Dennis Ross: Good news from the Middle East

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But this isn’t the whole picture. The U.A.E. approached the Trump administration and offered formal peace with Israel in return for no annexation. At the same time, as officials have explained to me, the country understood from conversations with the administration that formal peace would give it access to previously off-limits U.S. weaponry, such as advanced drones. Until now, these weapons had been denied to them because of the U.S. commitment to preserving Israel’s qualitative military edge. While that edge has been essential for meeting Israeli security and deterrence needs, peace was also built into the calculus. The United States provided Egypt advanced weaponry after President Anwar Sadat made peace with Israel. Similarly, Jordan did not get F-16s until King Hussein concluded a peace treaty with Israel.

The equation of easing the military edge requirements when a country makes peace with Israel is now going to be applied again to the U.A.E. The idea is to reinforce the message that peace with Israel should yield long-term economic and security benefits, even if in the short term, as Emirate leaders probably expect, it exposes them to threats from Iran and radical Islamists. Of course, the American instinct to be less engaged in the Middle East perhaps played a role in the U.A.E.’s decision, particularly if the Emirates believe they must become even more capable of defending themselves.

Was normalization enough of a prize for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to prevent him from going ahead with annexation? Maybe, but note that he recently said, “The issue of applying sovereignty (annexation) is in Washington.” This was his way of telling his right-wing base that he could not go ahead with annexation if the Trump administration said no. The Emirate leadership also understood that, and acted to give the administration a reason to say no. In effect, Emirati leaders have now allowed the administration to brag about how their policies are advancing peace between Israel and the Arabs — even if the Palestinians are not included.

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