Morning Brief

The Arab world between the strategic opening towards Israel and the normalization of the Middle East

Some Arab responses to Iran's direct attack on Israel is a barometer of the region's appetite for conflict.
Published by
Central Office
on April 22, 2024
on April 22, 2024
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King Abdullah II of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

April 14: Why did the Jordanian Air Force and the Royal Saudi Air Force shoot down the Iranian drones, cruise and ballistic missiles aimed towards the Israeli territory? Indeed, the relations between Jordan and Israel are determined by the peace agreement signed in 1994, although the policies of the Netanyahu regime regarding the West Bank and the incidents in East Jerusalem that occurred during his tenure, put the Jordanian monarchy in a difficult position. Over the years, the Hashemite kingdom was trapped between honoring the agreements with Israel and the growing pressures coming from the majority Palestinian population of Jordan, the Islamist movements in the kingdom and the tribes in the East Bank to respond to the Israeli challenges directed at the Arab population both inside Israel and in the West Bank. Additionally, Saudi Arabia was eager to normalize its own relations with Israel on the model of the Abraham Accords backed by the US, before the Gaza outbreak broke out and the images of the bombings produced by the Israeli Defense Forces put everything on hold. Still, why did Amman and Riyadh help Israel by shooting down Iranian missiles that flew over their airspace?

1) Many Arab states want a de-escalation of the regional tensions that have made the Middle East an unpredictable and dangerous place for foreign direct investments. Jordanian king, Abdullah II made it clear that he does not intend his country to become a battleground for any party (neither Iran nor Israel). Saudi Arabia is looking towards a brighter new Middle East in accordance with Saudi own domestic plans to transform the kingdom into a regional hub for investments and thus diversifying the national economy away from gas and oil. The United Arab Emirates envision themselves as a regional logistic hub with a high-tech industry under formed. Collaboration with Tel Aviv in this matter under the Abraham Accords and Israeli advances in high-tech are seen as a steppingstone for the Emirates' own advanced industrial developments.

According to regional players, the Iranian attack, no matter how much additional tension would bring, came in response to the Israeli strikes on April 1 on the Iranian consulate in Damascus that led to the death of some officials of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The response from the Islamic Republic came in order to reconstitute deterrence after years in which the Israeli operations to prevent the advances of the Iranian nuclear program through strikes on the infrastructure and targeting nuclear scientists passed largely unanswered by Tehran. Therefore, the Iranian actions were largely expected but still disproportionate if all the missiles were to hit their targets (Jordan and Saudi Arabia might have feared that have the missiles accomplished their purpose, a full and proportionate retort from Israel could throw the Middle East to the unknown). Once Iranian-Israeli detente is now restored, the region predicts a less bold approach from both sides. Moreover, the Arab states consider that a mass escalation is not in Israel's interest either. This was reinforced by the decisions of Tel Aviv not to open a second mass front against Hezbollah in Lebanon despite the aggressions coming from the northern neighbor and after such decision was initially considered immediately after the beginning of operations in Gaza on October 7 but strongly discouraged by the administration from the House White.

2) With or without productive deterrence for political and economic normalization, the region does not trust the Islamist regime in Tehran, especially based on the Iranian incursions in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen through the so-called Axis of Resistance. It is not as if the Arab states trust Israel either, but they see in Tel Aviv at least a more serious partner in regional normalization.

3) The Arab states are economically dependent on Israel. Not that Riyadh and Abu Dhabi see Israel as an economic lifeboat, but the Gulf perceives the Israeli State as an important partner in terms of government-backed investments and business-to-business partnerships in order to achieve the previously mentioned Saudi and Emirates objectives. For Jordan and Egypt, the situation is far different. Aman has one of the world's most serious water scarcity. According to the 1994 Israeli-Jordanian Peace Treaty, the Hashemite kingdom would import significant quantities of water from Israel, a trend that will expand in the future given the Israeli advances in water desalination. Besides water, Jordan is scarce in gas supply and the Israeli Leviathan gas fields are an increasingly good source of Jordanian imports. Egypt is in a similar situation once its deficient domestic supply cannot keep up with an increase in demand. Moreover, its own offshore giant gas field, Zohr, is caught by technical difficulties, slowing down Egyptian regional aspirations. For Cairo, Israeli gas imports are a consistent source of hard currencies for the Egyptian economy once these resources are redistributed to European markets, thus positioning Egypt as a Mediterranean energy hub.



Why Arab States Haven’t Broken With Israel,

Arab Countries Have Israel’s Back—for Their Own Sake,

Why Israel-Iran War Is a Lifeline for Netanyahu,

Iran Has Defined Its Red Line With Israel,

King Abdullah: Jordan will not be battleground in Israel-Iran confrontation,


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