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July 25, 2021

Amid escalation, Israel’s Arab allies walk a diplomatic tightrope

Netanyahu (left), Trump (center) and the UAE crown prince signed the Abraham Accords in September



The escalation of violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories is straining Israel’s relations with the Arab world. Countries that have agreed to a normalization of bilateral relations are now under pressure.

Palestinians light torches during a protest against attacks by Israeli police Palestinians have marched in protest against attacks by Israeli police

The recent street fights in east Jerusalem, which led to an open military confrontation between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip on Monday evening, has been grist for the political mills in Tehran and Ankara.

Last August, when first the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and then Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan signed normalization agreements with Israel, both Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, called it nothing short of a betrayal of the Muslim world.

Their reaction came in stark contrast to that of the majority of Arab political leaders, who either chose to remain silent or not openly criticize the so-called Abraham Accords.


Renewed criticism of Israel

Amid the current escalation in east Jerusalem, both countries have renewed their criticism of Israel.

“The fight against this despotic regime is the fight against oppression and the fight against terrorism,” said Khamenei in a televised speech on Friday, Iran’s annual Quds Day, which uses the Arabic name for Jerusalem. “And this is a public duty to fight against this regime.” He said normalization was religiously forbidden, calling it a “a stab in the back to Palestine.”

On Tuesday, Iran’s parliament speaker Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf asked in an open session why the international community was remaining silent, and warned that the Islamic community was standing against these “genocides,” according to IRNA, the Islamic Republic News Agency.

In Turkey, Erdogan spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin wrote on Twitter that Israel must stop attacking Palestinians in Jerusalem. “The world must act to stop this never-ending Israeli aggression against unarmed civilians in their own land,” he said.

Numerous postings on social media against Israel, as well as outspoken messages by popular media outlets that address the Arab world as a whole, have left no room for interpretation. “The illusionary bubbles have burst,” wrote the pan-Arab newspaper Al Araby Al-Jadeed. The Qatar-financed daily named all those who “consider normalization with the enemy as their duty” as traitors.

Turkey, Iran ‘will try to capitalize on events’

“There is no doubt that both Turkey and Iran will try to capitalize on the events of Palestine politically, and to attack their regional rivals engaging with Israel,” Cinzia Bianco, analyst and visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), told DW.

Erdogan, as well as Khamenei, might exploit the fact that Saudi Arabia, the most important Sunni state in the Arab world, has discreetly though quite successfully improved relations with Israel. It remains to be seen if this will turn into Riyadh’s disadvantage against those countries that have been trying to establish their leadership by being hostile toward Israel.

On the other hand, growing pressure from the Arab world makes life more complicated for those politicians and countries, like the UAE, Morocco, Sudan and Bahrain, that have agreed to peaceful relations and economic ties with Israel after decades of frozen and hostile positions.


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