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Iran’s Geopolitical Power and the Normalization of Relations Between the UAE and ‘Israel’

Authors: Reza Ekhtiari Amiri, Hamzeh Safavi Homami, Mohammad Reza Mohammadi

Affiliation: University of Mazandaran; University of Tehran; Science and Research Unit, Islamic Azad University

Organization/Publisher: Geopolitical Quarterly by Iranian Association of Geopolitics

Date/place: Winter 2024, Tehran, Iran

Type of Literature: Research Paper

Word Count: 10000



Keywords: Iran, UAE, ‘Israel’, Balance of Threat, Balance of Power, Middle East Geopolitics



The process of normalization between the UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Oman with ‘Israel’ has evolved from covert diplomacy to more overt actions. Notable events include Netanyahu’s visit to Oman in 2018 and the signing of the Abraham Accords in 2020 with the UAE and Bahrain. The UAE, being the third Arab country to normalize relations with ‘Israel’, had previously allowed the Zionist regime’s presence through various measures.

This paper suggests that Iran’s growing geopolitical power has played a crucial role in normalization with ‘Israel’, but differing perceptions of power and security threats drive Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv, as the former pursues a balance of power while the latter seeks a balance of threat.

Applying a descriptive-analytical method, the authors study the case through realist theories of the balance of power. In the realm of international relations, realist theorists emphasize the importance for nations to achieve balance and unity in their security policies. Thus, realists view the concept of a “Balance of Power” or a “Balance of Threat” as essential for the long-term realization of strategic goals. Countries, guided by their political and geopolitical needs, build power accordingly, with those in close proximity to threatening neighbors requiring more balancing efforts.

Hans Morgenthau contends that managing the world system involves regional balance policies that lead to cooperation among actors. The “Balance of Power” concept underscores the necessity of a stable equilibrium between states for international peace and order. Governments, driven by the principle of survival, engage in balancing to confront concentrations of power, seeking to influence other states’ foreign policy behavior.

The authors then discuss Kenneth Waltz’s structural realism theory, where he asserts that states’ security and survival hinge on preventing an accumulation and concentration of power, leading logically to balance. Additionally, the paper refers to John Mearsheimer and Stephan Walt’s contributions to the discussion on balance of power. Mearsheimer focuses on balancing behaviors, highlighting regional hegemony as a foreign and transnational balancer in strategic regions. Stephen Walt introduces the concept of “Balance of Threat,” emphasizing that nations balance not just with power but with perceived threats, framing regional balance as an equilibrium of threats.

The authors then argue that in the Middle East, the UAE is employing a balance of power strategy, seeking regional coalitions as a deterrent against Iran, while ‘Israel’, considering Iran’s power, military capability, and offensive intentions, aims to form alliances to balance the perceived threat. Consequently, the UAE-‘Israel’ convergence is largely driven by shared concerns about Iran’s potential threats.

According to the authors, the geopolitical landscape in West Asia has witnessed significant changes in the past decade, leading to an intensification of anarchic order and alterations in the regional security equation. The transformation, including the overthrow of some Arab states as well as the wars and conflicts in countries like Syria, Yemen, and Iraq, have bolstered Iran’s spheres of influence and geopolitical power, tilting the regional balance in its favor. They argue that, nonetheless, this Iranian activism has incurred substantial costs and heightened the sense of threat for rival and adversary actors like the UAE and ‘Israel.’

The growing power and geopolitical threats perceived by these Arab states and the Israeli regime have played a pivotal role in the normalization of relations between the UAE and ‘Israel’. While both the UAE and ‘Israel’ pursue a balancing strategy towards Iran, their approaches differ due to variations in the nature and urgency of the security threats they face.

The paper contends that the UAE, grappling with structural and geopolitical weaknesses, seeks a regional balance of power. Unsuccessful cooperation with the Saudi axis and tensions with other regional players have led Emirati officials to ally with ‘Israel’. For the UAE, developing relations with ‘Israel’ serves as a tool to balance power against Iran’s growing influence. Despite extensive trade relations with Iran, the UAE considers it a threat and employs various mechanisms to maintain a balance of power.

In contrast, ‘Israel’, viewing the Middle East through a security lens, seeks to control potential security threats beyond occupied territories, particularly from Iran. Employing a redefined version of Ben-Gurion’s Peripheral Alliance doctrine, ‘Israel’ aims to create new alliances around the nation it considers its main enemy, Iran. Establishing relations with countries on the southern shores of the Persian Gulf, like the UAE, is part of this new doctrine.

The United States, ‘Israel’, and regional Arab countries, in parallel with the maximum pressure policy against Iran, aim to neutralize Tehran’s influence. The UAE, as the authors argue, views establishing diplomatic relations with ‘Israel’ as a crucial step in restricting Iran’s activities in the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz, and the Sea of Oman. With the support of the U.S., Israel’s presence in the Persian Gulf system is expected to reshape regional security, potentially complicating the security dilemma.

Moreover, the Zionist Regime has adapted its peripheral strategy, emphasizing the perceived threat from Iran to itself and the United States. This shift aligns with the threat balance theory, where nations unite against the perceived greatest threat. Within the framework of the new post-9/11 U.S. containment strategy, which focuses on neighboring regional systems to contain Iran, the Zionist regime plays a significant role. The national security doctrine of the Zionist regime outlines three main areas of policy: partners in peace, mediating countries, and rebellious countries and organizations.

Accordingly, the Zionist regime aims to maintain and develop peaceful relations with Egypt and Jordan, involving them in positive regional trends and collaborative efforts. Simultaneously, it views retaining qualitative superiority over its allies and expanding relations with moderate actors in the region as necessary.

Secondly, the Zionist regime seeks to prevent Iraq and Saudi Arabia from turning rebellious and aims to enhance relations to the level of peaceful coexistence. 

Thirdly, confronting anti-Zionist regime countries and organizations, including Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas, etc. is a priority. The regime emphasizes international and regional cooperation to weaken their legitimacy and strengthen its accountability.

In preventing the stabilization of the Shiite-Iranian axis, the Zionist regime focuses on creating a wide belt of partners in its surrounding environment. This involves identifying the regime’s weaknesses, such as sensitivity to casualties, geopolitical challenges in long wars, restrictions on ground operations, and the psychological tactic of achieving victory without defeat.

Recent Middle East developments, with Iran’s involvement in the Syrian war and influence beyond occupied territories, have shifted the security balance in favor of the Resistance Front centered in the Islamic Republic. The Zionist regime seeks to disrupt Iran’s influence in Syria. Its current efforts focus on attacking Iran’s military fortifications, pressuring Russia to limit Iranian influence in Syria, and influencing the U.S. to delay its full withdrawal from strategic regions.

Considering these shifts, the paper suggests that Iran prioritizes improving relations with Arab countries in the Persian Gulf to prevent the formation of a strategic alliance against it. Building trust through active diplomacy, addressing security concerns, and engaging in cooperation can reduce security threats, foster mutual security interdependence, and weaken the current alliance between these Arab states and ‘Israel.’ This approach aims to navigate the evolving geopolitical dynamics in the region and safeguard Iran’s interests amid changing alliances.

By: Setareh Sadeqi, CIGA Research Fellow



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