As the Israeli war on Palestinians in Gaza continues to kill thousands daily, half of them children, public anger in the Arab countries is escalating. Some countries, especially those that have recently established relations with the Jewish state, have begun to feel the heat of public discord. News reports said that one of the signatories of the so-called Abraham Accords severed relations with Israel, while Israeli officials insist that no formal halt to relations occurred.
A week ago, the Council of Representatives (lower house of parliament) in Bahrain said the country was recalling its ambassador to Israel and severing economic relations with Tel Aviv in protest for its attack on Gaza. Along with Morocco and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain signed the US-brokered deal of normalisation with Israel in 2020. But by the start of escalation in occupied Palestine, Israel withdrew its ambassadors and other staff from all Arab capitals with which it has diplomatic relations except the UAE. It said this was a precautionary security measure.
Israeli media quoted officials denying Bahrain formally cut relations, while Israel’s Foreign Ministry insisted that “no such decision was made” and that “ties between the two countries remain.” The ministry stressed that “Israel-Bahrain relations are stable” even though Bahrain’s own official news agency carried the news that the ambassador had been recalled.
The Times of Israel quoted a senior Israeli official as saying “the country’s envoy in Tel Aviv, Khaled Al-Jalahma, was already back in Bahrain for a personal matter.” He added that Israel “had pulled its envoy Eitan Naeh along with his staff out of the country towards the beginning of the war as a security precaution.”
According to media reports quoting Israeli officials, the United Arab Emirates is the only Middle East country where Israel still has an ambassador stationed after it quietly pulled envoys from Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Turkey and Bahrain.
Some analysts suggest that the Bahraini government allowing parliament to announce severing relations with Israel might be intended to help the public “vent” regarding the mass killing of Palestinians, since the trade volume between Bahrain and Israel is merely at 50 million dollars a year, which pales in significance compared to the three billion dollars of trade between Israel and the UAE.
Elsewhere, the Sultanate of Oman, known to be a mediator in the region, is one of the states that has not normalised relations with Israel. Media reports noted that Oman closed off its airspace to Israeli planes, which it had opened earlier along with Saudi Arabia. But Israeli carrier, El Al Airlines, said last week that “it had temporarily stopped flying over Omani airspace on its route to Bangkok for safety reasons.” A spokeswoman for the company, quoted by Reuters, said “there was no specific threat to El Al aircraft but the airline opted to revert back to a route over Saudi Arabia and not Oman, lengthening the flight time between Tel Aviv and Bangkok to 11 hours from 8.”
No formal or even semi-official reaction has been made by Morocco concerning its relations with Israel despite the authorities allowing thousands to demonstrate against Israeli aggression against Gaza in Moroccan cities. Bahrain also allowed demonstrations in support of Palestine. It was the first time the government tolerated street demonstrations since 2011 when the country banned public protests. Omani cities see rare demonstrations chanting slogans against Israeli massacres in scenes very rarely seen in the relatively quiet Gulf country.
The most vocal criticism of Israeli aggression on Gaza came from Kuwait, and at the highest official level. Kuwait has maintained a position against any agreements with Israel until Palestinian rights are granted.
Last week, Kuwait’s crown prince stated that the current Israeli war on the Gaza Strip violates international law. Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah said in a speech to Kuwait’s parliament that the Israeli bombardment of Gaza “violates all humanitarian laws and international conventions.” He added, “it is paramount for the world to look into how to implement an immediate ceasefire and increase relief aid to the Gaza Strip.”
Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which have no formal relations with Israel yet, saw no public demonstration of anger or criticism of the genocide, though some of their citizens took to social media to express strong views.
The United Arab Emirates Foreign Ministry initially called the 7 October raid in southern Israel a “serious and grave escalation” and its finance minister, who had told reporters the country does not mix trade with politics, has now sought to adjust his tone. After Israel struck Gaza’s Jabaliya refugee camp last week, the UAE warned that “indiscriminate attacks will result in irreparable ramifications in the region.”
Abu Dhabi justifies keeping its relations with Israel as an essential means to play a role in de-escalation. It also considers its role as a rotating member of the UN Security Council important in seeking reconciliation, making it useful to maintain relations with all parties. Yet if the war continues and Israeli massacres in Gaza result in more killings, even in the Gulf public anger might go out of control. Whether this will have any real impact on the governments’ positions is a different question.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 9 November, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly