By: Yosef Lemel  | 

‘The Gulf Region and Israel’: A Review

Last month saw the normalization of relations between Israel and two Gulf states, the UAE and Bahrain, marking a historic development for Israel’s relationship with other Middle Eastern countries. Kodesh Press recently published “The Gulf Region and Israel” by Sigurd Neubauer — a YU alumnus — coincidentally, a month before the accords. Overall, I found the book to be very informative, yet lacking in certain key areas.

Neubauer does a commendable job at setting up the scene in the Gulf region. Readers learn about the political background behind the Gulf Crisis of 2017, which pitted Qatar, a country accused of allying with Iran, against the other Gulf nations, like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE, who initiated a blockade. The U.S. largely played a role as a mediator and struck a balance between maintaining the strategically important Al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar and satisfying the interests of other allies in the region. There is also much focus on the background of Saudi Arabia’s muscle-flexing in Yemen, which started a war that has affected millions. 

Various parts of the book are supplemented with maps and diagrams; for example, a map of the airspaces in the Gulf region or a family tree of the Qatari Al Thani dynasty. These materials help readers visualize and contextualize Neubauer’s ideas. Neubauer also includes an 84-page reference section at the end of the book, which includes many of the primary sources he uses through his narrative. 

Neubauer describes the historical relationship between Israel and some of the Gulf countries, such as the UAE, Oman and Qatar. One of the glaring omissions, however, is Israel’s relationship with Saudi Arabia. While reading Neubauer’s book, I was anxiously waiting to reach some description of that relationship. What is the attitude of King Salman towards Israel? What about his son, Crown Prince Mohammed? Wouldn’t Israel’s relationship with the most powerful political player in the Gulf have been an appropriate subject to focus on? Unfortunately, the subject seems brushed aside. 

Another element I believe the book should have focused on was the reaction of the various Gulf states to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran Deal, and the Trump administration’s pullout from the deal. Neubauer describes the role the Omani government played in the creation of the JCPOA, but what of the other Gulf states? Surely the nuclear deal must have been a contentious issue given Iran’s geographical proximity to the Gulf region. 

Despite these glaring omissions, the book does excel at giving the political background of major events in the Gulf and, very interestingly, the dissonance in the Trump administration’s reaction to those events. Neubauer describes, for example, how former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was trying to resolve the blockade of Qatar through diplomatic means, while at the same time, President Trump undercut some of his own administration’s positions through his routine, yet controversial, tweets. There seems to be more focus on the U.S.’s relationship vis à vis the Gulf region than that of Israel, even though the title would suggest otherwise. A more apt title for the book probably would have been “The United States, the Gulf Region and Israel.” 

The book’s narrative is a general overview of U.S.-Gulf-Israeli politics. My biggest criticism of the book is its length. The subject seems too broad to expertly and comprehensively cover in less than 200 pages. As a result, some seemingly important subjects, like the Saudi-Israeli relationship, are passed over. While not as comprehensive as I would have liked, I would still recommend Neubauer’s book to anyone who wants to gain basic knowledge of Gulf politics as the region evolves in its strategic importance to the U.S. and Israel.

Photo Caption: “The Gulf Region and Israel” book cover
Photo Credit: Kodesh Press