Soon after, the first direct flights left Tel Aviv for Dubai. Images of Emirati men in the traditional white kandura and gutra waving to an El Al airplane with a Star of David on its tail were a striking representation of the change.
Those flights – now regular – are even more remarkable for the fact that they travel through Saudi Arabia’s airspace. The granting of overflight is yet another sign of a thawing of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia under the influence of Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman.
Economic ties have also been quick to develop. Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics cited a 234 per cent increase in trade between Israel and its Middle East and North African neighbours in the first seven months of 2021. Abu Dhabi’s Mudbala Petroleum Company has just signed a deal to invest $US1.1 billion in an Israeli natural gas project, an investment that would have been previously unthinkable.
But arguably most important are the “people-to-people” links. A significant aspect of the Abraham Accords is the recognition of the need to promote interfaith and intercultural dialogue between the adherents of the three Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
This development has even spread to Australia, where dialogue between Jewish organisations, AIJAC included, and Emirati and Moroccan diplomats has been frequent and warm.
The Biden administration, which for the most part has distanced itself from much of the foreign policy of the Trump administration, has gradually but wisely embraced the Abraham Accords and now seems committed to work towards expanding the circle of nations that subscribe to them.
It’s an effort that, today more than ever, is strongly in America’s interests and those of like-minded European and Western powers, including Australia. It provides a potential answer for these Abraham Accords members to the new threatening balance of power emerging in this strategic region.
Aggressive destablising actors such as Iran, but also Turkey, have been further encouraged and potentially empowered by the chaotic and damaging nature of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and the immediate Taliban takeover, as well as the policy of successive recent US Presidents to militarily withdraw from the Middle East, leaving behind power vacuums.
The likely effect of US President Biden’s approach to the Middle East will be to incentivise moderate actors to continue to band together to defend themselves against the emerging threats, including those posed by Iran, Turkey and the Taliban.
As the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco have already recognised, Israel is an essential member of any such alliance – possessing not only the region’s strongest military, but also able to offer economic, technological, environmental and intelligence assistance to regimes seeking to survive in an increasingly dangerous region.
A year into the Abraham Accords, so much has been accomplished, and the promise for further positive achievements is a shining light in what is so often seen as a troubled region.
Dr Colin Rubenstein is executive director of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council.