The geopolitical landscape surrounding Israel is shifting in such a way that if navigated correctly could lead to full diplomatic relations between Jerusalem and Sunni Arab governments around the Middle East.
Of growing significance is the common ground that is being created between Jerusalem and the Gulf Arab states as a result of the proxy war that is being waged by Iran against Saudi Arabia.
In response to Tehran’s growing influence across the Middle East Israel has been making a concerted, if quiet, effort over the last few months to improve its relations with the Gulf monarchies. Iran’s nuclear deal with the United States and other foreign powers has only spurred Israeli efforts to develop back-channel relations with Arab states.
However, typical of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s risk-averse administration, the issue of normalizing relations with the Arab world is being handled with extreme caution and tortured temporizing.
Unfortunately for Premier Netanyahu and his acolytes, the delicate art of equivocation and half measures is lost upon a region currently in the throes of civil wars, political upheavals and Iranian imperialism.
For Israel to best capitalize on the historic changes taking place in the region, the Israeli government should avoid the muddled and restrained approach taken by US President Barack Obama and take a page from the clear and concerted policies of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
It’s easy to dismiss Putin as an anti-Western autocrat, whose efforts to expand Russia’s sphere of influence have been blunt and reckless. Still, if the barometer for diplomatic success is defined as a country’s ability to project and protect its role in regional politics, Russia under the leadership of Vladimir Putin has been nothing if not effective.
Simultaneously, Barack Obama’s shifting of US support from regional Sunni powers Egypt and Saudi Arabia to Shiite Iran is a diplomatic sea change of a different sort.
In stark contrast to Putin’s realpolitik perspective that seeks to maximize Russian power, Obama’s embrace of Iran is guided by a ferocious desire to shrink America’s global diplomatic footprint. Swapping American exceptionalism for multiculturalism, Obama takes a jaundiced view of American power, which should be tempered by supranational organizations and international agreements.
With regards to Israel, the government in Jerusalem needs to embark on a paradigm shift vis-a-vis its dealings with Sunni Arab powers. The Netanyahu administration, similar to its predecessors, is enamored with the concept of stability, even at the expense of a potentially historic breakthrough in relations with the Arab world.
On balance, the military realignments in the region are likely benefit Israel, but only if its leaders act boldly. First, intelligence and commercial cooperation with Sunni Arab states should be based on the establishment of full diplomatic relations between Jerusalem and respective Arab nations. Second, the foreign embassies of these nations must be located in Jerusalem, not Tel Aviv.
Granted, there is nothing tactful or elegant about this diplomatic approach. But Israeli diplomacy in a time of regional chaos should strive beyond the tired, ineffective and largely meaningless desire to just be ‘recognized’.
After all, that most basic of desires, to survive, will surely compel Sunni governments to comply with Israel’s conditions if it means gaining access to Israeli intelligence, military hardware and cybersecurity technology.
The power wielded by today’s Sunni Arab leaders may someday depend upon making peace with the existence of a Jewish State in the heart of the Middle East.