Amid the brouhaha of the past several days as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put the final touches on his government, he also set his sights on two major foreign policy goals. The first is his life’s mission—to stop the Iranian nuclear project. The second is to strike a peace accord with Saudi Arabia and thus put a practical end to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Realizing those two objectives may not seem to be such a hard feat at first glance, precisely because they are intertwined: Saudi Arabia detests Iran just as much as Israel does. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, the old adage says.
In other words, having tacitly agreed to the Abraham Accords between Israel and four Arab states, opened its airspace for Israeli overflights and let dual Israeli citizens enter the kingdom (along with subtle cooperation on other matters), Riyadh has every reason to move closer to Jerusalem.
But the obstacles that have stalled this effort have nothing to do with reasons and everything to do with circumstances. The peace deal with Bahrain and the UAE was finalized during the Trump administration, under what was perceived to be a powerful American umbrella. Today, at least in the eyes of regional power brokers, the U.S. presence in the region pales in comparison.
The Saudi regime feels it cannot trust the United States. Just recently, China’s President Xi Jinping was treated like royalty when he visited the kingdom, where he announced a host of collaboration projects between the countries. The warm reception was in stark contrast to the cold shoulder President Joe Biden got when he visited there in the summer.
The Saudis are justifiably of the view that Washington should have ratcheted up the pressure on Iran. That was the right thing to do before the current wave of protests broke out in the country, and prior to Iran entering the Ukraine theater by helping Russia with drones, and is doubly true now—from a moral standpoint but also for political and security reasons.
The United States has continued to treat Iran with kid gloves. Although it has been lending a hand, it has not been fully behind the protest movement in Iran. It has also shied away from directly threatening Iran’s nuclear program.
Had Saudi Arabia and Israel been given a U.S. umbrella against Iran, they would have found it easier to work together. Lacking such protection, both countries had to resort to under-the-radar coordination. In other words, in order to stop Iran, and on the way make peace with Saudi Arabia, Netanyahu will have to turn U.S. Mideast policy on its head. It’s hard to believe he will manage to do this so long as there is a Democratic president.
This brings us to the immediate challenges facing Netanyahu and his right-wing government. With progressive circles in the United States voicing criticism, the main task Netanyahu, Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer and Foreign Minister Eli Cohen will have to pursue, along with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, is to halt the erosion of Israel’s legitimacy.
Countering those who want to undermine Israel’s standing in the world is something every Israeli government has to deal with. The resolution passed by the U.N. General Assembly on Friday, in which it referred Israel’s “ongoing occupation” to the International Court of Justice—a measure that even the previous government under Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz could not stop—clearly demonstrates this battle.
The new government will have to fight this battle all the while pursuing judicial reforms and interacting with the Democratic administration that rejects most of its policies. This is not going to be easy.
Netanyahu will now have to shape Israel’s policy toward Russia as well. On the one hand, he has enjoyed a long personal rapport with President Vladimir Putin. On the other hand, this same Putin is the most hated persona in the west and in the United States. Here too, Netanyahu will have to strike a delicate balance.
But having said all that, the biggest external challenge facing the government is actually domestic in origin. The diplomatic pressure works through the media, which is over-represented by the Left and from there to the foreign media, which is consumed by critical Jews in the Diaspora, who then wield influence over the already-displeased administration.
This is the onslaught the government will have to learn to deal with until January 2025 at the earliest, at which point a new president might take the oath of office.
Originally published by Israel Hayom.