By Josh Hammer
The aftermath of the Iran nuclear deal has seen the warming of relations, however unofficial and clandestine they may generally be, between Israel and large swaths of the Arab world. Israel and many Sunni Arab countries, from Egypt and Jordan to the Gulf states of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates, all recognize the Iranian regime as their biggest geopolitical threat in the region.
One downstream consequence of the changed post-Iran deal regional security landscape has been increased economic cooperation between Israel and other regional actors. Accordingly, on Monday, Reuters reported that Israel joined a number of other Mediterranean countries in forming a Cairo-based regional natural gas organization dedicated to the development of resources:
The organization aims to “create a regional gas market that serves the interests of its members by ensuring supply and demand, optimizing resource development, rationalizing the cost of infrastructure, offering competitive prices and improving trade relations,” among other goals, the [Egyptian petroleum ministry] statement said.
The announcement is part of efforts to transform the Eastern Mediterranean into a major energy hub.
In addition to Israel and Egypt, Italy, Cyprus, Greece, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority are all also involved in the new effort. The new organization will be called the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum. The Tower reports:
The Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum will use existing infrastructure and build new facilities to handle current and future gas discoveries. The overall goal, according to the [organization’s] statement, would be “the establishment of a sustainable partnership between the actors at all stages of the gas industry.”
According to Haaretz, the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum “marks the first time Israel has been admitted to a regional grouping that will give it official status in the Arab world.”
Israel’s shadow diplomacy with other influential regional actors has also markedly improved, of late. In October, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the Sultantate of Oman, marking the first time in 22 years that an Israeli prime minister has visited Oman. Israel and Oman have unofficial economic relations but not formal diplomatic relations. Similarly, in October, Israeli Foreign Minister of Culture and Sport Miri Regev made an official state visit to the United Arab Emirates’ Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Israel lacks both formal diplomatic and economic relations with the United Arab Emirates.
The state of generally warming relations between Israel and her regional neighbors has had the broader effect of largely isolating the Palestinians from their hitherto staunchly reliable Arab patrons. In November, The Times of Israel quoted Palestinian Authority chieftain Mahmoud Abbas’s senior advisor Nabil Shaath:
“What we have been seeing in recent weeks — beginning with Netanyahu’s visit to Oman and the visit to Israel by the president of Chad, and now there is talk of Bahrain and Sudan and ties of one kind or another with Saudi Arabia — raises question marks, and there is therefore a need to clarify the Arab and Islamic position.”
In the interim, Israel’s shadow diplomacy and overt economic cooperation alike continue to rapidly expand with its regional neighbors.