Israel’s importance in geopolitics is growing and some of it is due to circumstance and some due to blunders and abandonment by the Obama administration. Yes- they suffered a defeat near the end of 2016 in the UN Security Council thanks to an American abstention, but that was perhaps the only negative and one that Israel largely brushed off.
Recently, Israel discovered large reserves of natural gas off its shores and they are transitioning to a net energy exporter country. By becoming such, they also increase their influence in foreign policy. While relations between Turkey and European Union and especially the United States have soured, they have quietly turned to Israel as a source of natural gas. Part of this is Erdogan’s attempts to break free of dependence on Russian energy. Israel has stepped up to the plate in fulfilling that strategy.
Almost since its founding, Israel has placed a great emphasis on education and those efforts continue to bear fruit in their economy. Instead of outsourcing cybersecurity and information technology, they have developed an outstanding domestic infrastructure. Private investors from all over the world are now looking to Israeli tech startups. Bloomberg, Forbes, and other outlets have written articles on the investment by venture capital companies.
There are also the dirty jobs of irrigation, dry land agriculture technology and water desalinization efforts that are being exported. This is especially true in African countries, many of whom were Israel’s sworn enemies not too long ago. The reason is that Israel delivers what these countries want and need. It is funny to note that since efforts outside the region- particularly the US and Europe- to boycott, divest and sanction Israel have grown, so has the Israeli economy. In other words, these efforts are good for making the news and may have Palestinian/Muslim expatriates feeling good, but their efforts are having no tangible effect on the Israeli economy. As Western investors succumb to BDS efforts, China, Russia, India and Japan are swooping in to fill the void…and then some.
The carnage in Syria to the north of Israel has positioned them in a better state. The apparent breakup of Syria amid a human tragedy civil war has placed Israel as the strongest military power in the region. They are moving from pariah status to kingmaker status. Egypt hates Hamas, extremist terrorism and ISIS as much as Israel and that has only drawn the two countries even closer in mutual cooperation against these threats.
But ironically, Israel- because of their military and intelligence capabilities- now is viewed as the best defense of Sunni Arab states, especially the Gulf States. The reason is that they view ISIS on the one hand and Iran on the other hand as the two greatest threats to their survival. Coincidentally, both ISIS and Iran are enemies of Israel and this dynamic has encouraged unlikely unspoken alliances unheard of two decades ago.
Diplomatically, Israel has expanded its global reach quietly and largely behind the scenes. I have noted the warming relations with Turkey, but it would surprise many to know that Benjamin Netanyahu has met more with Russia’s Vladimir Putin than Barack Obama did. Their relationship is pragmatic and fruitful despite Russia’s cozy ties with Iran. Again, the Sunni fear of Iran is what spurs relationships with many Arab countries who secretly work behind the scenes with Israel. The most important player here is Saudi Arabia where commercial and quiet diplomatic ties- not to mention intelligence sharing- with Israel are a hushed reality. This has brought along Egypt (who returned their ambassador to Israel) and the UAE (which allowed an Israeli mission to open for the first time).
Of course, the deal worked out in Vienna regarding Iran’s nuclear aspirations and America’s cooling of relations with both Saudi Arabia and Israel over that deal have pushed the two countries together. And Turkey is suddenly making pro-Saudi noises also.
Equally important is the realization that things can change real fast in the Middle East. Today’s kingmaker can be tomorrow’s pariah again. Thousands of Hezbollah rockets remain pointed at Israel and their foothold in Syria makes that situation more dangerous. The Palestinians continue to argue among themselves and seem only to get passed meaningless resolutions denouncing Israel at the UN. The fall of the Saudi royal family or of Sisi in Egypt or even collapse of the Jordanian government under the strain of the refugee crisis could put Israel at risk.
The Obama administration repeatedly warned Israel that their policies were leaving them isolated. That is true with extent to only the United States and Europe. Ironically, that isolation is not evident- in fact, the opposite is happening- with respect to Israel’s neighbors and even some African former enemies. Domestically, American Jews are growing distant from Israel and are less sympathetic. Hence, Israel may have to rethink their previous close relationship with American Jews and the Democratic Party.
With Obama gone, Israel finds itself in a unique situation with an apparent bona fide friend in the White House and their status as keystone of an alliance against Iranian ambitions in the region. Few countries can say that they have fairly good relations with all the world’s major powers (the US, Russia, China, Japan, India), but Israel can.