Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, among the very few in the Arab world to respond to the election results in Israel, was quick to warn of tough times ahead for his organization and his partners in the “axis of evil,” Iran and Syria: “We are facing a new stage of unprecedented cooperation between America and Israel under the leadership of [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and [U.S. President Donald] Trump.”
For Nasrallah and his friends, the election results indicate the continuation and perhaps even intensification of Israel’s aggressive and determined policy, with American backing and tacit agreement from Moscow, in the aim of preventing Iran from establishing a presence in Syria. Various reports in the months leading up to the election, whereby Tehran sought to influence the results by sparking a conflagration in Gaza and perhaps on other fronts, hinted at the mood of Nasrallah and his Iranian masters. This Iranian gambit, however, if indeed there was one, failed. Israel, together with its Arab partners, didn’t fall for the Iranian trap, and so Tehran and Beirut have no choice but to look toward the future with concern.
This concern on the part of Nasrallah and his patrons in Iran is especially noteworthy considering the fact that the Israeli election barely roused any interest in the Arab world, which is mired in its own problems. In recent weeks, the “Arab Spring” has erupted anew in several Muslim countries, leading to the downfall of Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika after two decades of rule and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir after three decades in power. Alongside these two countries, which until recently were perceived as symbols of stability after being spared nearly a decade ago by the initial Arab Spring, a bloody civil war continues to rage in Yemen. Even in Syria, civil unrest continues to fester despite appearances that it has been subdued by the Assad regime.
In this reality of a fractured Arab world crumbling under the weight of its own problems, Israel is viewed as a stable, credible and powerful force; hence, numerous regional leaders are choosing to lean on the Jewish state in an effort to ensure calm and stability.
In the past, the Arab world closely followed Israeli elections, which were always widely covered in the Arab press. Arab rulers never concealed their preferred candidates. These leaders traditionally supported Israeli candidates they perceived as potential partners, either in their fight against extremists or efforts to promote peace. For example, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat supported Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, his partner in signing the Camp David Accords, in the 1981 election.
This time, however, many in the Arab world assumed that little would change, regardless of the election outcome in Israel. Moreover, Netanyahu’s re-election hasn’t sparked any discernible uproar, and we can assume that some Arab leaders even breathed a sigh of relief upon learning he would continue serving as prime minister. These rulers want stability and fear any hint of change. They also don’t hide their desire for Israeli leadership that is perceived as aggressive and even militant towards Iran, not to mention well accepted by the White House and capable of advancing their interests in Washington.
These Arab leaders, therefore, identify a confluence of interests between themselves and Israel, and want Israel to be stable and even strong. This is a development of utmost importance in Israeli-Arab relations. It is safe to assume, therefore, that this trend, which has unfolded over the past decade, will become even more prominent with the next Israeli government.
The Arab world’s lack of interest in Israel’s election and, more importantly, the desire to maintain the status quo, also testify to the waning importance and centrality of the Palestinian issue. Many of the Arab regimes are again unwilling to fight, and certainly unwilling to sacrifice their own interests on behalf of the Palestinians.
This reality could help advance regional and international peace initiatives, chief among them the Trump administration’s “deal of the century,” which it plans to unveil soon. Many Arab regimes also have an interest in peace and stability, and are quite possibly more willing than ever to pressure the Palestinians to achieve this goal.
Eyal Zisser is a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University.