Israel's opposition to selling American F-35s to the UAE is the first blow to any Emirati notions of preferential treatment.
One can almost imagine the elated look of excitement on the face of Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (MBZ) almost a fortnight ago. He was about to go public with his secret love affair with Israel, the latest milestone in a covert romance that had been ongoing for more than a decade with the most powerful and coveted soulmate the Middle East could offer him.
Eyes wide with desire, MBZ could barely contain himself. Could this be the marriage he needed that would finally give him the clout to settle scores with foes such as Qatar, Turkey, and a whole host of pro-democracy movements in his wider neighbourhood?
Judging by recent events, things have not panned out as the crown prince expected. It has not even been a month, and one can already visualise a crestfallen MBZ wishing he had hammered out a prenuptial agreement before tying this particular knot.
MBZ’s desperation led to his humiliation
It is not as though MBZ did not understand that he was selling out the Palestinians and the wider Arab and Islamic world when he signed the Abraham Accords earlier this month.
However, in an attempt to somewhat save face, the Emirati royal claimed that he had entered into this relationship with Israel out of concern for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plot to annex vast swathes of the West Bank.
Even if that were true, MBZ more or less admitted that he had normalised ties with Tel Aviv due to Bibi’s bully boy tactics. The Israeli premier threatened to swallow up ever larger tracts of Palestinian territory and, rather than forcefully denounce the move and take action to shore up the Palestinians politically and financially to protect their interests, MBZ sold out to ward off the Israeli move.
Obviously, however, the reality is far different. MBZ could care less about the Palestinians and their noble cause for self-determination, enshrined under international law and guaranteed by innate human principles of justice.
What he really wanted was a potent ally who could leverage Washington on his behalf to finally crush his regional enemies and to continue to establish the Arab Axis of Autocracy under his leadership and with the assistance of the almost universally disliked Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia.
This is the same Axis who thought that their blockade of Qatar in 2017 would lead to an immediate collapse of Doha and its foreign policy in supporting a broad church of pro-democracy movements during the Arab Spring.
Instead, Qatar marshalled its impressive soft power capabilities through its various media networks, think tanks, and lobbying apparatuses, and launched a blitzing public relations campaign that has left the UAE and Saudi Arabia looking like bullies and downright villains. This image was not helped when Riyadh seemingly ordered the brutal assassination of Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who was literally butchered and disappeared in Istanbul in 2018.
When Turkey also leapt to Qatar’s defence, physically deploying troops to discourage any military delusions harboured by MBZ and his allies, the Axis powers realised that this would be a long, difficult, and desperate struggle, and it is this desperation that encouraged MBZ to search for a qualitative edge in the war of ideas and interests in the Middle East.
MBZ decided that he needed Israel and its powerful lobbying machine to work on his behalf.
Israel maintains a qualitative edge, not the UAE
But MBZ did not get what he had thought he had bargained for. By disgracing himself and forever sullying the reputation of the Emirates as a whole, he thought it would herald the beginning of a new era of Emirati dominance, a nation not much bigger than a city-state that would reach unprecedented regional power by means of its carefully cultivated relationships.
Bibi wasted no time in humiliating his new partner. Not only did he almost immediately declare that the West Bank annexation had been merely postponed rather than cancelled outright, but he ordered a relentless bombing campaign against the besieged Gaza. He's shown he has no interest in peace and has left MBZ without a face-saving measure with which he can continue to pay lip service to the Palestinian cause.
Obviously, this would not have bothered MBZ as much as Netanyahu openly declaring that he opposed the sale of the latest American F-35 warplanes to the UAE as Israel needed to “maintain its qualitative military edge” by fielding the latest equipment - while everyone else, including Tel Aviv’s avowed regional allies, lagged behind.
Abu Dhabi was under the impression that coming out of the closet with Israel would mean preferential treatment, including the F-35s.
Seemingly throwing a tantrum, the Emiratis responded by cancelling a tripartite meeting between them, the United States, and Israel to “send a message”. But that message was laughed off by both Washington and Tel Aviv who announced that they would be visiting the UAE next Monday, an announcement that was met with silent acquiescence by Abu Dhabi.
To add insult to injury, the Israelis also continued high-level talks with the UAE’s erstwhile foe Qatar, holding meetings between top intelligence officials from both countries as well as diplomatic engagement to end the current spate of violence between Hamas and Israel in Gaza.
In other words, the UAE achieved nothing by prostrating before Israel. It neither got exclusive diplomatic access to Tel Aviv’s soft power nor did it get the weapons it so desperately sought so it could punch above its weight when it came to hard power. It did not even earn the respect it so craved from the Israelis and the United States, but simply reaffirmed to them that they are subservient and needy, ready to accept anything.
MBZ has been humiliated and disgraced. He has shown that he is only strong when it comes to the weak and downtrodden, people who deserve his support but instead receive only his brutality and contempt. He has also shown that he is docile to foreign powers and, ultimately, this is what MBZ’s legacy will be. What a pitiable thing to be remembered for indeed.
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