For the last seven years, Israeli voters have repeatedly made clear that there is no one that they trust more than Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu with his hand on the rudder in the rough water in which Israel constantly navigates.
That does not mean, however, that Israelis, as a whole, bear the second longest serving prime minister in their history any great affection, or would not be happy to exchange him for another if they did not think the risks were too high. Political intrigue, much of it forced upon him by the coalition politics that make being prime minister of Israel not only the hardest but one of the most miserable jobs in the world, and a whiff of scandal seem to be his constant companions. The country is littered with former close associates who are now sworn enemies.
What is frequently overlooked, however, is Netanyahu's prowess as a strategic thinker, who is able to consistently use Israel's strengths to maximum advantage to offset the many and diverse threats to its existence. And he has been able to attract to his side others of a strategic bent, including former ambassador to the U.N. and current director-general of the Foreign Ministry, Dore Gold, and Israel's ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer.
Walter Russell Mead, one of America's foremost foreign policy experts, wrote recently, "Israel [under Netanyahu] is thinking out of the box and slowly but surely reordering the world map in its favor. As one example, Mead cites Israel's outreach to Africa.
Israeli involvement on the African continent goes back to the early years of the state, when Israel was extremely active in Africa. Had Israel, for instance, not built the airport in Entebbe at which over 100 hostages were held, and as a consequence had a full set of plans of the airport, it is unlikely that the Entebbe raid would have been possible.
But with the exception of still white-controlled South Africa, Africa cut ties with Israel in the wake of the 1973 Yom Kippur War and the oil boycott that followed. The Arab petro states were flush in money in those days, and were willing to spread it around in Africa, as long as nations broke ties with Israel.
But the circumstances of 1973 no longer apply. The current oil glut, for one thing, has left the Sunni petro states with far less money at their disposal and with much bigger concerns than Israel. Egypt and Jordan have close security ties with Israel, and it is an open secret that Saudi Arabia and the other Sunni states are engaged in an unprecedented level of cooperation with Israel.
And so African states feel they have little to fear from closer ties to Israel. Moreover, the anti-colonialist struggles in which most of the African states were born are an increasingly distant memory, and with those fading memories goes less suspicion of Western or Western-allied nations, like Israel.
At the same time, Israel has much to offer African nations, and that is well-recognized. Drought is a continual feature of life in sub-Saharan Africa. Israel is a world leader in minimizing water use in agriculture and in other forms of water conservation. Moreover, Israeli agriculture has much to offer Africa, where arable land is in short supply.
Counter-insurgency is another area where Israel can assist African nations greatly. Even majority Islamic states are fearful of jihadist groups, like Boko Haram and al-Shabab, and the various al Qaeda offshoots vying for control in Libya. And no country has had as much experience or success dealing with terror groups as Israel.
Christianity, especially in its Pentacostal and evangelical varieties, is spreading rapidly in Africa, and that too has disposed many African nations to build closer ties with Israel.
Bibi visited four East African states this month – Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Rwanda. He brought with him seventy Israeli business executives looking for new markets, with the U.S. and European economies stagnating. In Uganda, he held a summit attended by seven East African nations. Plans are currently underway for a similar summit in West Africa in the near future.
Diplomatic ties with Guinea, a majority-Muslim state and a member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, have been established, and Israel expects to soon re-establish ties with Chad, another IOC member state.
The increasingly close relations with Africa have already paid large dividends for Israel, particularly in international fora. A Security Council Resolution for a Palestinian state failed to gain the necessary votes in late 2014, when Nigeria and Rwanda abstained, obviating the need for a U.S veto. And early this year, a resolution of the International Atomic Energy Agency to require Israel to open its nuclear facilities to inspection was defeated by African votes.
In addition, Israel has successfully negotiated with two unnamed African states to accept the voluntary repatriation of 40,000 Eritrean economic refugees who entered Israel via the Sinai.
The rapprochement with Africa offers intangible benefits for Israel as well. Descriptions of Zionism as racism or of Israel as an apartheid state lose a good deal of their force as relations warm with Africa. Walter Russell Mead even speculates that support for Israel among African Christians will bolster support for Israel among African Diaspora communities in both the United States and Brazil.
Contrary to what is generally thought, American blacks are about equally divided in their sympathies for Israel and the Palestinians, and support for Israel among American blacks is considerably higher than European popular support. Martin Luther King Jr. and other early civil rights leaders were ardent Zionists, and anything that can revive that strand of American black popular culture would be a great boon to Israel.
Africa, however, is only one example on Netanyahu's ability to identify new diplomatic opportunities and exploit Israel's strengths. As the United States becomes a more and more uncertain ally, and Israel an anathema to a wide swath of the Democratic Party, Netanyahu grasps that Israel can no longer afford to rely on the United States as its sole ally.
In that context, Netanyahu's turn to the East is notable. He has visited China, Japan, and India, and improved relations with all three, despite their often uneasy relationship with one another. Nowhere has he succeeded in upgrading relations to the same extent as with India, particularly after Narendra Modi became prime minister in April 2014.
Traditionally, India has taken a hostile stand towards Israel. Mohandas Ghandi, the leader of India's fight for independence from Britain, rejected the British Mandate in Palestine and the establishment of a Jewish national home on what he regarded as Arab land.
During the Cold War, India was the leader of the non-aligned bloc and adopted a consistently anti-Israel foreign policy, in keeping with its view of Israel as colonialist power. Not until 1992 did the two countries even establish diplomatic relations.
How that has all changed in recent years. Israel is today India's second largest arms supplier. In October 2014, India chose an Israeli anti-tank missile system over its U.S. counterpart, in a deal worth over half a billion dollars. The two countries recently concluded $3 billion dollars of defense deals in anticipation of Modi's upcoming visit to Israel, the first such visit by an Indian prime minister. Israel offered the Modi government the ability to substantially increase its military capabilities, at a time of frequent tension with neighboring Pakistan and with China, without becoming an a U.S. client.
A telling measure of the warmth of the new relationship came in the summer of 2014 when the Indian parliament rejected a resolution condemning Israel's military campaign in the Gaza. The 2014 Gaza War garnered little attention in the major Indian newspapers and TV, in sharp contrast to Europe, where criticism of Israel was constant.
The Israeli press, with the exception of Sheldon Adelson's Yisrael HaYom is filled with the constant criticism of Bibi. It's about time that he received adequate credit for his effective diplomatic outreach in new directions.
Related Topics: American Government & Politics, Arab-Israeli Conflict, Israeli Society, Personalities
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