The Gulf Region and Israel: Old Struggles, New Alliances by Sigurd Neubauer
From the outset of his presidency, Donald Trump sought to narrow differences between Israel and the six monarchies of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)—Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)—as part of his strategy to isolate Iran.With that objective in mind, Trump’s first visit abroad as president was to Riyadh in May 2017—where he addressed the U.S.-Arab-Islamic Summit—immediately followed by a visit to Israel.The President’s message was clear: Saudi Arabia and Israel would serve as co-pillars of the U.S. security architecture for the broader Middle East. Under that vision, Egypt, Jordan and the six Gulf monarchies—together with Israel—would isolate Iran diplomatically. The second plank of this strategy was anchored in the so-called “Maximum Pressure” campaign, which sought for all practical purposes to expedite the collapse of Iran’s economy as part of an effort to strengthen Washington’s standing vis-à-vis Tehran. The third plank focused on solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict. These dynamics, the Trump-administration reasoned, would help set the stage for the renegotiation of the Iran agreement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.Trump’s vision, however, faced immediate resistance—not from Iran or its regional proxies, but rather from some of Washington’s very own Gulf partners when they imposed a blockade on Qatar only weeks after his Riyadh address. While the crisis between Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt over Qatar was initially understood in Washington as an inter-Arab dispute, Sigurd Neubauer examines the overlooked and widely misunderstood Israeli and Omani roles in this feud.The Gulf crisis, Neubauer goes on to argue, has shattered a widely held preconception, namely that Israel and the Gulf states are drawing closer because of their shared animosity towards Iran and its regional agenda. While the Gulf states and Israel are indeed drawing closer, it is not primarily driven by fear of Iran but rather by inter-GCC rivalry, including in Washington, where an inexperienced administration had to dedicate significant political capital to solve the Gulf crisis.