Guest post from Nima Khorrami:
Iran’s angry reaction to the normalisation of relations between Israel and Bahrain and the UAE was to be expected. However, its fury, especially with regard to the UAE, has less to do with the possibility of a future military strike staged from Emirati soil or closer security and intelligence cooperation between the two and more to do with the potentially damning consequences of increased interactions between UAE-based Iranian businesses as well as Iranian Jews with their Israeli counterparts: the more Iranians and Israelis interact with one another in the UAE the less credible the Iranian regime’s anti-Israeli discourses could become.
The UAE is home to the second largest Iranian community outside the country and normalisation of relations would now allow for the emergence of commercial relations between the Iranian and Israeli entities active in the Emirati market.
This is of paramount importance given that UAE-based Iranian diaspora, unlike their counterparts in North America and Western Europe, frequently travel to Iran. As such, they have contemporary links to their motherland and hence they could be more easily used as agents of change.
If Iranians in the UAE gradually realise the benefits of doing business with their Israeli counterparts, chances are that they will become less susceptible to the regime’s anti-Israel propaganda – a change of heart that could be partly transferred to their family members as well as the members of their social networks inside the country.
Equally important, the majority of Iran’s Jewish population live in Tehran, Shiraz and Isfahan. Given the frequency of flights between Dubai and these cities, it is not unreasonable to assume that Dubai could now become a favourable location for more frequent reunions between Iranian Jews and their (extended) family members from Israel. Not only it is cheaper and quicker to fly to Dubai but obtaining a tourist visa is a simple and straightforward procedure. Currently, for example, Dubai’s budget carrier, Flydubai, operates three scheduled 90-minute flights each week between Dubai and Isfahan/Shiraz with return tickets costing as little as $130.
It is this geographical proximity in combination with the presence of a large Iranian community in the UAE that distinguishes the Emirates from Azerbaijan. For years, Israel has used its relations with Azerbaijan and its presence in Baku to both monitor sociopolitical developments in Iran and, should the need arise, use the Azerbaijani territory as a launching pad to carry out military strikes against targets inside Iran. However, the size of the Iranian community in Azerbaijan and the importance of Baku as a trading hub between Iran and the outside world pale when compared to the UAE – and Dubai in particular.
Lastly, the UAE, unlike Egypt and Jordan (two distant Arab countries which rarely feature in the Iranian media), is a close neighbour that the vast majority of Iranians have either visited or have connections with through relatives or friends who reside there.
As the UAE establishes relations with Israel, the Iranian regime is likely to face a more energised backlash against its support for the so-called resistance axis – more Iranians will now question the logic behind the regime’s regional policy at a time when Iran’s own Arab neighbours seem to be normalising their relations with the “enemy”.
● Nima Khorrami is a research associate at the Arctic Institute in Washington