Israel-GCC ties were strategic even before the first official Israel-GCC
diplomatic normalization took place recently with the UAE. For Israel, the mode
of engagement set up with the GCC years prior to UAE-Israel normalization was
ideal. It had a top-heavy aspect, featuring Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s
personal contacts with GCC monarchs, and was also discreet, with numerous high-profile
Israelis taking private
flights to the GCC.
Much of this synergy, which makes one wonder why diplomatic normalization
with Israel had not occurred sooner, lies in the political structure and nature
of the GCC itself.
GCC authoritarianism and Israel’s love for censorship
The authoritarian structure of the GCC makes GCC-Israel normalization
very easy. The Gulf monarchs are not answerable to the broader GCC populace
which has no true way of converting resentment against unpopular decisions –
such as recognizing Israel – into tangible pressure upon their rulers. If they
publicly oppose normalization with Israel, they can simply be jailed as happened
Bahraini anti-Israel protesters months ago.
For Israel, this presents a unique bonus. Not only does it soothe potential
Israeli paranoia about the safety of its upcoming diplomatic missions and other
personnel in GCC states against violence from angry crowds but also sets a precedent
for GCC crackdown upon and censorship of any kind of anti-Zionist activity in
media or civil society.
Prior to GCC-Israel normalization, public negativity toward Israel was at least
allowed and not suppressed. Now, however, since anti-Zionist activism would
inevitably lead to criticism of GCC-Israel ties, even something as harmless
as a radio station broadcasting anti-Israeli messages could face suppression.
For Israel, who promotes censorship of anti-Israeli voices as
a matter of state policy, this constitutes extra profit on its investment
in normalizing ties with the GCC.
GCC security paranoia and Israel’s surveillance-and-spying bonanza
The GCC’s iron-fisted suppression of any form of political life in
their territories has not prevented them exhibiting serious paranoia vis-à-vis
security. The kingdoms view the numerical majority of GCC citizens born outside
the sprawling familial and tribal structures that comprise the government suspiciously.
observed by Israeli scholar Neve Gordon, who studies Israel’s security and
surveillance industry, about the GCC:
“These regimes are unstable in the sense that most of the people
living in these regimes do not have basic rights and
they constantly need to monitor and surveil their populations.”
This makes the GCC an irresistible market for a prime Israeli export:
spyware. Indeed, the
UAE and Saudis
have already used spyware developed by teams comprising veterans of Israeli
signals intelligence agency, Unit 8200 to hack private devices and track private
The espionage industry has outsized importance for Israel not only from
an intelligence-gathering perspective, but also economical. As a relatively
barren and geographically small, narrow state, Israel invests heavily in producing
and marketing goods and services which do not require space and natural resources
and spyware is an ideal such product to sell.
Match all this with Israel’s hegemony-and-control oriented foreign policy and
the prospect of the GCC relying heavily on Israeli spyware becomes yet more
attractive. This is because of Israel’s
longstanding practice of bugging the spyware it sells to foreign governments
– especially the US – with “back-doors” which allow it covert access
to often-classified data in the devices using the spyware.
The GCC’s enthusiastic embrace of Israeli spyware would thus grant Israel
a covert long-arm into their security systems to spy on everyone from state
officials to citizens. With this would come the potential for the blackmail
of senior officials which in turn would help Israel push the GCC closer to an
objective Israel pursues heatedly yet
which the GCC currently avoids – an actual war with Iran featuring a US
attack on Iran from GCC bases.
Israel-GCC relations are already top-heavy and Israel’s consolidated grip over
the GCC monarchies’ security would make them virtual client states.
Money to throw around, no questions asked
Alongside massive flows of unconditional annual US federal aid and the
financial largesse of rich Jewish communities worldwide, Israel values opportunities
to diversify its funding sources. In the era of multipolarity, Israel like numerous
other states finds sense in tapping into funding sources beyond the US for financial,
economic and military needs.
The GCC’s deep pockets as well as the fact their monarchs can arbitrarily
dedicate huge amounts of capital to whatever end they see fit bears special
appeal for Israel. While it has thus far managed to sustain impunity against
this, both federal and private funding to Israel from the US yet faces a certain
level of activist or occasional media pressure owing to Israeli
violations of numerous US laws.
In the case of the GCC, nobody can or will question how the monarchs spend
state revenue, nor are there elected bodies to oppose funding Israel based on
its violations of laws – international, of the GCC or otherwise.
In short, Israel adding the GCC to its growing list of non-US business-and-investment
partners is unlikely to come with the caveat of Israeli abandonment of its illegal
settlements policy, or any similar form of concession to international law or
peace. Lip service toward halting annexation – for whatever time – from Netanyahu
might be expected as a formality, but nothing seriously intended or enforceable.
Israel in the driver’s seat
The brittle nature of the GCC states and their inevitable over-reliance
on foreign powers for their survival will play to Israel’s advantage in a major
While it remains to be seen whether they can deliver vis-à-vis helping
Israel counter Iran’s growing regional influence following their wasteful, unproductive
campaign in Yemen, the GCC monarchs are ultimately precisely the type of allies
Agha Hussain is an independant editorial contributor based in Rawalpindi,
Pakistan with Middle Eastern geopolitics and Pakistani foreign policy as main
areas of focus.