Date & Time: December 10, 2020 at 6:30 PM IST / 8:00 AM EST

Venue: Zoom Online Meeting Platform

Webinar: Changing Political Dynamics in West Asia: Abraham Accords and Beyond

Guest Speaker: Dr Jon B. Alterman, Senior Vice President, Zbigniew Brzezinski Chair in Global Security and Geostrategy, Director of the Middle East Program at CSIS

Moderator: Mr. Gazi Hassan, Senior Research Associate, CPPR – Centre for Strategic Studies 

Proceedings Report

  • About the Event: The Webinar titled ‘Changing Political Dynamics in West Asia: Abraham Accords and Beyond’ was held online on December 10, 2020 at 6:30 PM IST. The virtual discussion was part of the CPPR Webinar Series and was organized by the CPPR – Centre for Strategic Studies.   
  • Guest Speaker: The guest speaker for this webinar was Dr Jon B. Alterman. He is the Senior Vice President, holds the Zbigniew Brzezinski Chair in Global Security and Geostrategy, and is Director of the Middle East Program at CSIS.  
  • Moderator: The session was moderated by Mr. Gazi Hassan, Senior Research Associate, CPPR – Centre for Strategic Studies. 

Webinar Summary

  1. The topic for the Webinar was ‘Changing Political Dynamics in West Asia: Abraham Accords and Beyond.’ The session sought to provide an overview of trends and geopolitical shifts that can be anticipated with Israel being recognized by a few of the Arab nations, namely UAE and Bahrain.
  2. Dr Alterman started the session by throwing light on three ‘disruptive revolutions’ that are transforming the Middle East. First, with the major global energy companies focussed on energy transformation, moving away from oil, the Middle East will lose its strategic position that it has held since World War II. 
  3. Second, the US presence in the Middle East is ‘going down and not up’ as subsequent US governments, including the Obama and Trump administrations, and the American public believe that the US has over engaged itself in the region and it needs to rethink its priorities and goals in the Middle East. This could have a ‘knock-on effect’ in the region if the US is no more the preponderant power there, and lead to intra-regional conflicts.  
  4. Third, a robust and high skilled job market needs to be created for the youth in the Middle East. Dr Alterman pointed out that the youth had a sense of entitlement to employment, stemming from the narrative in the 1990s that a university education would suffice to secure a government job. Such expectations need to be readjusted. 
  1. Dr Alterman argued that the Abraham Accords is a strategic move for UAE and Bahrain. Both countries want to align with the U.S. and Israel to ensure that Iran isn’t a threat to them. With the diminishing U.S. presence, UAE seeks to expand its influence in the Middle East Region. 
  1. Signing the Abraham Accords, in Dr Alterman’s opinion, is a diplomatic win for both UAE and Israel. He justified this statement by explaining how the Emirati authorities managed to do a tightrope walk in the Middle-East, preventing any major blow-up from other nations. For Israel, this is more of a moral victory than a diplomatic one. Israel sought normalization and recognition from an Arab country and UAE gave them just that. 
  1. With Bahrain and Sudan joining UAE, Dr Alterman expressed that Saudi Arabia would be the last, if it ever did, to recognize Israel. He said the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia may allow Israeli aircrafts to pass through Saudi airspace, but that wouldn’t imply a recognition or normalization of relations with Israel. He attributed that Saudi Arabia’s reluctance to acknowledge Israel may be posing a diplomatic hindrance for them. Saudi Arabia has a global image as the gatekeepers of Islam, and have nurtured the literalist and conservative approach of Islam.
  1. He pointed out that, interestingly, the generation of young Arabs who grew up watching news regarding the intifada on satellite TV have been more welcoming of the Abraham Accords than the older local population.
  1. On the question of clear winners and losers in the accord, Dr Alterman argued that Palestine is a clear loser. He added that the momentum for the Palestinian cause had declined with the Arab Spring exposing individual countries and their domestic issues.
  1. Dr Alterman did not view Iran as a threat as it is preoccupied with its own weakness vis-a-vis its neighbors. Dr Alterman is confident that Iran would soon begin talks with the White House for a renewed nuclear deal. 
  1. During the Q&A session he said that although Benjamin Netanyahu has a mixed record of maintaining relations with Democratic presidents in the Oval Office, he is hopeful that Biden will bridge that gap and address the emotional anguish. With the new White House administration coming in, Dr Alterman believes that President-elect Biden will push Israel for Palestine’s right to self-determination.
  2. Dr Alterman highlighted that in the current geopolitical setting, no country in the Middle East would be interested in filling the void that the U.S. leaves as most of them are grappling with their own domestic issues. 
  1. Dr Alterman is certain that, in the next 10 years, the Middle East will undergo more reforms than they’ve had in the past 75 years. “The middle east is in a transition and the important challenge here is to understand the changing behavior and the impact of these times on the local population” he said.

This report was prepared by Sam Thomas, Research Intern with the Centre for Strategic Studies at CPPR.

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To watch the video recording of the session click here

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