Source Responsible Statecraft
WASHINGTON, U.S.--The Abraham Accords – an initiative that has normalized relations between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan – was greeted with great fanfare when it was kicked off with its signing by Israel and the UAE in September 2020.
The brainchild of then President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, it was billed as a novel approach to bringing peace and economic cooperation to the region while improving the conditions for Palestinians living in Israeli-occupied territories.
Others, including this author, expressed concerns that the Accords might degenerate into a rationale for pouring more arms into the region in exchange for minimal or nonexistent benefits in fostering peace and stability in the Middle East and North Africa. And a New York Times Magazine piece now reports that “sales of Pegasus [spyware] played an unseen but critical role …in negotiating the Abraham Accords.”
The future of the Accords has gained new relevance now that there is a move in Congress to enshrine them in U.S. law via the Israeli Relations Normalization Act, or (IRNA), which could come up for a vote in the next few weeks.
One indicator of the true nature of the Abraham Accords comes in a new report by the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, a hardline neo-conservative Washington think tank. As my colleague Eli Clifton has documented, the report was authored by eight former military officers and diplomats, seven of whom have ties to the arms industry, including companies that have sold arms or otherwise done business with the UAE, the first signatory of the Accords.
Arms sales indeed, in parallel to the UAE’s accession to the accords, the Trump administration offered the monarchy $23 billion in U.S. weaponry, including F-35 combat aircraft, armed drones, and $10 billion worth of bombs.
The arms sales linked to the Accords are one sign of what’s wrong with them. Not only have they reinforced the status quo in terms of Israel’s occupation and repression of Palestinians, but they also threaten to further tie the United States to a network of autocratic regimes in the Middle East and North Africa in ways that will undermine the ability of the Biden administration or a future president to scale back the U.S. military presence in the region, a move that is long overdue.
The UAE’s inclusion in the arrangement is particularly troubling given its dismal human rights record and reckless conduct in the region. The UAE has been a full partner with Saudi Arabia in its devastating war in Yemen, which has resulted in the killing of thousands of civilians in indiscriminate air strikes and resulted in the deaths of nearly a quarter of a million people more as a result of the destruction of critical infrastructure, including roads, health facilities, and even schools.
The UAE has also been an irresponsible steward of U.S.-supplied weapons, transferring small arms and armored vehicles to the militias they are backing, some of which include current or former members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Yemen is far from the only place where the UAE has waged war in violation of international norms and U.S. interests. The UAE has intervened in the civil war in Libya on behalf of anti-government forces led by the warlord Gen. Khalifa Haftar in violation of a United Nations arms embargo, and has launched drone strikes that have killed large numbers of civilians. The UAE has also supplied drones to the government of Ethiopia that it has used in the civil war there.
Other questionable relationships fostered by the Abraham Accords include links with antidemocratic forces in Sudan, which was removed from the U.S. terrorist list in exchange for signing the agreement; and Morocco, where the Trump administration endorsed that regime’s illegal occupation of the Western Sahara in exchange for it joining the Accords.
Given the dangers to peace, security, and human rights associated with the Abraham Accords, this is no time to attempt to make them permanent, much less expand them.