The end of 2020 saw a number of important developments in the long-lasting Arab-Israeli conflict. These began in September 2020, with the signing in the White House of the Abraham Accords—formally the Treaty of Peace, Diplomatic Relations and Full Normalization between the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the state of Israel—which explicitly aimed to foster development and prosperity through cooperation in various civilian fields: health, agriculture, tourism, energy, environment, and innovation. Bahrain would join the Abraham Accords soon after, announcing it as the Declaration of Peace, Cooperation, and Constructive Diplomatic and Friendly Relations. They were followed by announcements in October and December 2020 of similar normalization agreements with Sudan and Morocco, respectively. There are reports in the media that other Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, may join follow suit.
None of the Arab states joining the accords (both current and prospective) share a border with Israel, nor has any participated in combat against it in any of the seven Arab-Israeli wars fought between 1948 and 2006 (except for Morocco, briefly, during the October 1973 war). Also, Israel’s political relations with these countries prior to the accords were not the same across the board. Relations ranged from overt hostility (e.g., Sudan) to no relations (e.g., the UAE and Bahrain) to short-term diplomatic relations at the level of liaison offices (e.g., Morocco, 1995–2000). Nevertheless, this series of agreements is historic, as it is only the third instance of normalization between Israel and its Arab neighbors (following Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994) and embodies a rare renunciation of hostility in the conflict-torn Middle East.
Besides advancing bilateral economic and technological cooperation among the parties, the Abraham Accords have several implications for US security in the Middle East, including US arms sales and Iran’s hegemonic ambitions in the region, as well as implications for the nearly century-long Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The implications of the accords for US security in the Middle East, as well as for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, should be seen through the lens of how it reshapes and solidifies the alignment system governing the region, knowing that the accords themselves are the latest in a series of developments in this alignment system that started in the mid-1990s.
This report provides a more coherent account of the accords, with a focus on the regional impact—that is, on the alignments and alliances in the Middle East—and its implications for US policy in the region.
Amr Yossef is a fellow at the Modern War Institute who researches Middle East politics and security, with a particular focus on conflict, war, the military, and foreign policy decision making.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the United States Military Academy, Department of the Army, or Department of Defense.
Image credit: Andrea Hanks, White House
In our report above, the author suggests a conflict between status quo and revisionist entities; herein, suggesting that:
a. The status quo entities are "a group of Middle Eastern states that typically have a close relationship or an alliance with the United States.
Members of the status quo alignment generally gravitate toward accommodation with the West as the Guarantor of the region's security, peaceful settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict and coexistence with Israel, and assertion of noninterference norms." And that:
b. "The revisionist alignment, by contrast, advocates hostility toward the West, which they perceive as seeking to dominate the region. Falling under either Arab nationalism or Islamism, revisionists are also more tolerant of engaging in armed conflict to confront Israel and seek to export revolutionary policies to the status quo powers."
(As to these such quoted items, see Page 4 of the full report.)
Dr. Jennifer Lind, and Dr. David Kilcullen I suggest, might disagree with our author's depiction above of (a) who, in the world today, are the "revisionist" entities, i.e., the entities seeking to bring about "revolutionary" political, economic, social and/or value "change" and (b) who are the "status quo" entities, to wit; the "resistance" entities — whose goal is to prevent such unwanted change from being realized or from becoming permanent.
In this regard, Dr. Lind and Dr. Kilcullen appear to suggest that:
a. It is the U.S./the West (and our "partner" governments in the Greater Middle East and elsewhere?) who are the obvious "revisionist"/"revolutionary" powers in the world today; herein, seeking to transform other states and societies more along modern western political, economic, social and value lines and, thus,
b. It is much of the rest of the world (to include certain countries in the Greater Middle East?) who are the "status quo" powers today — that is, the powers seeking to prevent the U.S./the West from achieving its such "transformational" goals.
As to this such contention, let us:
a. First look at this from Dr. Lind:
"Since the end of World War II, the United States has pursued a strategy aimed at overturning the status quo by spreading liberalism, free markets, and U.S. influence around the globe. … the United States' posture stokes fear in Beijing and beyond." …
"But at its heart, U.S. grand strategy seeks to spread liberalism and U.S. influence. The goal, in other words, is not preservation but transformation." …
"The United States has pursued this transformational grand strategy all over the world." …
"In each of these regions (Europe, the Middle East, East Asia), U.S. diplomatic, economic, and military policies are aimed not at preserving but at transforming the status quo. (Items in parenthesis here are mine.) …
(See Dr. Lind's Foreign Affairs [Mar/Apr 2017 edition] article "Asia's Other Revisionist Power: Why U.S. Grand Strategy Unnerves China.")
b. Next consider this from Dr. Kilcullen:
"Similarly, in classical theory, the insurgent initiates. Thus, Galula asserts that ‘whereas in conventional war, either side can initiate the conflict, only one – the insurgent – can initiate a revolutionary war, for counter-insurgency is only an effect of insurgency’. Classical theorists therefore emphasise the problem of recognising insurgency early. Thompson observes that ‘at the first signs of an incipient insurgency … no one likes to admit that anything is going wrong. This automatically leads to a situation where government countermeasures are too little and too late.’ But, in several modern campaigns – Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Chechnya, for example – the government or invading coalition forces initiated the campaign, whereas insurgents are strategically reactive (as in ‘resistance warfare’). Such patterns are readily recognisable in historical examples of resistance warfare, but less so in classical counter-insurgency theory.
Politically, in many cases today, the counter-insurgent represents revolutionary change, while the insurgent fights to preserve the status quo of ungoverned spaces, or to repel an occupier – a political relationship opposite to that envisaged in classical counter-insurgency. Pakistan's campaign in Waziristan since 2003 exemplifies this. The enemy includes al-Qaeda-linked extremists and Taliban, but also local tribesmen fighting to preserve their traditional culture against twenty-first-century encroachment. The problem of weaning these fighters away from extremist sponsors, while simultaneously supporting modernisation, does somewhat resemble pacification in traditional counter-insurgency. But it also echoes colonial campaigns, and includes entirely new elements arising from the effects of globalisation."
(See Kilcullen's "Counterinsurgency Redux.")
Bottom Line Thought — Based on the Above:
As Dr. Lind and Dr. Kilcullen appear to tell us above:
a. The "revisionist"/the "revolutionary" governments and people; these are those governments and people who seek to achieve the political, economic, social and/or value change of their own — and/or other — states and societies. And:
b. The "status quo"/the "resistance" governments and people; these are those governments and populations who would seek to prevent these such unwanted political, economic, social and/or value changes from taking place — and/or to roll these changes back if they have recently been enacted.
Given the arguments by Dr.'s Lind and Kilcullen above — and now the events of January 6, 2021 —
a. Who do you see as the "revisionist"/"the "revolutionary" entities — in the Greater Middle East and here at home — and, accordingly,
b. Who do you see as the "status quo"/"the "resistance" entities?
(In this regard, consider the following from Page 4 and 5 of our full report above:
"Notably, the tendency to link status quo policy with defensiveness and a revisionist policy with aggressiveness is mistaken. Status quo powers can behave aggressively, and revisionist powers can ally with the existing "rules of the game.")