This week, US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, kicked off a diplomatic tour across the Middle East, as he hopes to establish further normalized relations between Israel and the Arab states. This trip came in the aftermath of the U.S., Israel and the UAE announcing the deal to establish full diplomatic relations, which also requires Israel to freeze its plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank sought by the Palestinians as part of their future state. The announcement has been met with mixed responses across the region, as some have praised the UAE for becoming the third Arab state in history to reconcile with Israel. Some have also praised the UAE for persuading Israel to freeze its annexation of parts of the West Bank. Nevertheless, many have been much more critical of the deal citing that the Netanyahu government never promised to abandon plans of annexation, and rather it is merely delaying settlement plans. Furthermore, tensions have flared up once again between Israel and the Gaza strip. Since last week, a number of rockets have been launched from Gaza along with hundreds of balloons with explosives and incendiary devices attached that have caused dozens of fires in southern Israel. Israel has responded by bombing what it says are Hamas military targets in Gaza. In spite of this tense backdrop, Mike Pompeo hopes that he can pave the way for future relations between other Arab states and Israel, as he attempts to score more foreign policy victories for the Trump administration which is up for an election in November, and has been suffering from low approval ratings due to its poor handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the protests and riots related to the Black Lives Matter movement.
POMPEO AND NETANYAHU DISCUSS IRAN
During his trip to Israel, Mike Pompeo expressed hopes that other countries in the Arab world would follow the recent example set by the UAE in establishing normalised relations with Jerusalem.
During his visit, Pompeo met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. Both men would issue a joint statement in which the Secretary of State said:
“I am hopeful that we will see other Arab nations join in this. The opportunity for them to work alongside, to recognize the state of Israel and to work alongside them will not only increase Middle East stability, but it will improve the lives for the people of their own countries as well.”
The Israel-UAE agreement delivered a key foreign policy victory to President Donald Trump as he seeks re-election and reflected a changing Middle East in which shared concerns about Iran have largely overtaken traditional Arab support for the Palestinians. Netanyahu called the agreement “a boon to peace and regional stability” that “heralds a new era where we could have other nations join.”
Earlier this month, the UN would not renew a weapons embargo on Iran due to a lack of international support, particularly from European powers. Both Pompeo and Netnyahu criticised the UN for stepping back on the arms embargo. In response, the Trump administration threatened to issue snapback sanctions, which in essence would end the JCPOA once and for all. “We are determined to use every tool that we have to ensure they can't get access to high-end weapon systems,” Pompeo said. “The rest of the world should join us." Pompeo would then meet Israeli Minister of Defence, Benny Gantz and both men reiterated the determination to stop Iran from acquiring any nuclear arsenal.
Pompeo wouldn’t be the only Foreign Minister to make his way to Israel, as his British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab arrived in Jerusalem on Monday for meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials in an effort “to press for renewed dialogue” and a negotiated two-state solution to the conflict.
Raab and Pompeo met late Monday, discussing President Donald Trump's Middle East plan, which the Palestinians have rejected, and shared concerns about Iran, the State Department said.
POMPEO’S BARGAINING CHIP IN SUDAN?
In 2019, a wave of popular anti-government protests swept Sudan, as thousands of protestors flooded the streets everyday demanding for the long time autocratic rulers to resign and pave the path for democratic change. In April last year, the uprising successfully oversaw the military ouster of autocratic leader Omar al-Bashir who since 1989 ruled the country with an iron fist. Al-Bashir’s rule marked an era of economic isolation for Khartoum, which since the 1990s has been on the US’s list of terror sponsors, and this designation ultimately led to almost three decades of debilitating sanctions. The designation of Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism happened during the time when it briefly hosted Osama bin Laden and other wanted militants. Sudan was also believed to have served as a pipeline for Iran to supply weapons to Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.
As it stands, Sudan is on a fragile path to democracy and a military-civilian government currently rules it. Elections are planned in late 2022.
The transitional authorities are desperate to lift sanctions linked to its listing by the U.S. as a terror sponsor. That would be a key step toward ending its isolation and rebuilding its battered economy, which has plunged in recent months, threatening to destabilize the political transition.
The main purpose of Pompeo’s trip was to persuade Sudan to normalise relations with Israel, this has led some analysts to believe that the Secretary of State might be using the promise of removing Sudan from the list as a bargaining chip in exchange for diplomatic relations with Jerusalem. Sudanese Prime Minister, Abdalla Hamdok, described his discussion with Pompeo as “great” and said that he and the Secretary of State had a direct discussion regarding removing Khartoum from the US’s terror sponsor list.
Speaking to AP, Information Minister Fasial Saleh said that the prime minister urged the Trump administration not to link the removal of Sudan’s name from its list of state sponsors of terrorism to the normalization of times with Israel, said
"The transitional government does not have the mandate ... to decide on normalization with Israel. This matter will be decided after the completion of the transitional authority,” said Saleh. He was referring to the legislative body, which has yet to be formed.
POMPEO IN BAHRAIN AND THE UAE
After his Sudan trip, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo went straight to Bahrain where he held closed-door meetings with the kingdom’s royal family.
In Manama, Pompeo tweeted that he met with King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and his son, Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, on Wednesday morning.
“We discussed the importance of building regional peace and stability, including the importance of Gulf unity and countering Iran’s malign influence in the region,” Pompeo wrote.
Pompeo also said he discussed efforts to “advance greater unity among Gulf countries.” That’s as his plane flew over Qatar on its way to the United Arab Emirates, one of four Arab nations along with Bahrain now boycotting Doha over a years long political dispute. Typically, Bahraini and Emirati aircraft avoid Qatari airspace as they’ve closed their own airspace to Qatar Airways.
Bahrain has a historic Jewish community and the kingdom has slowly encouraged ties to Israel.
In a statement after the meeting, the Bahrain News Agency said King Hamad “stressed the importance of intensifying efforts to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.” The king said that includes a two-state solution for an independent Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital — a longtime Arab stance.
Bahrain is also home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet and remains a close security partner of the U.S.
Pompeo landed later Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE. There, he met with his Emirati counterpart Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan and the nation's national security adviser, Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
The officials discussed issues such as Iran and the “mutual support for de-escalation and a lasting cease-fire in Libya,” a later State Department statement said. Pompeo himself on Twitter praised the deal between the UAE and Israel as “the most significant step toward peace in the Middle East in over 25 years” — even though the two countries had never been at war with each other.