The Abraham Accords: A Breakthrough - Regional Solution to Regional Conflicts

Since the 2020s, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have been showing some impressive developments that have never been imagined three or four years ago. These developments have changed the region’s political, economic, and security dynamics. Long existed political tensions are being diffused and official diplomatic discords are getting revisited. As a result, realignments are being reinstituted and rapprochements are surfacing. These developments, if used carefully, will transform not only the conflict in the Middle East but also has the potential to ignite global political, economic, and security cooperation. The purpose of this commentary is not to evaluate developments in the MENA region. It is rather tailored to assess the contributions of the Abraham Accords - one of the post-2020 developments witnessed in the region that has the potential to transform MENA and can be a platform for other regional conflicts around the world and most importantly the Red Sea and the Horn of Africa.  

The Abraham Accords is founded on the premises of the three Abrahamic religions which most people in the region trace back to their faith, is a regional peace initiative primarily signed between Israel, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Bahrain in order to ease the long-existing tension between Israel on one hand and the Arab world on the other hand. It aims to promote peace and prosperity, regional integration, and international cooperation in various fields such as health, investment, agriculture, tourism, environment, and innovation (USDS, 2020). Later, it gained attention from other Arab and non-Arab states across the MENA, Asia, and Africa such as Sudan, Morocco, and India. Since the Arab world was in antipathy with the Islamic Republic of Iran, before the signing of the March 2023 Saudi-Iran realignment, such an Accord was thought by many will strengthen security cooperation between the Arabs and Israel in a fight against Iran’s southward expansion and influence in the region. Because Iran was considered a threat to Arabs’ and Israel’s national security since the 1979 revolution. Also, it is often reckoned as a near-nuclear state by the West. Aside from that Iran has been accused of harboring some radical and extremist groups struggling against state governments in the region and tagged for meddling in internal affairs. This gave Israel and the Arabs the opportunity to jointly pronounce Iran as a regional security threat.

The Accord – as a template for regional cooperation

The region is one of the world's most volatile and conflict-ridden regions. A variety of interstate and intrastate conflicts has characterized it for decades. Many of the conflicts fought in the region were rooted in colonial legacy. Since its independence in 1948, Israel alone has fought several major wars with its neighbors including the ongoing Palestinian insurgency. It has been in media and political commentator’s glossaries for over half a century as the major global security concern and conflict hotspot. It is also an area where global alliances and geopolitical competition and rivalries ferment. Major global and regional powers used it as a foothold to engage in proxy wars in addition to direct confrontations among states themselves. For quite some time after the Camp David Agreement, direct interstate wars were halted despite the recurrent Israel-Palestinian conflict. The Arab Spring especially is the factor in MENA”s recent history that has exacerbated conflict in the region and revamped old enmity and thus states continue to engage in proxy wars supporting opposing groups in Libya, Egypt, Yemen, and Syria. Grappled With growing global power competition, and the surge in radicalism, extremism, and terrorism from time to time, the Abraham Accords, therefore, is seen as the game-changer in the region – aimed at bringing Israel and the Arab world into a neighborhood watch group against such threats.

As clearly stated in the regional security complex thesis, security concerns are transnational and they cannot be extracted or addressed independently and, thus require cooperation of states for a coordinated response (Buzan & Wæver, 2003). Although there were security arrangements signed between MENA states on the basis of some exclusive membership criteria, such as the Arab Peace Initiatives (API) and the Red Sea Littoral Security Cooperation dubbed the “Red Sea Forum”, none were able to craft societal-based (inter-faith) accords. In a strict sense, religion has historical significance and special relevance to the MENA region despite observance differences. Jerusalem, for instance, has special stature and significance for the three Abrahamic faiths. However, very recently, religion has been used to spread hate and dissension in the region. It is not arbitrary that the crafters used the term “Abraham Accords”. Rather it is of great relevance to bringing all parties who trace their faith to great religious ancestors where all feel a sense of ownership and belonging. In addition, it will serve to spread unity and togetherness among different observers. Interstate and interfaith-based regional-level analysis, as stated above, has a qualitative significance and displays a more existential threat to the states sharing geographic neighborhoods - making working together irrefutably indispensable. The Accord, therefore, is premised on bringing together those states sharing a variety of commonalities besides geographic adjacency.

Ever since the signing of the Accord, it created platforms for local and regional interfaith dialogue and political diplomacy between and among states in the MENA that used to be adversaries for more than half a century (Jeong, 2021; USDS, 2021). This, on one hand, forced some states to review their foreign policy directions and begin to rethink easing tensions, defusing animosities, and de-escalating conflicts with their neighbors that span decades. As a result, the normalization of relations becomes the region's new state of affairs (Yossef, 2021). Since its inception, several international relations and security analysts have been speaking about the breakthrough nature of the Accord to solving the region’s security concerns. The initiative could be used as an excellent template to solving long-entrenched regional conflicts through regional solutions. If major states such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, and most importantly Iran were to join the Accord, there is a likely potential to close the chapter of one of the most complex, bewildering and deadly sectarian violence in the region and the globe at large.

Of course, there are some who are still pessimist about the progress of the normalization in the MENA region as a result of the Abraham Accords. To them, the Accord will break Arab solidarity and eventually ignore the Palestinian question. In addition, there is also a wide-ranging disparity between the elites and the public’s perspectives on the Accord. Few radical groups within Israel alone questions the worth of signing such an Accord. For them, Israel is surrounded by a very volatile neighborhood that jointly wants Israel to fail. Hence, Israel needs a strong and determined national defense and security instead of an accord. The failure of previous peace deals such as the Camp David Agreement and the Oslo Accords strengthens their fears. International political and security commentators also suggesting that the primary reason some Arabs joined the Accord is stemmed from the idea that it helps stop a common threat posed by Iran to the region. Since Iran has resumed its relation with major Arab states such the KSA, they say, the number of joining Arab states to the Accord will be less and progress may be halted. Despite glaring debates, the Accord has brought relative stability to the region by easing tensions and defusing animosities. As stated earlier, there is no other options to security unless regional cooperation. If it succeeds as it does for now, it will be an excellent template for solving other regional conflicts across the globe.

 

 

Implication to the Horn of Africa

Besides geography, the Horn of African states share cultural and religious affinity with the MENA region. Conflicts that takes place in the MENA have also immediate spillover effects in the Horn and vise-versa. States in the Middle East have distanced themselves from the Horn of Africa for quiet some times in the past. Very recently, however, there is a revived interest of these states to the region (Verhoeven, 2018). They came with an intention to mediate conflicts in the continent but the real intention is to get footholds – possibly export internal rivalries outside their region. Some are building military bases and others have dived deeply into the heartlands of the Horn of Africa engaging in trade and investments. Whenever there is conflict and rivalry from home, they often seen to bring into the region and engage in proxy war using internal crisis of the Horn as an opportunity. This usually has the potential to germinate new conflicts and complicate the already worsened internal crisis and revamp interstate tensions in the horn. Cold war rivalries and the rush in search of footholds in the Horn can be perfect examples. It has been used as a theater for proxy engagements. As a result, the region has no good memory of external intervention.

However, if the Abraham Accords is successful in ending rivalry and enmity among states in the MENA, they instead bring healthy competition into the region and the economy will benefit a lot from petro-dollar rich nation’s investment. The region is rich in natural resources and has also a young and consumer population - potential market to the MENA products. Hence, the Horn can be considered as an important ally and reliable partner instead of a foothold where conflicts can be smuggled and damped from abroad. It strengthens economic interdependence. Moreover, the Abraham Accords can be used as a template to realizing the African Unions principle of “African Solutions for African Problems” (AfSol). Regional conflicts such as the Nile Waters and other territorial or resources based conflicts can be solved through the use of such regional frameworks. Some Horn of African states already signed the Accord such as Sudan and others are considering to join. In a nutshell, the signing of the Accord will have positive impacts to the horn of Africa.

 

About the Contributor

Amare K. Aweke (PhD) is Director General and Lead Researcher of the Middle East Affairs Research Directorate at the Institute of Foreign Affairs. Dr.  Amare has served in various academic and administrative positions at Dire Dawa University, Ethiopia from 2007-2020. Dr. Amare has received his Ph.D. (2020) and MA (2012) in Peace and Security Studies from Addis Ababa University (AAU), Institute for Peace and Security Studies (IPSS), and BA (2007) from Mekelle University (MU), Ethiopia. Dr. Amare has published several articles focusing on political violence and issues concerned with contemporary security. His latest articles include ‘The Ethiopia-Eritrean Rapprochement: Highly personalized and less-Institutionalized initiative’ in Third World Quarterly Journal (2022), ‘Challenges of Ethiopian Transition: Breakthrough or Brink of Collapse’ in African Journal of Governance and Development (2020); ‘One Country – Two Citizenships: The Status of Settlers in BGRS’, Journal of African Identities (2020); and ‘Civil Resistance in Ethiopia: A Historical Development’, African Journal of History and Culture (2021).

 

 

 

References

Buzan, B., & Wæver, O. (2003). Security complexes: a theory of regional security. In Regions and Powers:The Structure of International Security (pp. 40–82). Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511491252.007

Jeong, H. W. (2021). The Abraham Accords and Religious Tolerance: Three Tales of Faith-Based Foreign-Policy Agenda Setting. Middle East Policy, 28(1), 36–50. https://doi.org/10.1111/MEPO.12540

USDS. (2020). The Abraham Accords - United States Department of State. United States Department of State. https://2017-2021.state.gov/the-abraham-accords/index.html

USDS. (2021). At the One Year Anniversary of the Abraham Accords: Normalization Agreements in Action - United States Department of State. United States Department of State. https://www.state.gov/at-the-one-year-anniversary-of-the-abraham-accords-normalization-agreements-in-action/

Verhoeven, H. (2018). Civil Wars The Gulf and the Horn: Changing Geographies of Security Interdependence and Competing Visions of Regional Order. https://doi.org/10.1080/13698249.2018.1483125

Yossef, A. (2021). The Regional Impacts of the Abraham Accord. In Modern War Institute. https://mwi.usma.edu/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/regional-impact-abraham-accords.pdf