Audacious Gulf policies and military adventures: the case of the UAE

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There is a new audacious conduct by Gulf countries. The previous generation of Gulf rulers were all cautious and reserved even if they were engaged in covert operations alongside the US or Israel (like the Saudi regime in the Yemeni war). The previous generation was nervous about antagonizing Arab public opinion too much, and their relationship with the US was within the boundaries of what was deemed acceptable publicly in their estimation, regardless of how far they go in their subservience in private.

The new generation of Arab rulers lack the traditional sources of legitimacy that was enjoyed by the previous rulers. The competition for US approval is also more stiff today than before, especially that some of the previous rulers maneuvered between the US and the British – the original sponsors of the founding potentates of those entities that were designed by the British. To compensate for the lack of traditional (or any) legitimacy, the new rulers seek more support, military and otherwise, from the US, and thus are more competitive with one another. They all seek to prove that they can protect the strategic assets of the US, just like Israel. Toward that end, most of those regimes opened up toward Israel (in public and in private) in order to appease the US Congress.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a case in point. This was a most cautious government when former President Sheikh Zayid kept more distance (publicly only) from the US than his fellow Gulf potentates. He provided more support for Palestinian resistance groups than other Gulf rulers perhaps because he wanted more identification with Arab public opinion. But this illiterate and ignorant ruler was not in any way more independent from US dictates than his colleagues. Zayid used to play the role of mediator in intra-Arab conflict, and even tried – against the wishes of the US Bush administration – to provide an exit “solution” for Saddam.

His son, Mohammed bin Zayid (the actual ruler of the UAE) plays a very different role. Wikileaks gave us a glimpse of the mindset of Mohammed. He always seems to outbid the US in its own aggressive position. If the US wants to bomb Iran tomorrow, he argues for bombing Iran today. The impact of Mohammed’s policies can be seen in the region. His planes have now been directly involved in the conflict in Libya and Syria and are covertly involved in Lebanon and Palestine. The UAE now sponsors militias in Lebanon and Palestine, and is directly involved with the Hariri movement in Lebanon.

The assertive and aggressive foreign policy is now a matter of competition between Saudi, Qatari, and UAE regimes. These regimes are no longer satisfied with maintaining the legacies of subservience and obedience toward the US as established by their fathers (literally), but wish to expand the scope of coordination and alliance between their military-intelligence services and the US government. They want to become in US eyes as valuable as Israel. In the last decade, this boisterous foreign policy and war adventures of those regimes have marginalized the role of the Jordanian government which used to be the US’ most reliable military servant among Arab dictatorships.

It is not clear what the ambitions of Mohammed bin Zayid are but the squabbles between the various ruling families of the seven emirates (even on foreign policy levels, or perhaps the foreign policy differences are due to squabbles over power and succession) require a firmer domestic posture. The UAE is now embroiled in various conflicts in the region and may be overplaying its hand. The UAE has no precedent to playing that role. To be sure, for years after the death of Zayid, or after his incapacitation, Mohammed moved to bring his regime close to the US and even Israel. He hosted a Mossad station while Dubai hosts one of the biggest CIA stations around the world (as was revealed from congressional testimonies during the controversy of Dubai Port Authority in the US). The assassination of Mahmud Mabhur and the non-pursuit of the Mossad agents was indubitably a close Mossad-UAE operation. The Dubai police chief originally wanted to pursue the matter to the end and his public statements about the investigation earned points in Arab public opinion, but the UAE rulers quickly ordered him to shut down the investigation and to end the press discussion (and he reluctantly agreed and leaked his displeasure to trusted Arab journalists who informed me at the time).

The Arab world is not used to having the previously timid and cautious Gulf regimes playing those assertive roles. To be sure, Nasser did play a pan-Arab role in the affairs of Arab countries but Nasser had a genuine political base in all Arab countries. Those regimes – aside from paid propagandists in their royal media in various capitals – had no Arab constituencies and are largely detested by the Arab public.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE have now joined forces to fight the Muslim Brotherhood around the world; yet, this very organization was sheltered and sponsored by the same two governments during the Cold War. The influence of the Muslim Brotherhood on the constitution and education system of the UAE is even greater than on the Saudi regime which had to reconcile its support for the Brotherhood with its strict Wahhabi ideology.

It is unlikely that the adventures of the UAE would reap political benefits for Muhammad bin Zayid on the long run. If things don’t go well, and it is unlikely they would go well, he may face domestic dissent with the ruling families of the seven emirates, and particularly among his own dynasty. The US is probably nervous about the military adventures of the UAE which seems too eager to please the US and Israel, even at the expense of its own security and stability.

Dr. As’ad AbuKhalil is a Professor of Political Science at California State University, Stanislaus, a lecturer and the author of The Angry Arab News Service. He tweets @asadabukhalil.


The Arab mis-rulers or mis-leaders in and around the Persian Gulf know very well that their people feel no loyalty towards them. They have not been elected by their people and have no base of support in their own lands. At the same time, they have seen the enormous American capability of coup de eta and regime change, for those who do not behave. They are, therefore, scared of America. The best course of action they choose is to seek protection from the one they are scared of. It is like there’s a huge vicious dog and you want to get friendly with by feeding it meat—only the meat here is oil and gas. America also knows this; that’s why it removes them on their expiration dates.

The young Emaratis are apathetic, passive, addicted to mobile phones and malls. They lack any political energy to become a force against the rulers that brought their country from a pirate den to a modern glittering Las Vegas.
That's why the rulers act as they are doing, without any fear from their own people.
They worry more about ISIS and the Moslem Brotherhood, both Sunni organization that are eroding the Sunni credibility just at a time when the USA is flirting with Iran and with Iraqi Shias
They also worry that the USA may favor Iran and Turkey as the two poles of Islam, one Shia and one Sunni. Therefore they want first to show that Arab Sunnis can be militarily powerful and to the USA that they are the only reliable partner in the region. The defection of Sunni Turkey is one more proof that in the region only the GCC is ready to finance and help US in any regional wars.
I believe that by joining the war against ISIS, the UAE gets the benefits of giving some pride to their own citizens who felt humiliated of depending on the USA for their protection. They also have the rare opportunity to give onsite training to their military as the next step may be the formation of a united GCC army.

Honestly, I do not see the difference between fathers and sons. The issue is survival in an enviorment, which does not acknowledge their legitimacy as ruling regimes. And the necessary contradiction, in which these regime exist, is that the very cause of their survival, that is Empire, is the very reason for their illegitimacy. Nothing changed about this contradiction from their incubation until today.

But this sentence is striking nonetheless: "To compensate for the lack of traditional (or any) legitimacy, the new rulers seek more support, military and otherwise, from the US, and thus are more competitive with one another. They all seek to prove that they can protect the strategic assets of the US, just like Israel."

Mohamad Hassanein Heikal mentioned once that Sadat told him, his pro-american policy (read: licking the boots of Empire) aims at substituting Saudi Arabia.. that Egypt would be the most important Arab state for the US in the Mid-East. Heikal did not mock Sadat - its not his style - but he was close. What is striking about the sentence, if it is a true assessment, is that the project of the most detested Arab leader dwarfs the ambitions of these treacherous regimes: They want to become Isreal? Or maybe more important than Israel for the US?

Walla.. Sharr al-baliyyah ma yu-dhik.

Due to the fact that the Arab Nation and specifically their own people have a lot more access to information from around the world especially in the social media, AND the quick overthrow of the Tunisian and Egyptian regime, they feel they can not afford to be reactive but need to be proactive to save their rule by using their wealth.

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