Beginning on January 20 Israel will again have a friend in the White House. One suspects that the Israelis, who mostly held their tongue during the presidential campaign, have breathed a sigh of relief.
They must be relieved that a daughter of the Muslim Brotherhood will not be the chief advisor to a President Hillary. The president of Egypt must have similar feelings. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was among the first to call to congratulate president-elect Trump.
Legal Insurrection reports:
Trump and Netanyahu, “who have known each other for many years, had a warm, heartfelt conversation,” the statement said.
“President-elect Trump invited Prime Minister Netanyahu to a meeting in the United States at the first opportunity,” it said….
Regional issues were also raised during the phone conversation, the statement said, without elaborating.
Earlier on Wednesday, Netanyahu congratulated Trump on his election victory, saying the Republican is “a true friend of the State of Israel.”
After eight years with Jeremiah Wright’s protégé in the White House, it will be good for America to get beyond the anti-Semitism that he seems to have stoked. If American leadership will no longer tolerate overt anti-Semitism, this is surely a good thing.
The Obama years have seen the ascent of the BDS movement, the increasing activism of the Students for Justice in Palestine, and increasing instances of anti-Semitic attacks on college campuses. Perhaps a president Trump will, by sending an entirely different signal about Israel, help to tamp it down.
Arthur Herman explains the current situation in Mosaic:
Barack Obama has viewed the Jewish state almost exclusively as a regrettable holdover from the era of European colonialism and an occupier of land properly belonging to the embattled and oppressed Palestinian Arab population. Despite the president’s boasts to the effect that he “has Israel’s back,” and despite the recent renewal of military aid (albeit delivered with an air of chilly regret), he has hinted in the past at compelling Israel to return to its pre-1967 borders, and many Israelis worry that a lame-duck Obama may feel freer to take unilateral action against them.
Things are not very much better in Europe. There elites have turned against Israel and have allowed more and more anti-Semites into their nations. Leading the charge is Angela Merkel, but the French and the British are not very far behind.
Herman describes the situation:
For European Jews in general, the encircling atmosphere of hostility, often instigated by Muslims but tolerated or excused by elites, seems to worsen year by year. Jacques Canet, the president of La Victoire synagogue in Paris, reports that the France’s Jewish community—still the third largest in the world, though rapidly diminishing—feels threatened to the point where “Jews in Paris, Marseilles, Toulouse, Sarcelles feel they can’t safely wear a kippah outside their homes or send their children to public schools.” The number of French Jews emigrating annually to Israel has steadily risen from 1,900 in 2011 to nearly 8,000 in 2015, with no end in sight; additional thousands are making their way elsewhere. No less grim is the picture in the United Kingdom, where the Labor party, in Douglas Murray’s wordsy—“the party of Clement Atlee, Harold Wilson, and Tony Blair”—has been taken over by “forces aligned with naked anti-Semitism.”
Now for the good news, which I have reported sporadically on this blog. In the rest of the world, in the world that does not march to Obama’s tune, Israel is doing very well indeed. Even in the Arab Middle East we are seeing less and less Jew hatred.
Herman reports the story that the American media has ignored:
Far from being the pariah of the Middle East, Israel is fast becoming the region’s golden child, courted and caressed even by some of its most important and once-implacably hostile neighbors. The change has certainly registered in Israel itself, but so far has been largely ignored by Western media.
The media does not want to report on Israeli success because that would undermine Obama’s narrative. It would undermine the theory that Israel is the problem. As I have often said on this blog, Israel is not the problem. It is the solution.
What is causing this changing attitude. Herman explains:
It is much more a function of how other states now calculate the utility, if not the positive value, of good relations with Israel, whether an Israel dominated by Likud or by any other party. Those other states include not only regional neighbors but also countries as distant as China, Japan, and the nations of Eastern Europe. In no small measure, their attitudes are based on a major re-evaluation of what Israel as a nation represents, and what its existence and survival signify for the future prospects of other nations and regions.
Take Saudi Arabia, once the epicenter of Jew hatred, in the region and the world. Herman reports that Saudi media have changed their attitude. And he notes that the result has been precipitated by the Obama administration’s efforts to empower Iran and make it a major regional power:
The kingdom that was the chief orchestrator of the Arab boycott of Israel, and that set a standard for vehement Arab hatred of the “Zionist entity,” has been steadily building a warmer relationship with the Jewish state—to the point where journalists have begun describing the two countries as “the best of frenemies.”
Anti-Jewish rhetoric has now all but disappeared from the airwaves and print media in Saudi Arabia and other Arab Gulf states.
A key reason for the change has been the menacing rise of Iran as a regional force and rival to Saudi Arabia. Indeed, Tehran’s policy is directed explicitly at a Shiite overthrow of the region’s dominant Sunni powers, chief among them the house of Saud. This bid for hegemony has steadily driven Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states closer to Israel, a process intensified by the Obama administration’s studied indulgence of Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons while disregarding or, some would say, abandoning America’s Sunni allies. These days, the importance of Israel’s role as both a strategic and intelligence partner is stressed in the kingdom’s state-owned media and has even filtered down to the average Saudi. (A recent poll found that only a minority now view Israel as a major threat.)
Of course, Netanyahu’s government has also been reaching out to Saudi Arabia:
In March 2014, the IDF’s official website confirmed that the Mossad had been working closely with its Saudi counterpart on issues of security, intelligence, and defense exports—as well as on the Iran nuclear program. Dore Gold, Israel’s former ambassador to the UN and until recently director-general of the foreign ministry, held no fewer than five high-level meetings with Saudi counterparts in 2014-15 on a broad range of issues regarding regional security and defense trade as well as intelligence cooperation. Neither side has denied a report that Israel offered to provide Riyadh with its advanced Iron Dome anti-missile system as a defense against a potential Iranian attack (purportedly, the offer was declined).
Herman advises caution, but he notes that many signs are pointing in a positive direction. He continues his exposition, noting that Turkey has been working to normalize ties with Israel:
This past spring, talk in Turkey began of once again normalizing relations with Israel—something almost inconceivable two or three years ago.
This past spring, talk began of once again normalizing relations with Israel—something almost inconceivable two or three years ago. So far, July’s failed coup against Erdogan has done nothing to break movement toward that goal; to the contrary, as a senior adviser assured Israeli television, “It will maybe speed up the normalization process. . . . We feel Israel has always helped us in intelligence gathering. We need that in our fight against [IS]. We need that in putting some order into Syria.”
Turkey is obviously interested in recent Israeli natural gas discoveries.
Even though Russia has allied itself with Syria and Iran Putin also wants to maintain good relations with Israel:
Nevertheless, and complications notwithstanding, the relationship between Vladimir Putin and Benjamin Netanyahu—the two met four times in the last year alone—has grown into what the Washington Post has breathlessly described as a “bromance.” A bit more soberly, the journalist Barak Ravid wrote in Haaretz: “It wouldn’t be exaggerated to say that the ties between Israel and Russia have never been better.” In terms of trade as well as security and diplomatic cooperation, that is undoubtedly so.
What’s in it for Putin?
As for Putin, his motives are likely multiple. One is to substitute Russian diplomacy for the eroding U.S. role as “honest broker” in Israeli-Arab matters. Another is to have a greater say in what happens with Israel’s natural-gas resources….
Certainly Putin’s public gestures have been warm and conciliatory. Israel was the first foreign country he visited after his re-accession to the Russian presidency in 2012, going so far as to don a kippah on his visit to the Western Wall in the company of Berel Lazar, Russia’s chief rabbi. Prior to his most recent visit this past June, he dramatically announced that he was restoring to Israel an old tank, a Magaḥ-3, captured by Syrian forces in the 1973 Yom Kippur war and subsequently donated by Syria to Moscow’s military museum. At home, Putin makes a point of attending Jewish functions, including the opening of a Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow, to which he contributed $50 million in state funds and personally donated a month’s salary.
Israel’s ties with India have also been improving:
Since Narendra Modi became prime minister in 2014, what had been a gradual thaw began to accelerate, leading to the country’s milestone decision to abstain from a resolution condemning Israel’s actions in the Gaza war and to an official visit by India’s president last year. There is significant intelligence and military cooperation between the two countries, not to mention burgeoning economic ties—non-military bilateral trade in 2014 amounted to over $4 billion. Just as importantly, there seems to be much mutual sympathy between the two states, likely because both are democracies surrounded by hostile illiberal neighbors and facing a threat of Islamic terrorism.
As for the Dragon, that is, China, improvements are, Herman says, “more dramatic still:”
In East Asia, the story is more dramatic still. “This is a historic moment,” Prime Minister Netanyahu announced last October as he and executives from China laid the cornerstone of a new seaport at Ashdod being built by a Beijing-based firm. At $1 billion, this is one of the biggest overseas investment projects in Israel ever—as well as one of the biggest ever undertaken by the government-owned firm of China Harbor Engineering.
Ashdod is the destination of fully 90 percent of Israel’s international maritime traffic. Officials claim the new harbor will expand facilities to meet growing demand—including, it seems, more Chinese vessels stopping in Israel. From that point of view, the project forms an element in the ambitious overseas plan, dubbed the Silk Road Economic Belt and Maritime Silk Road, unveiled by Premier Xi Jinping at the Boao Forum for Asia in March.
In the words of the Chinese news agency Xinhua, “The [Silk Road] plan is expected to change the world political and economic landscape through development of countries along the route, most of which are eager for fresh growth.” One of those presumably eager countries is Israel, intended to serve as an important link in a China-dominated maritime trading chain extending from the Indian Ocean and central Asia across the Middle East. Xi Jinping hopes that it will generate $2.5 trillion in the next decade, with Ashdod as a port of destination for seaborne Chinese trade with Europe.
And then there is Europe. Herman suggests that the flood of Middle Eastern immigrants in Europe has been a wake-up call. It might allow Europeans to revise their thinking about Israel and the Palestinians. It might allow them to escape the oppression narrative that they have so often used to frame the question:
As European societies continue to face the internal threat posed by floods of Middle East migrants, they will likely have greater cause to appreciate what Israel has long faced in a neighborhood of people wanting to destroy it—and to appreciate as well the hard choices needed in order to survive, choices that lie beyond the simplistic paradigm of oppressors and victims. Experience may also impel Europe to understand why Israel has been adamant about maintaining its borders, and to re-evaluate the function of national borders altogether. Indeed, the British government has begun talking about a wall at Calais to stem the unwanted flow of refugees; in 2012, Greece began building a similar wall along its border with Turkey, a cement-and-barbed-wire barrier with an electronic surveillance system and 2,000 border guards.
Herman concludes on an optimistic note:
Today, with the imminent departure of President Obama from office, there may be an opportunity for a fresh reappraisal of U.S.-Israeli relations, one that looks beyond the moribund Israeli-Palestinian “peace process” and the stale rhetoric of “solutions,” and that’s not infected by the poisonous stereotypes dominating elite discourse here and in Europe.