President Trump seems convinced that a regional peace agreement between Israel and the Arab world may be on the horizon. On his recent trip to the Middle East, he stated that a “new level of partnership is possible and will happen- one that will bring greater safety to this region, greater security to the United States and greater prosperity to the world.” The main impediment of course remains the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that still carries some weight in Arab capitals, though visibly less. Trump isn’t far off base. Across the Middle East these days, often away from the headlines, Israel finds itself deeply involved in the Arab wars.

The clearest indicator of this can be found in Syria. Mr. Trump himself mentioned Israel’s strategic influence when he told visiting Russian diplomats about information obtained by undercover Israeli intelligence operations against the Islamic State. Moreover, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Israel was strengthening its security and intelligence collaboration with Jordan in southern Syria to deflect Iranian influence in the area. An Israeli-Jordanian alliance is not new news. The Israeli government has had a policy, dating back to 1970, of bolstering Jordan’s stability.

An open secret is the role Israel plays in its own border region with Syria. Recent reports have made it clear that Israel has been working for at least a year to create a friendly “buffer zone” on the other side of Golan Heights. A dedicated Israeli military unit also aids civilians with aid, foodstuffs going in, and wounded Syrians- including rebel fighters. The Wall Street Journal reported that rebel commanders even claim they receive cash from Israel, which is used to pay salaries and purchase ammunition.

This “Good Neighbourhood” policy is mainly aimed at convincing the local Syrian population to curtail Iranian and Hezbollah power.

From its southern border, Israel has help sponsor Egypt in its long-drawn-out counterinsurgency operation against Sinai Province, the Islamic State’s local associate. Here, too, Israeli officials are guarded about speaking openly on cooperation and local media are frequently supressed from reporting the like. Yet according to a former senior Israeli official, Israeli drones have over the past several years directly attacked militants in the Sinai Peninsula- with Egypt’s blessing.

Closer to home, there are close security ties between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Coupled with the United States’ support, this matching has grown into a mainstay of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship and is perhaps the most successful feature of the entire peace process. On an almost daily basis, Israeli and Palestinian officers deliberate over shared threats “to the stable security situation on both sides.” At the top of the list is of course the militant Hamas- a clear terrorist threat for Israel, but also a major internal threat to the Palestinian Authority.

Since Israel has peace and diplomatic agreements with Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, so military ties with them should not be surprising. Less in the limelight, is the progressively close relationship with Arab Gulf states, like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Such ties are often cited only implicitly by the Israeli government ministers as “shared interests” in the security and intelligence schema against the common Iranian threat. Yet public encounters with retired Saudi Arabian officials are now commonplace, whether in Washington, Munich or even Jerusalem. Business ties are growing, too, including the sale of Israeli agriculture but also cyber, intelligence and homeland security technology to the Gulf.

Taken as a whole, Israeli activities in Syria, Jordan, the West Bank, Egypt and the Gulf can no longer be viewed in quarantine from one another. It is plain as day that Israel is now involved in the Arab world’s military campaigns -against both Iran and its proxies, as well as against the Islamic State.

The region’s wars show no sign of waning in the near future. At the very least, Israel is no longer viewed as the central problem afflicting the Middle East. Earlier this year, Mr. Trump urged the Arab states to “recognize the vital role of the state of Israel” in the region’s affairs. Though this new Israeli role isn’t likely to bring a full normalization of relations or an end to the region’s conflict, it may help win the current wars, and with it, bring about some semblance of regional peace. It remains to be seen whether this is merely a temporary marriage de convenience against common adversaries or the start of a long-term strategic shift.

 

The writer is a currently a research fellow at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad. Her prime area of interest is Middle East Politics.