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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2397

The Unthinkable: are Arab-Israel ties going to be normalized in 2019?

Hemantha Abeywardena writes from London…

In August, 2017, Mubarak Al-Fadil Al-Mahdi, the Sudanese minister for investment, caused an uproar in the Arab world - and beyond – when he said, “Normalization of ties between Israel and Sudan is no big deal,“ while adding that the relationship with the two nations must be based on the interests of Sudan and not the emotions involving Palestinian cause, in the same breath.

In the interview, Mr Al-Fadil was full of praise for Israel and did nothing to conceal his admiration of the Jewish state: “The Israelis are Westerners. They were ‘imported’ from America, Russia, Europe, and so on. They have the moral values of Westerners,” he said, while adding, “They operate scientifically. They have a democratic regime, their presidents stand trial and go to jail… They have a transparent regime, whether you agree with them or not.”

After he echoed his views on Israel, understandably, Mr Al Mahdi came under criticism from Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that controlled Gaza Strip. His views, however, reflect a growing phenomenon in the region, which may be about to go beyond the embryonic phase – the rekindling of the relationship between the Jewish state and its Arab neighbours.

Last week on Friday, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israel prime minister, visited Oman and was warmly welcome by Omani Sultan Qaboos bin Said, the ruler of Oman. Later, Mr Netanyahu and his wife were treated to a sumptuous lunch by the sultan, amidst traditional Omani music.

The next day, Yussef bin Alawi bin Abdullah, Omani foreign minister, suggested in Bahrain that it’s high time Israel was treated as any other state in the region.

The meeting between the sultan and Israeli prime minster was not secretive; nor was it going to be last of that kind – judging by the other developments in the region in the last few days. Mr Netanyahu hinted that there would be more visits to Arab nations.

On Sunday, at the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam, an Israeli defeated a Belgian national to win the gold medal in Judo under 81kg category and Israel national anthem was played in an Arab nation for the first time, which in turn reduced Miri Regev, the visiting Israeli sport minster, to tears.

Adding yet another twist to the developing diplomatic manoeuvres, beleaguered Saudi Arabia, which is in a major crisis in the aftermath of Jamal Khashoggi’s death, received a significant support from an unexpected source this week – Israel.

At a conference in Bulgaria, Mr Netanyahu said that the investigation into the killing of the journalist and subsequent punishing of the culprits must not be done at the expense of the stability of Saudi Arabia, leaving his stance open to plethora of interpretations.

In Pakistan, meanwhile, the arrival of an Israeli private jet to an airport in Islamabad has stirred up the collective national curiosity on a scale that normally happens when the object in question borders on the realm of UFOs – unidentified flying objects. The government neither admits nor denies it.

In the extraordinary TV interview last year, the Sudanese minister of investments said that some Muslim countries had been working with Israel for many years. He, for instance, referred to the citrus cultivation and drip irrigation projects in Egypt, which were developed with the assistance from Israel.

When the interviewer asked the Sudanese minister whether it was an indication of the Israel involvement in citrus cultivation in Sudan, the latter said: “the technology in question has no nationality. We shouldn’t care where the technology comes from. “

He has a point: for decades Israel has been sharing its ingenious agricultural technologies with the neighbours and the rest of the world.

For instance, Israel has shown Jordanian farmers and those of Palestine how to control rodents such as mice without damaging the environment. The answer was the introduction of barn owls: the challenge was not the existing political tension in the region involving the countries; on the contrary, it was the superstition against sighting of the nocturnal bird by Arabs in the region that in turn prompts them to shoot them on sight.

Not only did Israel farmers invite their counterparts in the neighbouring countries over to share the know-how, but also extended the cooperation to a few other fields in agriculture.

It looks like that the Arab countries are finally trying to break the political deadlock and accept Israel as an important member in the Middle East – in their midst. In return, Israel can offer immense hi-tech expertise and unique agricultural techniques, especially the drip irrigation method, to the regional countries in order to address many pressing issues.

By notable coincidence, the countries that warm up to Israel happen to be Sunni Muslim countries. So, some political cynics lose no time in associating the development with subtle attempts to isolate their theological rival, Iran.

Most analysts, however, believe that the Arab-Israel cooperation is a stable stepping stone in the path of contemporary Middle Eastern politics, even if it is still in touch with layers of fog of mutual suspicion.

- Asian Tribune -

The Unthinkable: are Arab-Israel ties going to be normalized in 2019?
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