Positive momentum in Israel’s regional standing is underway, as can be seen by the visits of senior Israeli officials—among them its previous and present prime minister, and the foreign and defense ministers—to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain and Morocco, and the visit of a military delegation to Sudan, as well as a military flight over Saudi airspace.
Following the signing of the Abraham Accords, legitimization of ties between Israel and Arab states have moved from being barely justifiable, and only in exchange for the return of lands captured in 1967, to the opposite pole of close defense ties and use of Israel’s strength, credibility and capability as an important component of Arab national security. The ties and normalization that were offered in the “Arab peace initiative” as a reward for the territorial and political dictates of the Arabs and the Palestinians are now seen as an Israeli contribution to the defense and welfare of the Arabs.
Deep-rooted, multigenerational national conflicts, with a highly emotional cultural component, are examined through the prism of a key historical component regarding the perceptions of the sides on the question of which has time on his side: of which party holds the upper hand in the accumulative historical trend in the balance of power; which gets stronger over time; and which loses important components of its bargaining power.
The crux is the motivation to continue the struggle. The side that sees its optimal expectations reinforced draws, as a result, the resilience required for a resolute stand. The side that experiences constant failure loses its ability to persuade the public to bear the cost of ongoing mobilization.
The radical forces that have operated over the past 100 years to mobilize the Arab public “from the [Atlantic] ocean to the [Arab] Gulf” to fight Israel, managed for many long years, despite Israel’s impressive achievements, to maintain expectations for an Arab victory, by drawing on the historical dimension. They relied primarily on the enormous gap in resources between the sides, and took comfort in the deep-rooted perception of the Arabs as a people who, from time immemorial, were “destined for greatness.”
From their point of view, even if the Jews had managed to establish a state in 1948, to defend it in 1967, to maintain its conquest of “Palestine” and Jerusalem, and to build a modern and developed state, its resources were still pitiful when compared to those of the hundreds of millions of Arabs surrounding it, while the Jewish state was vulnerable and its durability was short-lived. The Arabs not only possessed oil and international status; most of all, they had an unlimited ability to absorb blows and possessed boundless determination.
Over time, Israel would not be able to stand up to the tenacity of the Arabs in boycotting it in the region, the violent threats to the lives of its citizens and its survivability in the face of its delegitimization in the international arena and among Western democracies.
The Arab struggle had many operative successes. The radicals indeed managed to mobilize the Arab countries to boycott Israel for generations. This went on for decades after the revolutionary peace agreement with Egypt and the accords with Jordan.
The Arabs’ oil resources succeeded, primarily in the 1970s, to sabotage important Israeli interests. The repeated wars, ongoing terrorism and recognition that the existential and daily threats were a permanent fixture harmed Israel’s society and economy.
Delegitimization in international organizations has been a challenge and is worsening. The absurd defamation of Israel has found a receptive audience among the mainstream in Europe, and even among groups that are no longer on the fringes in the United States.
But these operative successes paradoxically shine a light on the depth of the strategic failure. Israel’s regional isolation is dissipating in front of our very eyes in the Gulf and Morocco, and relations with Egypt and Jordan are undergoing a marked improvement.
The principal Arab oil producers are de facto members of a coalition with Israel. The big wars have come to an end. The Iranian threat is grave, but primarily it threatens the Arabs and moves them closer to Israel.
The ultimate terrorist war (the “Second Intifada”) was initiated by the Palestinians but didn’t do much to further their cause. Isolation in international organizations has not dented Israel’s firm standing among the countries that set the tone in the international arena, and the effects of defamation among the Western democracies are limited.
Above all, Israel is, in the eyes of its residents, in the eyes of the leading countries in the world, and, to a growing extent among the Arabs themselves, an outstanding success story that consistently proves its ability to deal with enormous challenges.
Time, therefore, is on Israel’s side.
Dan Schueftan is the director of the International Graduate Program in National Security Studies at the University of Haifa’s National Security Studies Center.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.