Iran, not Israel, becomes the unifying enemy for the Middle East

File photo of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei | Representational image | ANI via Reuters

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London: The breakthrough between Israel and the United Arab Emirates reflects a shift in the modern Middle East’s foundational fault-line, as a Persian Gulf power for the first time agrees to make peace with the Jewish state. But it also shows how it’s been replaced with another, perhaps more dangerous rift over Iran.

Sitting just across the narrow Strait of Hormuz from the Islamic Republic, the UAE has been careful not to let tensions boil over into open conflict while President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy, which it backed, isolated and sanctioned Tehran, and then led to the killing of its most influential general.

But by cementing years of discreet relations with Iran’s biggest foe in a diplomatic breakthrough — a model other Persian Gulf states including heavyweight Saudi Arabia might follow — the sheikhdom is cautiously nailing its colors to the containment mast.

Officials in the U.S. and Israel lost no time in interpreting Thursday’s announcement as one that should make Iranian leaders nervous. Outgoing American envoy for Iran Brian Hook called it a “nightmare” for the country. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the UAE saw “the strength that we demonstrate here in the region, the fact that I don’t hesitate to confront Iran.”

Both statements need substantial caveats, regional analysts cautioned. And in his only public statement so far, UAE Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed emphasized Netanyahu’s pledge to suspend potentially explosive plans to annex West Bank land wanted by the Palestinians for a future state — rather than the anti-Iran element of the move.

“I think the Emiratis were concerned about the tensions escalating and knew that they would play out in the region broadly especially in the Persian Gulf,” said Ariane Tabatabai, Middle East Fellow at the German Marshall Fund. “They saw Trump as unreliable and so the best way to handle stuff was to take it into their own hands.”

Dina Esfandiary, a fellow at The Century Foundation, said the perception that the U.S. is “leaving the region” was a driving factor. She didn’t see it substantially deepening the current level of isolation facing Iran.

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