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Israel-UAE deal a Trump coup, but his sights are set on Iran

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The Israel-UAE agreement gives the United States a rare diplomatic success in the Middle East — but it is Iran which President Donald Trump has in his sights, with a strategy that now shifts to the United Nations.

A man holds a phone while reading a story published on Tasnim News Agency's website about the recent news of a US-brokered deal between Israel and the UAE to normalise relations, in Iran's capital Tehran on August 14, 2020. – Iran strongly condemned the agreement, blasting it as an act of "strategic stupidity" that would only strengthen the Tehran-backed "axis of resistance". The Israel-UAE deal marks only the third such accord the Jewish state has struck with an Arab nation, an historic shift making the Gulf state only the third Arab country to establish full diplomatic ties with the Jewish state. (Photo by – / AFP)

The White House has lavished praise on a foreign policy coup which was sorely needed by a president seeking re-election in November who has little to show on the diplomatic front.

"This is a dramatic breakthrough that will make the Middle East safer," chief US negotiator Jared Kushner told CBS. "It means less American troops will have to be over there."

Under the US-brokered agreement, the United Arab Emirates and Israel agreed on Thursday to establish full diplomatic ties, making the monarchy just the third Arab country to recognize the Jewish state, following Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994.

"Assuming the deal works, it's the first time Israel has established normalized relations with any Gulf nation and for that reason it's significant," said Aaron David Miller, a former diplomat who served as Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiator in Democratic and Republican administrations.

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But, Miller cautioned, "don't blow this out of proportion.

"I don't buy that it's on the same level of magnitude or accomplishment as Egypt or Jordan," said Miller, now a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

"This is the UAE we're talking about. This is not the Arab world's most powerful nation like Egypt. This isn't even a country that has a contiguous border with Israel."

Barbara Slavin of the Atlantic Council, another Washington think-tank, described the agreement as a "good move" but "not earthshaking in view of the covert ties the two countries have had for a very long time."

– 'Vision for Peace' –

Since taking office, Trump has pledged to apply his self-proclaimed deal-making skills to resolving the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

He charged Kushner, his son-in-law, with the daunting task of hammering out Middle East peace.

But the Palestinians have refused to play along with an administration seen as staunchly pro-Israel, and rejected the US president's "Vision for Peace" unveiled in January.

Miller said the Israel-UAE normalization agreement does little to advance Trump's "vision" of overall Middle East peace.

What's more, he added, "the administration's motivation has nothing to do with Israeli-Palestinian peace."

"It's about domestic policy," Miller said. "This is about making the president look good, demonstrating some measure of competency and fulfilling at least some degree of what the administration claimed it would do from the beginning — which is to make peace between Israel and the Arab world."

Above all, Miller said, "it helps give rise to the image that there is an anti-Iran coalition."

"But I'm not sure that's going to get very far," he continued, unless Trump can get other Arab countries such as Morocco, Bahrain and Oman to sign on.

Trump has made it clear that his main objective in the Middle East is neutralizing Iran.

He has called on several occasions for the creation of a NATO of Middle East nations, an alliance which has failed to come together.

Since unilaterally repudiating the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, Trump has also found himself isolated by other Western countries when it comes to the Islamic Republic.

This isolation came to the fore at the United Nations on Friday when the Security Council rejected a US resolution to extend an arms embargo on Iran that is due to expire in October.

China and Russia had intended to veto the resolution even if it did pass. 

After the defeat, the United States may try to force the Security Council to reimpose UN sanctions on Iran which were lifted in 2015 as part of the nuclear deal.

Washington has threatened to use a contested argument that it remains a "participant" in the nuclear deal — the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — despite its withdrawal.

And if UN sanctions are not extended, the argument goes, the United States can force their return if it sees Iran as being in violation of the JCPOA's terms.

Slavin said that is unlikely to get very far.

"The US is in a weak and legally dubious position on that and this proto-normalization between the UAE and Israel will have zero effect," she said.

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