Arab-Israel rapprochement: what it holds for Pakistan?

Keeping the sectarian rift in mind, any tilt towards Iran or Saudi Arabia can result in a massive blow to the already feeble social fabric of Pakistan

The renowned Jamaican Poet Claud McKay once said that “Idealism is like a castle in the air if it is not based on a solid foundation of political and social realism”. This sums up the culmination of the ‘Arab-Israel’ rapprochement as of late. No matter how high the hopes were in the Arab world of getting rid of the menace that is Israel, the reality is strikingly different. Under the American tutelage, Israel is reaching out to its perpetual enemies in the Gulf region. The Abraham accord which was declared in August 2020 and officially ratified in September 2020 is a milestone per se. Israel established normalcy with UAE, and Bahrain under this accord. It means that the political order in Middle-East is about to face a drastic change. Ahmad Majdalani, the Minister of social affairs of the Palestinian Authority termed it as, ‘stab in the back’. Recent reports of Saudi Arabia joining this process of rapprochement adds further fascination to this development. 

Likewise, it ought to be kept in mind that Egypt and Jordan were the first to go for normalization with Israel. Having proved its mettle in battles, Israel is now focusing on diplomatic maneuvers to win friends in the Arab world. Israel is compelled into this initiative partly because of the US prodding and partly because of its longstanding animosity with Iran. The pivotal element amid all this wheeling and dealing is that human rights concerns of the common Palestinians are outrightly rebuffed by all the states involved including the US, Israel, and those Arab states that are yet to join this united front against Iran. Moreover, Saudi Arabia will be the key state in this regard for multiple reasons. Last year, the MBC group which is under Saudi government supervision telecasted two dramas representing positive aspects of Israel through Jewish characters. Much recently, the alleged visit of Israel’s PM to Saudi Arabia seems like a prelude to this historic event of Saudi-Israel friendship which is imminent.

The central player that is calling the shots in the rapprochement is the US. The Gulf countries are at the heart of the ‘American defense strategy’ in the Middle-East. As per the American foreign policy elite, a united Gulf is quite substantial to thwart the malevolent designs of Iran in the region. For this very reason, the US is prompting Saudi Arabia and Qatar to end the long-lasting dispute and it has urged KSA to lift the Qatar blockade for the broader interests of all the players involved. Ostensibly, the persuasion has worked. In December 2020, a top diplomat from Saudi Arabia said that the end of a years-long crisis (Blockade) between his country and Qatar is in reach. It is worth mentioning that the transition in the US presidential office will have an overwhelming impact on this turn of events. The President-elect Joe Biden has already condemned the negative role of Saudi Arabia in the long war of Yemen and its alleged assassination of the ‘Washington Post’ columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Joe Biden has also hinted at reviving the nuclear deal with Iran, so it will be quite interesting to see as the events unfold.

This wave of befriending old foes is intriguing, to say the least. The reasons are multi-fold. Israel is well known for its sophisticated military as well as technology and no one knows this better than the Arab world as they have suffered humiliating defeats at the hands of Israel. UAE and Israel agreed to cooperate on the economic, military, and political fronts, and the recent announcement of Etihad Airlines to begin year-round flights to Israel is a testament to it. Another possible reason behind this astounding feat might be the duo of MBS and Donald Trump and their envisioned plan for the Middle-East with brutal disregard for human rights as their history depicts. Last but not the least, common enmity with Iran is another vital factor behind this new-born fraternity of foes turning friends. The ensuing events will be of great interest as to where things go in the Middle-East and what has fate got up its sleeves for the already persecuted and suppressed people of Palestine. 

Meanwhile, the political brass of Pakistan shall play its cards with great prudence amid this turmoil. The cost of entanglement in regional and international power rivalry has been a high one for Pakistan as has been chronicled by many historians and analysts alike. Keeping the sectarian rift in mind, any tilt towards Iran or Saudi Arabia can result in a massive blow to the already feeble social fabric of Pakistan. Moreover, molding the public opinion in favor of normalization is a near-impossible task for the foreign policy elite. The recent opening of the Turkish embassy in Israel is another reassuring proof that the Muslim world doesn’t give a tinker’s damn as to what happens to Palestinians. For this very reason, a pragmatist and rationalist approach for Pakistan would be to engage with all the members neutrally and to look for achieving its national interests. 

Yasir Wazir is a senior year student at Iqra University, Islamabad and an independent analyst. He can be reached at

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