Roundup: Half year after establishing relations, Israel expects more cooperation with Arab states

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JERUSALEM, Feb. 22 (Xinhua) -- Approximately six months after Israel's peace deals with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain, there is optimism in the region about the future.

Experts believe that such relations will likely flourish, as the accords have also led to normalization of relations with Morocco and Sudan, despite destabilizing factors that exist in the region.

While the global pandemic has slowed down the development of certain aspects of the relations, it seems they are still at a honeymoon stage with involved sides still getting to know each other.

The talk of peace and normalization comes after decades during which the region was all about conflict and discord. The last peace agreements Israel had signed with Egypt and Jordan were not met with the same enthusiasm, but frequent incidents and fluctuating tensions.

"We are seeing a warmer peace. We're seeing peace not just between governments but between peoples," said Yonatan Freeman from Department of Political Science of Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The breadth of cooperation will help consolidate the relations. However, only when the initial enthusiasm cools down, the real extent of the ties will become evident.

"There is a lot of excitement and noise, but it is not clear yet how much of this translates into real business," said Dan Catarivas, director general of Foreign Trade and international relations at the Manufacturer's Association of Israel.

Immediately after the deals were signed, Israeli companies and businessmen rushed to try and seize the opportunities. Large conventions have already been held, with many more planned. Israel's large banks have already launched initiatives to help Israelis invest in these countries.

Tens of thousands of Israeli tourists flocked to Dubai as soon as direct flights were launched. The traffic stopped when Israel re-imposed travel restrictions due to COVID-19. However, once these restrictions are lifted, it is expected that tourism between Israel and the Gulf will resume.

"Until now it was just one way," said Moran Zaga, a researcher from the University of Haifa. "The relations will become more mutual ... this mutual movement is important."

A deciding factor in the future of the region is the U.S. involvement. In the first conversation between U.S. President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Biden voiced his "support for the recent normalization of relations between Israel and countries in the Arab and Muslim world."

The new U.S. administration has already made changes in its policy towards Iran and while a resumption of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians seems far, U.S. policy changes on both matters could impact Israel's relations with the Gulf states.

While it appears there is a solid foundation of mutual interests that led to the establishment of the relations, there are potential sticking points. While Israel, the UAE and Bahrain see Iran as a danger, there is still a difference in how they perceive the threat.

"Iran is an enemy to Israel but seen as an adversary to the Gulf states," said Zaga. "For them, not every solution is a military one.

In recent years, Israel has carried out hundreds of attacks against Iranian targets throughout the Middle East. Officials have repeatedly vowed that they will not allow Iran to acquire nuclear capabilities.

"As long as Israel continues attacks against Iranian targets, this could cause cracks in the relations," Zaga added.

For years, it was believed that before a solution was reached between Israelis and Palestinians, normalization with other countries in the region was not on the table. But the peace deals last year demonstrated otherwise. Perhaps this change could even push the rivals to negotiation.

"More links between Israel and the Arab world will also help the Palestinians," said Freeman. Enditem

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