The signing of the Abraham Accords between Israel and several Arab States (United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan) in August 2020 provided, at least for the United States, a more stable and peaceful future for the region. These agreements, sponsored by the United States near the end of Donald Trump’s term, aimed to consolidate a lasting and stable peace for Israel in the region. Furthermore, the recent mention of the Saudi crown prince, Mohamed Bin Salmán, about the proximity of a normalization of relations with Israel in an interview for Fox News on September 23, already confirmed during the Biden Administration that the correct strategy established by his predecessor for the full recognition of Israel in the region.
On the other hand, the agreement signed between Iran and Saudi Arabia in Beijing in March 2023 fueled speculation, even within Iranian circles, about a possible détente between Iran and Israel as a counterpart concession by Iran. This would have been a strategy to avoid new conflicts with the Arab monarchies in the region, especially considering the gradual normalization with the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia after the breakup of 2016, and after the reintegration of Syria into the League of Arab States after its suspension in November 2011.
However, these expectations were quickly dashed by recent events in Gaza. However, it was foreseeable that this would happen. Since the beginning of the Abraham Accords, there have been well-founded concerns about the growing marginalization of the Palestinian population in the face of declining Arab support for the Palestinian cause. The eventual inclusion of Saudi Arabia in these agreements would undoubtedly intensify this feeling of helplessness.
The recent crisis, although predictable for various reasons, has nevertheless confused many experts. They have struggled to understand how this development was not anticipated and how Hamas managed to organize such a detailed operation under the blockade conditions that Gaza has lived under for years. Accusations have been spread against Iran for allegedly financing and arming Hamas. However, the United States Secretary of State himself, Antony Blinken, stated that there was no direct evidence of Iran’s participation in this attack.
Likewise, the spokesman for the Israeli Armed Forces, Daniel Hagari, acknowledged that they could not affirm that Iran had any role in the planning or training of those involved. And although the Iranian authorities celebrated the attack and warned about the possible end of the Zionist regime in Israel, they also emphatically reiterated that they had had no part in the decision made by a movement they consider independent, and denied the alleged meetings that The Wall Street Journal claimed. They had been held in the presence of the Iranian Foreign Minister, Amir Abdolahian.
However, it is evident that Iran is the main beneficiary of this escalation of war for different reasons. First, he has been a strong defender of the “axis of resistance” against Israel, opposed to Arab states that had normalized or were in the process of normalizing relations with Israel. Second, without actively participating in the conflict, and without having to intensify the discursive battle with other Arab countries, it has gained notoriety for its alleged support for Hamas.
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As in 2006, with the confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, Iran could obtain greater political benefits than any other regional actor, which adds to the recent benefits that President Ebrahim Raisi has obtained after normalization with Saudi Arabia, its inclusion in the BRICS and the exchange of prisoners with the United States. This has been mainly due to the fact that it does not need to adapt its speech about its support for Hamas to satisfy Western governments, or Arab populations, who, in general, show more solidarity with the Palestinian cause than their own governments.
Luciano Zaccara is a professor at the Center for Gulf Studies at Qatar University.
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