What has the collapse of Afghanistan to do with the Abraham Accords—the agreements between Israel and several Arab states?
Last week marked Afghanistan’s collapse and also the first anniversary of the Abraham Accords. While the Biden administration congratulated Morocco and Israel last week when Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid visited Rabat, and the two countries announced that full, formal diplomatic relations would soon begin, it’s clear that the anniversary of the Abraham Accords was not going to be marked. Perhaps it was viewed as a Trump achievement that should be buried rather than saluted.
In fact the two events—the new-found willingness of Sunni Arab states to open diplomatic and economic relations with Israel, and the Biden administration’s calamitous moves in Afghanistan—are related. What transpired in Afghanistan helps explain why the Abraham Accords happened.
Simply put, Arab states face numerous threats and see their region as one where Iran, Turkey, and Israel are the most powerful nations. They also see a decline in American willingness to use power to protect U.S. interests—and to protect U.S. allies. Witness, for example, the failure of the Biden administration to respond to the Iranian drone attack on the Mercer Street commercial vessel in the Arabian Sea last month, which killed two members of the ship’s crew, or the Trump administration’s failure to respond when Iranian-backed terrorists attacked the Abqaiq petroleum facility in Saudi Arabia in 2019.
What is happening in Afghanistan will deepen the impression among Arab governments that they cannot rely on the United States to protect their security as they used to. So those states have increasingly drawn the conclusion that they have one neighbor who unlike Iran or Turkey poses no threat to them, and who continually displays a firm willingness to use military power against its enemies. That’s Israel. Israel in addition has a modern economy based on exceptional high-tech achievements, and maintains not only a close alliance with the United States but working relationships with Russia and China. For the Arabs, then, the Abraham Accords were at long last the victory of self-interest over ideology –and over outmoded versions of Arab nationalism and support for Palestinians.
This is a boon for Israel, and seeing Arab states draw closer to Israel is a benefit for the United States as well, because we maintain close relations with many of them. But the reason for this development is problematic. It does not primarily reflect U.S. pressures or urgings, especially under the Biden administration. Instead it reflects a realpolitik judgment about the U.S. role in the region, and about our willingness to act to protect allies, friends, and even ourselves. The collapse in Afghanistan will only deepen the doubts and fears many countries --including Israel and the Arab states-- have about America’s role in the world, and about the Biden administration’s understanding of the challenges we face.