Leaders in Washington DC have concluded that President Biden will probably not seek to change “the Abraham Accords”. Those are the USbrokered agreements of 2020 which normalised Israeli diplomatic relations with the UAE on 13 August, 2020 and Bahrain on 15 September 2020. Sudan normalised relations with Israel on 23 September and a formal letter confirmed Morocco’s ‘new era of relations’ with Israel on 22 December 2020. It was the first breakthrough in the normalisation of relations between Israel and Arab countries since Jordan in 1994. While defence and hi-tech trade did exist ‘out of sight’ before these Accords and agreements, these public statements will formalise such business into the future.
At the time of their signing, the broad consensus was that these Accords would alter the arms trade dynamic in the region. What might be the expected in the short to medium term is the expansion of not only international defence industries looking to grow their footprints, and their profits, in the Gulf, but also a maturing of the Gulf’s own fledgling national defence industries.
Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal once admitted that arms sales in the Middle East and the Gulf are ordinarily “highly secretive and subject to no ministry of finance oversight or controls.” Gulf monarchies (plus the governments of the Arab world, Iran, and some developing states) are governed in ways such that that are not subject to the same arms trade rules of the kind prevailing inside NATO members or allies.
Gulf monarchies operate under none of the arms restrictions which most democracies have in place, nor is there any national institution which regulates arms acquisition standards. In essence, the Gulf’s governments have created decision-making processes which are intentionally meant to be opaque. This may continue to cause difficulties for defence manufacturers located in highly regulated countries.
According to a tracker developed by one US-based non-profit, Forum on the Arms Trade, more than $42 billion has been specified in mandatory Foreign Military Sales notifications since 30 March, 2020.
To better understand the impact of the Accords we asked notable experts to provide their views about the interplay between the Gulf’s monarchies, the US government, and those defence firms which are looking to sell arms to the Gulf monarchies. These discussions were conducted before the 20 January inauguration of President Biden. Here’s what we learned:
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