After decades of catastrophic terrorism, war, instability and poverty in the Middle East, it is urgently time to take an entirely new approach, and the United Arab Emirates wants to help lead the way.
That is the point of the Abraham Accords, and of the UAE’s “360-degree” strategy of reform, economic growth, modernization, tolerance towards other religious faiths and regional peace-making, says UAE Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash.
“The Abraham Accords have the potential to change the region strategically with goals of peace, prosperity and stability,” Gargash told me. “We’re very excited. It really represents the seed for us to work for a new region, for a new Middle East, and hopefully, together, we will be successful.”
Last week, Emiratis celebrated “National Day,” marking their independence from the British in 1971 under the leadership of the country’s visionary founder, Sheikh Zayed Al Nahyan.
On Dec. 2, 2021 the UAE will celebrate 50 years of freedom, and its leaders are hitting the accelerator both to advance bigger, history-making reforms and to “set a positive model” for the Middle East and the world.
Two years ago, when I brought the first delegation of Evangelicals leaders ever invited by the government of the UAE, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed (MBZ) – the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, the son of the late founder, and now the de facto leader of the country – told my colleagues and me that he was “ready to make peace.”
Now that MBZ has courageously kept his promise, I am here for a week meeting with government, business and faith leaders to better understand the tectonic changes going on not just here but throughout the region.
As part of my visit, Gargash graciously invited me to come to his lovely home in the suburbs of Dubai, the nation’s commercial capital, for a one-hour, sit-down, on-the-record interview.
Some of this material I will use for a book I am currently writing on the future of the Middle East, that will be published next year.
Over the next three days, however, I want to share some of the key elements of our conversation with you through our ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS websites because Gargash is shedding light both on the immense threats facing the region as well as the extraordinary opportunities for a new era of peace and prosperity.
A lovely, warm and hospitable intellectual with a gray beard and dark-rimmed glasses, Gargash met me in his newly-renovated majlis, or traditional Arab sitting room.
He wore the traditional Emirati white linen robe with a matching white head-covering, wrapped by a thick black cord and a pair of tan sandals.
He drank tea. I stuck with water.
We had nearly 90 minutes together, an hour of which I was permitted to record.
One of the things that Gargash repeatedly underscored as we talked about the Abraham Accords and many issues in the region was that for the UAE, this agreement with Israel is not simply “transactional.”
He said the early financial projections indicate that UAE trade with Israel will surge to $5 billion a year.
That is encouraging, he said, and he is excited to see how many Israeli businesses are flooding into the Emirates to create deals, and how warmly and positively Emirati business leaders are responding.
Indeed, more than 400 Israeli CEOs, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and consultants are in Dubai this week for the UAE-Israel Future Digital Economy Summit, the first of its kind, part of the broader Gulf Information Technology conference, known as GITEX.
Yet the Abraham Accords must not simply become a “tactical success,” Gargash told me. They must become a “strategic success.”
I asked the foreign minister what that would look like.
“In your view what would make this a strategic success? What would make the Israel-Emirati-Bahraini-Sudanese relationship really a new model for the region?”
“Well, strategic success through the Abraham Accords, in my opinion, is a 360 degree success,” he responded, “one that goes beyond trade and investment. It will affect positively religious tolerance. It will also affect the cultural aspect” of warm people-to-people interactions. “But over and above, it will also help reignite the peace process and will [help] Israelis and Palestinians to address the issues and to arrive also at an equitable, just and acceptable peace to both. If we can achieve all that it would be great.”
“Is success also defined by more countries entering the Abraham Accords?” I asked.
Gargash’s answer was intriguing.
Essentially, he said “no.”
Success would be making the deals that are already in place between the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Israel truly work, not just to prevent conflict but to create truly warm, friendly, normal relations at every level.
That would be enough.
That said, if this happens – and Gargash said it is not a given as it will require hard work, focus and discipline – then the UAE hopes that other leaders, including Palestinian leaders, will want to join in because they believe peace and cooperation with Israel really is possible.
“I think that through the success itself you will have an example,” Gargash told me. “If we are able work together with the current members [of the Accords], and are successful in what we are doing, you will become an example for other countries to be incentivized into entering this overall view of a more stable and prosperous region.”
“The Middle East has had 40 years mired in conflict,” he said. “It’s time to think of a different model, an alternate model.”
“If you want to join us, you’re welcome,” Gargash says to other Arab and Muslim leaders. “This should be an open club.”
How do UAE leaders see the threats and challenges posed by Iran, Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood?
And how does the UAE want to work with the next U.S. administration to deal with the regime in Tehran?
Gargash and I spent a good deal of time on both of these questions, and I will share what he said Wednesday and Thursday in parts two and three of our interview.
-Courtesy of ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS
Joel C. Rosenberg is the editor-in-chief of ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and the President and CEO of Near East Media. A New York Times best-selling author, Middle East analyst, and Evangelical leader, he lives in Jerusalem with his wife and sons.