November 1, 2023, NESA Center for Strategic Studies
The NESA Center May – June 2023 Update focuses on Gulf region trends.
The update also highlights May through June NESA Center programs and events, faculty and staff engagements, alumni contributions, and a calendar with upcoming events.
Regional Trends – The Gulf:
All Gulf countries are making substantial progress in gender equality and women empowerment. In the U.S. and around the world, more Gulf women are working in their embassies. The female share in the national labor force is rising, and more Gulf women are participating in NESA Center seminars in Washington, D.C. and worldwide.
All Gulf states made commitments to reduce pollution and have invested in renewable energy, including hydrogen. The COP meeting in the UAE next November will be a major event.
Saudi Arabia is preparing its citizens for normalization with Israel.
In recent weeks, several public announcements have reinforced the prospect that Saudi Arabia will one day join the Abraham Accords, or at a minimum, prepare its citizens to recognize Israel’s de facto existence.
Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said that he told the Saudis that they should authorize flights from Ben-Gurion International Airport to Jeddah. Although Saudi Arabia is not a party to the Abraham Accords, since the agreement was signed in 2020, the kingdom has allowed Israeli airlines to use its airspace for flights to and from the UAE and Bahrain. Authorization for flights extending to other destinations was not granted until July 2022.
The United States and Israel have been working on a plan to build a trade land bridge connecting the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Israel. Trucks will be able to transport goods through this trade corridor, significantly reducing transportation costs and time. This infrastructure project crosses borders that will start in the UAE, pass through Saudi Arabia, and end at the seaports of Israel, later expanding to Bahrain and Oman. An Israeli Ministry official announced that the project could operate even without official normalization.
Israel’s largest solar energy company, SolarEdge, has signed a joint venture with Ajlan & Bros Holding, a major private sector conglomerate in the MENA region, to adopt solar energy in Riyadh. The venture will serve leading facilities in Saudi Arabia and enhance Saudi Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman’s 2030 Vision.
Gulf states, like the rest of the ME and the broader “global south,” have reacted to the war in Gaza. Several Gulf leaders participated in the Cairo Peace Summit (21 October 2023). They condemn the killing of civilians and call for a “political solution” to the conflict. This means a two-state solution, i.e., a Palestinian state in peace with Israel. Qatar has taken a leading role in releasing the hostages. For now, it seems, talks about normalizing relations with Israel have been put on hold.
After the Hamas terrorist assault against Israel on 7 October 2023, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain condemned the abduction of Israeli civilians. The UAE also warned Syria not to intervene in the war or to permit attacks on Israel from Syrian territory. Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal blamed both sides and condemned Hamas for seeking to thwart normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Regional leaders have quickly shifted from acknowledging the outrage of the initial terrorist attack on Israel towards condemning the loss of civilian life in the subsequent Israeli attacks on Hamas infrastructure in Gaza.
The explosion at Ahli Hospital in Gaza is an illustration of the strategic communications challenge facing Israel and – by extension – the United States. The initial Hamas claim of casualties and Israeli culpability was accepted unquestioningly throughout the region. Subsequent evidence of lower casualties and a possible Hamas origin of the explosion generally have been either ignored or dismissed as fabrication in the public realm.
In the region, Israel is viewed as the architect and prime actor of any civilian suffering in Gaza. Hamas (and their tactics of embedding military infrastructure in civilian and other protected areas) are generally not discussed.