After 69 years of occupation, oppression, and exile, the overall situation for Palestinians on the ground remains bleak, if not worse than before. On the other hand, the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement has made significant progress in recent years by encouraging economic, academic, and cultural boycotts of Israel. These high-profile BDS campaigns helped convince major international companies and investors to divest from the Israeli market.
But, as people from Europe all the way to New Zealand begin to disassociate themselves from Israel, Arab Gulf countries such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE) seem to be regressing in the opposite direction.
This week, the UAE participated in “Iniohos 2017,”a joint military exercise with the air forces of Greece, Italy, the United States, and Israel. This is not the first time that Emirati pilots have flown alongside Israelis. Last year, the UAE also participated in the “Red Flag” exercise in Nevada, and it is reportedly taking part this year too.
The UAE’s collaboration with Israel goes beyond these multiparty training exercises. In 2015, Israel established its first diplomatic mission in the UAE in order to represent itself at the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), which is based in Abu Dhabi. The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs stressed that this office is strictly for IRENA related activities, and that its establishment does not represent a change in policy towards Israel, which the UAE refuses to recognize.
Considering that in 2009 Israel supported the UAE’s bid against Germany to become the headquarters of IRENA, it is quite clear that UAE policy has in fact shifted, albeit unofficially. It is extremely unlikely that Israel provided its backing without prior guarantees from the UAE.
Also, despite what the UAE claims, it is likely that this unconventional diplomatic mission will engage in activities unrelated to IRENA and will serve to narrow the gap in communication between the two countries. Given that Israel has engaged in extensive spying against its number one ally, it is safe to say that the Israeli mission in Abu Dhabi will not hesitate to provide at least some kind of support for Mossad agents plotting in the UAE.
Furthermore, trade between the two countries is an open secret. According to a 2012 report, the UAE’s Critical National Infrastructure Authority has made business deals with several Israeli firms. This includes an $800 million contract with AGT, which is a Swiss-based company owned by Israeli businessman Mati Kochavi.
This deal provided “Falcon Eye,” a comprehensive surveillance and security system to protect the UAE’s “strategic infrastructure and oil fields.” A Middle East Eye analysis of publicly available flight data revealed that a private jet is secretly flying between Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi, with a brief stop in Amman. The company that operates the jet, PrivatAir, is based in Geneva, so it is possible that Mati Kochavi is the secret Israeli guest of the UAE.
These secret ties with Israel are believed to be cultivated with the help of Mohammed Dahlan, a former strongman of the Palestinian Authority living in exile in the UAE since 2011, currently acting as security adviser of the UAE’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed. Dahlan is a shady figure in Palestinian politics accused by many of financial corruption and collaboration with Israel. Given that Avigdor Lieberman prefers Dahlan as successor to Mahmoud Abbas, it seems quite likely that Dahlan is indeed the primary connection between the UAE and Israel.
So far, the UAE has engaged Israel quietly and under the table, with intermediaries and indirect transactions serving as cornerstones of the relationship. This gives the government a degree of plausible deniability to avoid facing serious criticism from the Emirati people, who are supportive of the Palestinian cause.
At the same time, it seems as if the UAE is subtly signaling to its people and to the region that normalization of relations with Israel is coming and has already started. The fact that the Emirati flag appears on the Iniohos 2017 insignia along with the Israeli flag suggests that the UAE is not too concerned with the backlash of public opinion. Of course, it is helpful that these events are censored by the Gulf Arab media (at quick glance, Al Mayadeen and RT Arabic are the only major Arabic-language outlets that mentioned the military exercise).
In November, UAE President Khalifa bin Zayed stated that, “We in the UAE commit to continue our solidarity and our political and economic support to the Palestinian people, based on our belief in their just cause.” If this is true, then why does the UAE purchase Israeli security technologies, which have been developed and tested on the backs of the Palestinian people and are directly involved in their oppression? This is a far cry from the legacy of the UAE’s founder, Sheikh Zayed, who actively provided humanitarian, political, and moral support to Palestinians.
The UAE’s underhanded dealings with Israel, aided by Mohammed Dahlan and facilitated by Arab countries, provide a sobering and disappointing reminder that Palestinians are being betrayed by some of the people closest to them.
Mohamed Mohamed is the Executive Director of The Jerusalem Fund and Palestine Center. The views expressed are his own.