While GCC policymakers have responded swiftly to the threat of COVID-19 domestically, some Gulf states deftly used the crisis to advance their foreign policy objectives with states with which they have had adversarial relationships. Only time will tell whether these new diplomatic opportunities will lay groundwork for concerted regional efforts.
Originally published in POMEPS Studies
New signs emerged of apparent ongoing warming relations between United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel. UAE 9 June sent second shipment of COVID-19 aid to Palestinian territories via Israeli airport after Palestinian Authority (PA) had rejected aid in May on grounds of “normalisation” with Israel; PA 10 June again condemned UAE’s move. Yousef al-Otaiba, UAE ambassador to U.S., 12 June published op-ed in Israeli news outlet, warning Israeli annexation of West Bank would jeopardise Israel’s efforts to improve relations with Arab countries; first time Arab diplomat publicly acknowledged warming ties between Israel and UAE. Israeli PM Netanyahu 25 June announced new cooperative effort between UAE and Israeli companies to jointly develop research and technology to fight COVID-19, stating agreement was “the result of extensive and intensive contacts in recent months”; UAE Foreign Ministry same day confirmed initiative.
The UAE, together with its ally Saudi Arabia, played a highly visible role in helping make peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia. As its footprint across the Horn of Africa grows, the UAE should avoid having intra-Gulf competition colour its engagement.
The quarrel between Gulf monarchies has spilled into Somalia, with the fragile state now caught between the rival interests of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. The competition has already aggravated intra-Somali disputes. All sides should take a step back before these tensions mount further.