We’ve become accustomed to ongoing and vicious denunciations of Israel in the United Nations, Amnesty International, the International Court of Justice and the European Union; Iran and its proxies Hamas, Hezbollah and the Houthis; and more recently, “The Squad,” Black Lives Matter and BDS. We’ve become accustomed, too, to telling ourselves that it doesn’t matter because the reality is different. Yes, reality is different, but accumulated Israel-hatred does have an impact on Israel and on its supporters. It does matter.
Interestingly, it didn’t matter as much to some people as to others. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has emerged as the chief interlocutor for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy (yes, two “y’s”) in an attempt to end the hideous fighting in Ukraine. Traveling even on Shabbat, Bennett is throwing himself into this because everyone agrees that Israel is the only trusted partner right now.
What happened? Parts of the world looked around and saw where the real vile people are (not in Israel), where the real threats are (not from Israel), and where they could advance themselves and their people (with Israel). The war in Ukraine is just the latest manifestation of Israel’s proper emergence in the international arena.
But things had been changing before the Russian invasion.
In 2010, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan described the Mavi Marmara flotilla raid—an attempt to illegally run the Gaza blockade—as “state terrorism” by Israel. Erdoğan has regularly hosted Hamas leadership. Two years ago, he created a maritime border with Libya to prevent the export of natural gas from Cyprus, Israel’s EastMed pipeline partner. Less than a year ago, he was calling Israel a “cruel terrorist state” after Hamas incited violence on the Temple Mount. This week, Ankara pulled out all the stops to welcome Israel’s President Isaac Herzog on the first official Israeli visit since 2003. Granted, Turkey and its economy are a shambles, and Erdoğan is an opportunist who will spin on a dime, but his return to what appears to be constructive conversation with Israel is welcome.
For the E.U., it was recognition that Israeli military capabilities were important additions to their flagging defense capability. Israel became a “major non-NATO ally” and opened a formal office in Brussels, even as European pols denounced Israeli “war crimes” in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip.
In 2018, Israel and Europol signed an intelligence-sharing pact, the first working arrangement between Europol and a non-E.U. country. Israel’s military exercises have included India, France and Germany (people are still getting over having the Luftwaffe fly in Israel). But also, before the Abraham Accords, a pilot from the United Arab Emirates was there, and this year, Jordan (quietly) flew in an Israeli air drill. Israel’s move to CENTCOM allowed it to sail in a Red Sea exercise with a different set of countries.
The EastMed Pipeline was green-lighted in Europe in 2013, recognizing that long-term dependence on Russian natural gas was untenable. The United States agreed until this year. But Europe still needs the future gas that EastMed will provide, even without American assistance.
The Abraham Accords are transformative agreements—taking the Palestinians out of the driver’s seat while leaving them access to the car—and fostering the process of Arab reconciliation with the State of Israel and Jewish people. The Bet Din of Arabia makes the point. Egypt and Jordan, longtime peace-treaty holders, have become more overt and helpful with Gulf State support. The economic and security benefits of the relationship with Israel vis à vis the threat of Iran were obvious.
The Biden administration, however, has chosen not to build on the accords and came to office throwing gifts at the Iranian regime in hopes of getting a deal. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman was slammed with a source-less, meaningless and nasty CIA report on the killing of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi. Planned arms sales to Saudi and UAE were “frozen.” U.S. air defenses were removed from Saudi Arabia, and the terror designation removed from Iranian-armed Houthi rebels who are bombing both civilian and industrial sites in Saudi Arabia and the UAE (including one that was intercepted during the Herzog’s visit there), and the Yemeni city of Marib in January. Reasonably enough, the Gulf States moved away from their historic closeness with America and closed ranks with Israel, which is immutably opposed to a new Iran deal.
President Joe Biden’s request for more Gulf oil this week did not fall on deaf ears; it was roundly and publicly rejected by both countries unless the United States takes account of their security concerns. And there was a strong suggestion that he visit the Gulf region.
Amid the horror of the Russian war in Ukraine, in the midst of upheaval in NATO and under the ever-present threat of a U.S.-Iran deal that will enhance Iran’s nuclear and financial capabilities, countries that have benefited from their relations with Israel may finally allow their respect for the Jewish, democratic State of Israel to emerge.
Shoshana Bryen is senior director of the Jewish Policy Center and editor of inFOCUS Quarterly.