Arab normalizers turn their cheek as ‘another Hiroshima’ unfolds in Gaza

Khalil Harb, The Cradle, November 10, 2023 —

While Israel has dropped the equivalent of two nuclear bombs on Gaza – and mulls over the prospect of deploying an actual one – normalized Arab regimes are quietly protecting their commitment to support Tel Aviv over Tehran.

“The world cannot see another Hiroshima. If the world sees 100,000 people dead, that means you are in a war with the rest of the world.”

So spoke Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince and de facto ruler Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) in a first-ever English-language interview with Fox News, as recently as September, 2023.

Yet in what can only be described as the “another Hiroshima,” the Gaza Strip is now the target of a genocidal onslaught that the Saudi royal explicitly stated should be avoided for world peace.

Normalization still on the Saudi table

For over a month now, Israel’s aggression has resulted in the deaths and injuries of more than 40,000 people in the densely populated enclave. In fact, the US-backed occupation army has dropped over 25,000 tons of explosives on the Gaza Strip since 7 October, the equivalent of two nuclear bombs.

In a press release issued by Euro-Med Monitor on 2 November, the Geneva-based NGO said: “This means that the destructive power of the explosives dropped on Gaza exceeds that of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.”

Despite this, MbS has not backtracked from his controversial statement about Riyadh’s increasingly close ties to Israel’s most right-wing government: “Every day we get closer.” This was most recently confirmed by Saudi Minister of Investment Khalid bin Abdulaziz al-Falih, who said, “This matter [normalization] was on the table, and it is still on the table.”

It is important to note, however, that the MbS interview was aired just two weeks before the 7 October Al-Aqsa Flood operation by the Palestinian resistance. Also interesting is that the crown prince’s statement wasn’t directed at Israel; it was in response to a question about the dangers of Iran acquiring a nuclear bomb.

What becomes clear is that not only Saudi Arabia, but also the five other Arab states – Egypt, Jordan, the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco – that already have peace treaties with Tel Aviv have shown no signs of reconsidering these agreements, even in the face of mounting public pressure against Israel’s ongoing massacres in Gaza. Although reports suggest that some lawmakers in Bahrain are calling for a reversal of Manama’s normalization agreement, amid suspended economic ties and the recalling of its ambassador from Tel Aviv.

Arab countries that have pursued “peace treaties” with the occupation state have long marketed these agreements to their people as pathways to security, prosperity, and regional stability. MbS himself has touted these benefits when he told Fox News that a potential Saudi-Israeli deal brokered by the Biden administration would be a historic milestone, potentially the largest since the end of the Cold War in 1991.

Resistance delaying Riyadh’s moves 

US President Joe Biden, the official protector of Israeli aggression, believes that the Hamas-led operation was an attempt to disrupt his negotiations with Saudi Arabia about normalization. His Secretary of State Antony Blinken has been even more direct in his assessment, stating that one motive behind the Hamas attack was to hinder efforts to bring Saudi Arabia and Israel closer, “along with other countries that are not interested in it,” likely referring to key resistance supporter Iran.

Though there hasn’t been an official Saudi position from either MbS or his foreign ministry, carefully leaked reports by “informed sources” and a “source in the Saudi government” were published by Reuters on 13 October and then by AFP the following day, suggesting that Saudi Arabia had decided to freeze or suspend normalization talks and had communicated this to US officials.

Publicly, Israel seemed unfazed by this implicit threat. As for Saudi Arabia, following its initial call for immediate de-escalation and civilian protection, it continues to emphasize its condemnation of civilian targeting. The Saudis use careful phrasing to placate Washington, which demands that its regional allies condemn the killing of Israeli “civilians” despite evidence of direct Israeli military responsibility for many of those deaths.

Because Saudi Arabia hasn’t yet entered into a normalization agreement with Israel, this theoretically frees it from any diplomatic obligations with Tel Aviv. However, what raises eyebrows is Riyadh’s clear hesitation to leverage its significant political and oil influence to pressure for a ceasefire in Gaza. If anything, the Saudis dilly-dallied until 30 October to announce an “emergency” Arab summit scheduled for 11 November in Riyadh.

This inaction may suggest that the path of normalization with Israel has progressed further than we’re aware, considering that in September, Saudi Arabia hosted Israeli Tourism Minister Haim Katz and Israeli Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi, the latter even broadcasting himself performing the Jewish morning prayer and celebrating Sukkot in Riyadh just days before Al-Aqsa Flood unfolded.

Arab ‘warm’ and ‘cold’ peace with Israel 

The UAE, which helped spearhead the Arab normalization drive, has been far more vocal in its support for Israel. Reem al-Hashemi, the Emirati minister of state for international cooperation, delivered a stinging speech at the UN Security Council in New York, in which she condemned the “barbaric and heinous attacks” launched by Hamas.

Hashemi called for the immediate and unconditional release of “hostages” and an end to the ongoing bloodshed, while also criticizing “Israel’s policy of collective punishment toward the Gaza Strip.”

Alongside its neighbor Bahrain, the UAE has maintained two peace agreements with Israel since the September 2020 signing of the Abraham Accords. The status of the Israeli embassy in Abu Dhabi remains unchanged, and the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs has not even bothered to summon the Israeli ambassador for a perfunctory dressing down, which is the most minimal form of diplomatic censure expected – especially given the expanding bombing of Gaza.

Egypt holds the distinction of being the first Arab country to openly normalize relations with Israel in 1978, a peace brokered by the Americans. In the years following, Washington has relentlessly taken the global lead in advancing normalization with Tel Aviv, succeeding in the signing of the 1994 Wadi Araba Agreement with Jordan, and then in 1993 with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

However, since the 2020 Trump administration-sponsored Abraham Accords between Israel and Morocco, the UAE, Sudan, and Bahrain, questions persist about the motivation behind normalization for Arab states that are neither immediate neighbors to Palestine nor directly involved in the conflict. Particularly vexing for detractors is the trend among some Arab regimes to formalize peace deals with Israel without connecting this concession to demands for Palestinian rights.

Opposing another Nakba 

The peace talks with Palestinians, the principal party in conflict with Israel, have been at a standstill since April 2014 due to various factors, including the suffocating Gaza siege and the gradual expansion of settlements in the West Bank, rendering the “two-state solution” dead for all practical purposes.

In Jordan, where Palestinians make up a slight majority of the population, public anger over Gaza has been palpable. Authorities in Amman initially coordinated with their counterparts in Cairo, both strongly rejecting Israeli proposals to displace Palestinians from the West Bank to Jordan and from Gaza to Egypt.

Under significant domestic fire, Amman later took the significant step of recalling its ambassador from Tel Aviv and refusing to welcome back the Israeli ambassador who had left the kingdom. Jordan is faced with a heightened sense of danger: Israel’s Gaza offensive coincides with a sharp spike in Israeli army and settler attacks on West Bank Palestinians, which fuels Amman’s long-standing fears that Israel aims to ethically cleanse and annex the West Bank.

Jordanian Prime Minister Bisher Khasawneh has gone so far as to explicitly state that any attempt to displace Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza will be viewed as a declaration of war.

The Kingdom of Morocco – which, unlike other Arab states, “resumed” pre-existing relations with Israel in 2020 – has issued statements condemning the Gaza bombings and criticizing western inaction, but has otherwise taken no concrete actions. This is despite King Mohammed VI’s role as the head of the “Al-Quds Committee,” established in 1975 by the Organization of the Islamic Conference and headquartered in Rabat.

Normalizing genocide, but facing resistance 

As the “emergency” Arab summit convenes in Riyadh today, it remains to be seen whether countries like Saudi Arabia, along with other Arab states and those engaging with the genocidal government in Israel, will attempt to address their political and public failures during the month-long war against Gaza.

This situation has given rise to an unsettling reality in which the “other Hiroshima” that MbS once feared – from, ironically, Iran – has instead been threatened by Israel in Gaza when Israeli Heritage Minister Amichai Eliyahu suggested the possibility of nuclear strikes.

What is clear at this stage is that those Arab states that have normalized with Tel Avivl show no inclination to reverse these agreements. Their pacts, after all, were not peace treaties ending a state of war that never existed with Israel; they are alliance agreements encompassing various facets of diplomacy, military cooperation, security, finance, and trade.

If anything, following the 7 October events, the normalization Arab regimes look to be banking on their Israeli alliance to prevail over their regional adversaries in the Axis of Resistance. They perceive the events in Gaza, much like the US and Israelis, as a threat to Israel and, by extension, their own regional interests.

Their goal is to transform this threat into an opportunity to eliminate resistance in Gaza – much as they redirected the 2011 Arab uprisings to cripple their Resistance Axis foes. If their bet on Tel Aviv succeeds, they can tuck away the thorny Palestinian issue and pave the way for a new regional order with Israel at its core.

This vision has been articulated by MbS and other officials supporting normalization, culminating in discussions at the G20 summit in New Delhi last September when a project was announced to enhance transportation and communication between India and Europe via the Persian Gulf states, with Israel as a central hub.

The US-Israeli alliance, along with the Arab normalization states, is actively pursuing this regional rearrangement while Gaza burns. However, their progress is hindered by the fact that Israel faces significant challenges in defeating the resistance in Gaza, and potentially, the entire Axix of Resistance in West Asia.

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