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The strategic importance of Israel-Bahrain pact, and Serbia, Kosovo enter Jerusalem

In episode 566 of #CutTheClutter, Shekhar Gupta explains why Israel's deal with Bahrain is historic in nature and how it has ramifications in countries like Serbia and Kosovo.

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New Delhi: Many things have happened in the Middle East and the Balkans with two rather obscure countries but all of them are somehow centred into the tiny country Israel, said ThePrint’s Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta in episode 566 of ‘Cut The Clutter’.

Israel and Bahrain have decided to reconcile their relationship in a peace deal that was brokered by US President Donald Trump Saturday. While the two countries were not at war, Bahrain decided to recognise Israel as a country for the first time. This happened within a month of the UAE and Israel normalising relations.

Bahrain becomes the fourth Arab nation now to recognise Israel, after Egypt, Jordan and UAE.

Meanwhile, the Balkan countries Kosovo and Serbia have also decided to cool their relations through an agreement.

Also read: Trump announces peace deal between Bahrain and Israel — second Middle East pact in a month

Bahrain-Israel deal & where Saudi Arabia stands now

This deal is especially important because for all intents, Bahrain is an outpost of Saudi Arabia. It is a protectorate, a client state and has always been dependent on Saudi Arabia.

Gupta said that lately, for about a decade, Bahrain’s dependence on Saudi Arabia has become stronger.

A decade ago, when Arab Spring — a series of anti-government protests in the Middle East that began in early 2010s — had started, Bahrain was worried that it will spread to its citizens as well.

The country’s government decided to come down hard on Arab Spring, they executed and tortured people. They were only able to do so with Saudi backing — their forces as well as political backing.

This led to Bahrain being dependent on Saudi Arabia not only economically but also politically and militarily.

Thus, Bahrain reconciling with Israel has a wide-ranging political significance, particularly because it would not have taken such a step without Saudi Arabia’s approval, Gupta said.

Saudi Arabia, however, will not be in a hurry to formally establish diplomatic relations with Israel for a couple of reasons. One, there is competition in the Islamic world with Iran on one side and Turkey on the other. Second, Saudi still has a king in his mid-80s and for someone of his generation to accept Israel is “very, very rough”.

Also read: Israel’s new friendship with the UAE will come at a cost

Deals mark strategic repositioning of Arab Sunni Middle East

US President Donald Trump is claiming both the deals signed by the UAE and Bahrain as his victories, which are directed at the American Right wing and the Jewish voter-base.

Gupta drew from The New York Times journalist Mark Langar’s article, where he quotes US diplomat Martin Indyk as saying that this deal with Bahrain is more of a “strategic deal than a peace-related decision”. 

“This is a new strategic repositioning by the Arab Sunni Middle East, which is away from Iran,” Gupta said. For countries like Bahrain and Oman, Iran is a much bigger strategic threat than Israel.

Gupta added that the next country to normalise relations with Israel could be Morocco as they have decided to restore aviation links between both countries. The Sultan of Oman had also hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2018. Saudi Arabia and Israel also allow each other’s civil aviation to fly in their air spaces.

As far as Qatar is concerned, Gupta said, the country “had openly collaborated with Israel earlier to intervene with Hamas to bring about a ceasefire in Gaza”.

He also referred to an article by UAE ambassador to the US Yousef Al Otaiba, where he said that Israelis can’t have both — annexation of West Bank territories and normalisation.

Arab countries are now obtaining a promise from Netanyahu that he will not annex West Bank territories. With this, there is an expectation that at some point, Palestinians will have the incentive to resume negotiations with Israel.

Also read: Iran, not Israel, becomes the unifying enemy for the Middle East

Kosovo and Serbia agreement 

All of the deals with Israel are not only occupying the Middle East but also distant Balkans — Kosovo and Serbia.

Kosovo and Serbia announced an agreement in Washington, brokered by Trump to normalise relations, which will be signed next week.

Kosovo broke away from Serbia in 2008, but the latter still considers Kosovo as part of its territory and the dispute has gone on since then.

Now, with the peace deal, Serbia will not oppose Kosovo’s membership of any international body next year.

Gupta said there are two implications to this — Kosovo that has a huge Muslim population of Albanian origin has recognised Israel and decided to base embassy in Jerusalem, becoming the first Muslim majority country to have an embassy base there.

And Serbia, a Christian majority country, has decided to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, becoming the first European nation to do so.

Gupta then explained how this is significant to the US. “The Balkans is a very important area, because that is the area, which both Russians and Chinese are trying to influence,” he said.

Also read: Serbia and Kosovo to have ‘fantastic relationship’ — Trump announces historic accord

Swami Agnivesh and Raghuvansh Prasad Singh

Gupta also remembered the late Swami Agnivesh and Raghuvansh Prasad Singh as among the last of a decent generation of Indian politicians.

Raghuvansh Prasad Singh was the Rural Development Minister under the UPA, who moved the MNREGA Act. He was also the force behind keeping Lalu Prasad Yadav’s RJD together.

Swami Agnivesh, activist and campaigner, was always very open-minded and open to criticism, said Gupta.

“Swamiji and Raghuvanshi, it’s very difficult to find politicians in the new generation of your quality, your patience and your large hearts,” he added.

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