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What you need to know Israel’s agreements with UAE and Bahrain

The deals will further militarize the region and undermine prospects for peace.

The Coalition for Justice in Palestine press conference in Chicago.
The Coalition for Justice in Palestine - Chicago’s press conference denouncing the agreements between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain. Photo: Jennifer Bing / AFSC

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the foreign ministers of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain at the White House, where the guests signed agreements normalizing their diplomatic relations. The ceremony followed recent announcements by the U.S. that it had helped facilitate separate diplomatic agreements between Israel and the UAE and Israel and Bahrain. 

While Trump and others have lauded the agreements as “peace” deals, the Israel-UAE and Israel-Bahrain accords should concern all seeking justice and sustainable peace in the region. Rather than building toward peace, these agreements will further militarize the region—while doing nothing to end ongoing gross human rights violations perpetrated by Israel, the UAE, and Bahrain.

Here’s what you should know: 

1. The agreements do not end war, conflicts, or occupation.

While the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and the UAE as well as Israel and Bahrain signal a change in relationship, it’s important to remember that none of the states have ever been at war with each other. The absence of diplomatic relations prior to these agreements was not linked to open hostilities among these countries.  

The establishment of diplomatic relations between countries that were never at war does not, by itself, constitute a step towards peace, unless these agreements contribute to the end of violence, occupation, militarization, and human rights abuses. These agreements do none of these things. Israel continues its illegal occupation of Palestinian territory and denial of Palestinian rights. The UAE and Bahrain continue their involvement in the war in Yemen—as well as human rights abuses within their own countries.  

2. The agreements fail to improve conditions for Palestinians—and may make it more difficult to realize a just and sustainable peace. 

When announcing its agreement with Israel, the UAE requested a commitment from Israel not to annex portions of the West Bank. However, Netanyahu has clearly stated that annexation is not off the table and will move forward at a future date.  

For Palestinians, these agreements bring no change—and the oppression and violence that they live with under Israel’s occupation will continue. What’s more, these agreements undermine the Arab Peace Initiative, viewed by many Palestinians as outlining the minimum requirements to realize a negotiated two-state deal. 

3. These agreements undermine efforts to end the war in Yemen. 

In recent years, a broad bipartisan coalition has come together to end the war in Yemen. One of its key demands is that the U.S. stop supporting the Saudi-UAE-Bahrain coalition helping to fuel the war. War crimes perpetrated by UAE and Bahraini militaries have been well-documented by the U.N. and human rights organizations in Yemen, including forced disappearances, assassinations, torture, and the bombing of protected civilian infrastructure.  

Israel’s agreements with UAE and Bahrain have also reset relations between the two countries and the U.S. That allows the U.S. to offer new weapons sales and military relationships that were not previously possible to the UAE and Bahrain, supporting their ongoing roles in one of the world’s worst current humanitarian catastrophes.  

4. By opening the door to new arms sales and political alliances, these agreements further militarize the Middle East. 

Before the agreements, the U.S. commitment to ensure that Israel maintains a “qualitative military edge” over adversary states limited the U.S. from selling weapons to the UAE and Bahrain. Now that Israel has established diplomatic relationships with the two countries, those limits on arms sales can be waived, expanding the arms market for U.S. companies. In fact, soon after the agreement between Israel and the UAE was announced, the Trump administration announced it would sell F-35 warplanes to the UAE.

Additionally, prior to this agreement, a significant number of Israeli companies were doing business in the UAE. Israel Aerospace Industries and Elbit Systems maintained the UAE’s F-16 fighter jets and sold the government other military equipment. Logic Systems provided security support in the country. The NSO Group – with support from the Israeli government—sold the UAE, Bahrain, and other Gulf States spyware systems to break into phones and spy on their owners. We can expect to see to expanded military cooperation and arms sales between these countries, as well. 

Arms manufacturers and others who profit from militarization and war will directly benefit—at the expense of individuals suffering from human rights abuses, occupation, and war. 

5. The agreements strengthen anti-Iranian cooperation in the Middle East, risking increased tension in the region.  

The U.S. and Israel’s tense relations with Iran are well known. Over the past several years, U.S. sanctions on Iran and Israeli military actions against Iranian targets have increased the risk of open conflict.  At the same time, there are also growing regional divides between Iran and its allies on one side and Saudi Arabia and its allies (including the UAE and Bahrain) on the other side. The recent Saudi announcement that it would allow Israel to use its airspace following the UAE agreement signals Saudi Arabia’s tacit consent to these changes. 

The UAE/Bahrain/Israel connection increases the anti-Iranian alliance in the region in ways that should concern everyone interested in long-term regional stability. The U.S. sale of F-35s to the UAE should also concerning. The F-35 is a first-strike weapon, particularly well-suited for use in any potential conflict with Iran. While there is no indication that military escalation is likely in the immediate future, these agreements increase polarization in ways that risk escalating existing regional and international tensions. 

In short, Israel’s agreement with the UAE and Bahrain are far from the “peace” deals some purport them to be. These agreements will not end militarism, human rights abuses, occupation, or war. They will not advance efforts to realize justice for those facing oppression and state violence. 

In resolving conflicts, diplomacy is always preferable to violence. But diplomatic relations in and of themselves will not lead to just and lasting peace. And any deal that increases militarization—while doing nothing to end human rights abuses, occupation, and war—is no cause for celebration.  

About the Author

Mike Merryman-Lotze is the American Friends Service Committee’s Palestine-Israel Program Director.  He coordinates AFSC’s Israel and Palestine focused advocacy and policy programming, working closely with AFSC’s offices in Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza, and throughout the US.