Alexander Griffing, Haaretz Contributor

Israel has long hinted about its quiet ties with Arab Gulf states like the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, as their common struggle to contain Iran and steadfast alliance with the United States have opened doors for cooperation on security issues.

But recent fractures in both those alliances — between the UAE and Saudi Arabia regarding Yemen, and the UAE and the United States facing the threat posed by Iran — challenge the mutual interests on which their budding security relationship was founded.

For Israel, this should serve as a cautionary tale as these strains can give insight into its own relationship with U.S. President Donald Trump and Iran.

Dr. Yoel Guzansky, a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, notes that recent UAE overtures to Iran are a way for the Gulf country to hedge its bets in the region. In conversation with Haaretz, he suggests that the UAE has been shifting strategy as the U.S. appear to no longer be the reliable security patron it once was.

According to Guzansky, there are three driving forces pushing the UAE to reevaluate its regional strategy vis-à-vis Iran as well as its participation in the Saudi-Iran cold war that has shaped the Middle East through devastating proxy wars in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq during the past decade.

The first factor, the researcher says, is the UAE’s need to extract itself from the five-year quagmire in Yemen, which continues to deplete resources, demoralizes the military and threatens to leave a permanent stain on the country’s reputation within the halls of the U.S. Congress.

Trump recently had to veto a bipartisan bill that passed in both the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives and the Republican-led Senate. The legislation rebuked American support for the war in Yemen and would have limited arms sales to both Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

The second factor, Guzansky notes, is the UAE’s understanding that it has to focus its military and diplomatic efforts on Iran, both as a means of securing the Gulf and shoring up investor confidence in the emirates, which relies heavily on foreign business and international travel.  

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