington.
Therefore, the only possible diplomatic achievement made by Trump in the Middle East is to normalize ties between Israel and Gulf Arab states. These states are Sunni-ruled kingdoms with increasing tension with Iran. After 2011, Iran and its allies' growing influence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen has become worrisome for the Gulf Arab states. As a Shiite Persian-dominated regional power, Iran is seen by the Arab states as a threat that needs to be balanced.
Among these countries, Bahrain has especially tense bilateral ties with Iran in recent years. In 2011, the Bahraini society underwent a major social unrest, and Bahrain's government blamed Iran for supporting the Shiite-driven protests. Bahrain strongly relies on the assistance from its neighbor Saudi Arabia as well as the U.S., whose Fifth Fleet is stationed on the Gulf island.
To ensure its own security, Bahrain needs to make a choice. In 2002, the Arab League announced the "Arab Peace Initiative," which promised to normalize ties with Israel only after the lasting peace was established between Israel and Palestine. However, given the increasing sense of threats, Bahrain finally shifted its stance.
The economic part of Trump's "Middle East peace plan" was formally released by Jared Kushner in Bahrain last May; the Bahraini ambassador participated in the roll-out of the peace plan held in Washington this January. Therefore, it is just a matter of time before a deal to normalize diplomatic relations between Bahrain and Israel is finally reached.
Israel and Bahrain are not natural allies, but their shared interest in Middle Eastern geopolitics has led them to this agreement. Although Netanyahu made his concession to give up annexation of parts of the West Bank, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will no longer be a major obstacle for the Gulf Arab states to normalize their ties with Israel. The Palestinians are ignored and forgotten.
Source: 2020/09/14 CGTN