Israel and the UAE Strike ‘Historic’ Deal to Normalize Relations
The shared threat from Iran helped grease the wheels for the diplomatic breakthrough.
Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Security Brief. What’s on tap: Israel and the United Arab Emirates normalize relations, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper is on the ropes, and an Islamic State-linked group is on the rise in Mozambique.
If you would like to receive Security Brief in your inbox every Thursday, please sign up here.
A Diplomatic Breakthrough
On Thursday, Israel and the United Arab Emirates agreed to fully normalize relations—a historic step for Israel’s limited diplomatic ties with the Arab world. In a lengthy statement, U.S. President Donald Trump called the agreement a “historic diplomatic breakthrough” and also, significantly, appeared to indicate that Israel would halt its planned annexation of parts of the West Bank.
“As a result of this diplomatic breakthrough … Israel will suspend declaring sovereignty over areas outlined in [Trump’s peace plan] and focus its efforts now on expanding ties with other countries in the Arab and Muslim world,” the statement read. With the announcement, three Arab countries now recognize Israel. Egypt signed a peace treaty in 1979, followed by Jordan in 1994.
“The United States hopes that this brave step will be the first in a series of agreements that ends 72 years of hostilities in the region,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement. “Today’s normalization agreement between Israel and the Emirates holds similar potential and the promise for a better day for the entire region.”
The enemy of my enemy. The historic move reflects the Trump administration’s personally engaged diplomacy with Israel and with Arab countries, including the UAE. But it also illustrates the shared fear of Israel and the UAE over Iran’s activities in the region. In a rare show of unity, all six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council—Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia—issued a statement this week urging the United Nations to extend an international arms embargo on Iran.
Head fake? Immediately after the announcement, some Israeli officials suggested that the halt to planned West Bank annexations could be a temporary measure to ink the rapprochement with the UAE. In the wake of the Trump administration’s so-called peace plan, Israel announced that it would move forward with annexing portions of the West Bank by July, but it stalled the plans under mounting international pressure.
Despite the hopeful statements from senior Trump officials, it’s unclear whether other Arab countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, would follow suit and normalize ties with Israel.
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper has kept a low profile since bucking the White House over the use of active duty troops to quell protests against police brutality in June. He has visited a stealth bomber base in Missouri and put in place a policy to quietly ban Confederate flags from U.S. military installations.
But Esper’s efforts to avoid the limelight—a reversal from his usual practice of holding regular briefings—haven’t shielded him from Trump’s ire.
On Wednesday, Bloomberg News revealed that Trump is privately telling aides he plans to replace his Pentagon chief after the November elections over frustrations that Esper hasn’t done enough to defend the White House on key issues, including the alleged Russian bounties paid to the Taliban to kill U.S. soldiers that Trump has dismissed as “fake news.”
Eyeing the exit. Esper, for his part, may also be looking for an exit from the job as the elections near. He has seen his influence over personnel changes reduced as Trump and the White House Presidential Personnel Office have foisted a series of controversial loyalists into top Pentagon jobs. Bloomberg reported that Esper has said he’s looking to leave regardless of the outcome in November.
There is no word yet on who might take Esper’s place, but some speculation has centered around former Army Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata, who abandoned a bid to become the Pentagon’s policy chief after controversial anti-Islamic and anti-immigrant tweets derailed his nomination. The Wall Street Journal reported that officials worry that Tata—appointed to deputy policy chief without Senate confirmation—could be brought in as acting Pentagon chief if Esper is removed.
What We’re Watching
Beirut blast fallout. The State Department’s third-ranking official, David Hale, has landed in Lebanon for meetings with the caretaker government following the explosion that destroyed Beirut’s port and revived anti-government protests. The fallout from the blast is likely to hit Lebanon’s large refugee population the hardest. Given the Beirut port’s role as a hub for aid supply routes to Syria, the United Nations and humanitarian groups are scrambling to find alternatives. Hale said that the FBI will take part in the Lebanese-led probe into the blast.
ISIS-linked group gains ground in Mozambique. Militants who say they are aligned with the Islamic State have taken control of a key port city in Mozambique. The fight over Mocimboa da Praia is a significant military defeat for the government. The port is situated near natural gas projects worth an estimated $60 billion.
“The question now is whether the rebels will—as they have hinted—try to hold on to this strategic city. That would mark a new escalation,” BBC Africa correspondent Andrew Harding writes.
Movers and Shakers
Envoy to ‘Europe’s last dictatorship.’ After years of careful diplomacy, the Trump administration was poised to send its first ambassador to Belarus in more than a decade. But now a leading Democratic lawmaker has threatened to block the nomination of a seasoned career diplomat for the post amid Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko’s violent crackdown on protests.
Not all lawmakers are on board, with some believing an ambassador is needed now more than ever, FP’s Robbie Gramer and Amy MacKinnon report.
The veepstakes are over. After months of anticipation, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden picked California Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate. Catch up on Harris’s foreign policy views from her time in the Senate and on the campaign trail as a presidential hopeful in the Democratic primaries here.
Spaced out. The Defense Department is losing its top policy official for space. Deputy Assistant Secretary for Space Policy Stephen Kitay submitted his resignation on Friday, CNN first reported. The role does not require Senate confirmation.
Cohen up. The Pentagon has a new temporary civilian leader for special operations. Ezra Cohen, a former National Security Council staffer, has been moved up to perform the duties of the assistant secretary for special operations and low intensity conflict, Task and Purpose first reported.
Former Navy SEAL Lou Bremer has been nominated to fill the job full-time, though he had a rocky Senate hearing last week where lawmakers raised concerns about his links to the far-right commentator Milo Yiannopoulos and a security firm that trained Saudis connected to the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Revolving door. Mike Griffin, the Trump administration’s former undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, joined the board of the small aero-defense company Rocket Lab, less than a month after leaving the Pentagon, C4ISRNet reports.
Foreign Policy Recommends
Congress secretly halts Turkey arms sales. The U.S.-Turkey relationship is worse than you think. For the past two years, Congress has quietly frozen all major U.S. arms sales to its erstwhile NATO ally in a bid to get Ankara to give up its Russian S-400 air defense system, Defense News reports. Among the frozen deals are structural upgrades for F-16s and licenses to export U.S.-made engines that will allow Turkey to sell attack helicopters to Pakistan.
Odds and Ends
Unboxing rebellion. In case you missed this bombshell scoop from China’s state propaganda rag: “The U.S. has brutally unpacked a container with 60 pieces of furniture (official supplies) ordered by the Chinese delegation to the United Nations and dismantled the wrappings of 12 pieces, the Global Times learned.” Let’s hope there aren’t anymore armoire casualties in the new Cold War.
Graphic design is the Pentagon’s passion. The Pentagon-led effort to develop a new coronavirus vaccine dubbed Operation Warp Speed has a new logo, and it’s… not quite what we expected. Check it out for yourself.
The Week Ahead
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will speak on American foreign policy issues in a virtual event at the Atlantic Council on Monday, Aug. 17.
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi will visit the White House to meet with Trump on Thursday, Aug. 20.
That’s it for today.
Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer