The Middle East has been a hot spot in the world for years.
There’s the issue of Israel, a Palestinian state, various dictatorial regimes, the United States’ interests (traditionally oil), and all sorts of other issues. However, the Abraham Accords, which formalized relations between Israel and several Arab countries, could serve as a powerful conduit for peace in the Middle East. Iran and Saudi Arabia have resumed bilateral engagement, thanks to mediation by Iraq. A return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action by the United States and Iran should be followed up by broad discussions on regional security and missile programs, as stated by Marc Finaud, Tony Robinson, and Mona Saleh in their story “Is There a New Chance for Arms Control in the Middle East.” If we play our cards right, arms control might be a quality method of security for the region.
The Abraham Accords are a potential game changer in the region. The accords are not as detailed as the Camp David Peace Accords, another key treaty in the region, as none of the signing states have any history of armed conflict. On a positive note, most Arab states are moving beyond refusing to recognize or engage in talks with Israel. The accord lists spheres of influence — investment, trade, science and technology, civil aviation, tourism, and energy, but the security dimension is the dominant one. Naturally, the conflict between Arab states and Iran — Persian in ethnicity and Shia Islam in religion, as the Arab states are majority Sunni Islam — manifest themselves in this arms control agreement. Many in the Arab world are willing to enter an alliance with Israel to counter the influence of Iran, an improvement from the days (1940s to 1970s) when Arab states invaded Israel with the intent of destroying it. We’re looking at a better Middle East than those years, but the conflict with Iran is still an obstacle to bringing peace to the region.
President Joe Biden’s current policy on Saudi Arabia, announcing an end to U.S. support for Saudi-led offensive operations in Yemen, Riyadh forced the Middle Eastern country to explore a new outlook on Iran and stop a war it was not winning. Let us hope that Biden does not allow the alliance between Arab states to pressure Iran so much that relationships between the Shia state and the rest of the Middle East grows worse. The recent visit of Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zari to Qatar, Oman, and Kuwait last spring, and his announced visit to the UAE, mean warming relations between all these states.
The biggest challenge will be if the Abraham Accords can have a direct impact on the ongoing efforts at negotiating a weapons of mass destruction free zone in the region. Although it was boycotted by Israel and the U.S., this process did gain traction in the United Nations in 2019. A conference on the subject is planned for winter of this year, and many are expecting a riff between states that have recently normalized relations with Israel. Another issue is the fact that some states in the region might see Israel’s nuclear arsenal as a reason to acquire their own arsenal. Robinson, Selah, and Finaud asked these questions in their story. Arab states have called for Israeli disarmament in the past and Israel has insisted that neighboring states travel down the road of normalization of relations, recognition of the Jewish state, peace, and the establishment of a security architecture.
Our country’s diplomatic wing (State Department) could encourage the Middle East’s nation states to pursue serious arms control negotiations. We must address what the Abraham Accords don’t say and urge their signatories to make the links among peace, recognition, and normalization of relations with Israel to make a commitment toward negotiations on a region free of weapons of mass destruction. Although arms deals will come out of the Abraham Accords, between allies, we must pressure the agreement to pressure Israel to commit to take steps to peace in the region, and then Israel must step up to the plate and embrace arms control.
Iran will also be a tricky issue, as Tehran has hinted that such an inclusive framework would be acceptable once JCPOA — the best tool for quelling Iran’s nuclear ambitions — is restored. Israel has issues with the JCPOA, ballistic missiles and regional conflicts, and they should take those to the U.N. General Assembly-mandated zone process to start multilateral negotiations on those issues.
Our county has a lot of heavy lifting to do. It should quell Israel-Palestinian violence, restore the JCPOA, and support engagement between Iran and Arab powers. All the supporters of the JCPOA, China, Russia, the United Kingdom, the European Union should help with enforcement of the JCPOA but also support security talks. The Arab states should seek security agreements from the United States and Israel that could avoid a nuclear arms race in the region.
Let’s hope arms control as a method of security can win. If not, we’re looking at a messy Middle East. However, there are many financial interests tied to weapons making that will capture big profits if arms control loses the argument.
Executive director of the Peace Economy Project in St. Louis