A Celebration of Israeli Diplomacy

A barrage of unsettling events has seized the world. The slaughter of innocents continues in Syria and the Islamic State; terrorist attacks were unleashed in San Bernardino, Orlando, Paris and Brussels and continue in Israel; police in the United States have killed black men and blacks have murdered police officers. Barely noticed has been an extraordinary run in the past six months of successful Israeli outreach efforts. This week’s announcement that Israel and Guinea have renewed diplomatic ties after a 49-year hiatus is only the latest example.

These diplomatic engagements are all the more impressive in view of a warning last year by US President Barak Obama. Mr. Netanyahu’s policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians, he cautioned, are causing Israel to lose credibility around the world. “Already, the international community does not believe that Israel is serious about a two-state solution,” he said. His observation followed other administration officials’ characterizations of Mr. Netanyahu as recalcitrant, myopic, reactionary and obtuse.

Despite these aspersions, relations between the US and Israel remain grounded in shared values, close military and security cooperation, and expansive cultural and commercial ties. The United States remains by far Israel’s largest trading partner. Contrary to predictions about Israel’s loss of credibility in the international community, Israel’s relations with many other countries are continuing to expand and flourish.

In January 2016, Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj joined Mr. Netanyahu at a podium in Israel to extol the growing relationship between India and Israel. Mr. Netanyahu praised their countries’ joint projects in science, technology, agriculture and more, and Ms. Swarag said India attaches the “highest importance” to furthering these and other bilateral ties. Ms. Swarag’s visit followed one in 2015 by India’s president, Pranab Mukherjee. It also preceded an expected visit by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which would be the first-ever to Israel by an Indian prime minister.

In February 2016, Hazem Khairat, Egypt’s new ambassador arrived in Israel, four years after the previous ambassador had been recalled during the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Gaza. This move is reflective of Israel’s improved relations and cooperative security efforts with Egypt. The change occurred under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who became president following the military overthrow of former President Mohamed Morsi in 2013. Al-Sisi’s relationship with Israel is seen as modeled after the long-standing security cooperation between Israel and Jordan.

In March 2016, Mr. Netanyahu hosted Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong, who was accompanied by an 80-member delegation, to begin talks toward a bilateral free trade agreement. Their meetings also produced other agreements including the establishment of a 10-year multi-visit visa arrangement to facilitate business and tourist travel between the two countries. Ms. Liu said she looked forward to China and Israel engaging in further joint projects on communications, infrastructure, and other technology ventures.

In June 2016, Israel and Turkey reached an agreement to normalize relations that had been strained after Israel repulsed an effort to break a blockade of Gaza six years earlier. Several Turks were killed after attacking Israeli commandos who sought to board their boat. Last week’s failed coup attempt against Turkish President Recep Erdogan would not affect the reconciliation, Mr. Netanyahu said.

Also in June, on a state visit to Russia, his third in ten months, Mr. Netanyahu was received with a red carpet and marching band welcome. President Vladimir Putin praised the humanitarian ties between Russia and Israel. As reported by an Israeli observer, the levels of tourism and trade and of security and diplomatic cooperation between the two countries “have never been better.”

The following month, on July 4th, Mr. Netanyahu was welcomed at Entebbe airport by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who urged strengthening commercial ties between their countries. The first Israeli prime minister to visit Africa in 50 years, Mr. Netanyahu arrived on the 40th anniversary of the Israeli rescue of hijacked hostages at the airport. A statue of the prime minister’s brother Yonatan, the only Israeli soldier killed on the rescue mission, stood near the capital city of Kampala. Mr. Netanyahu was visibly moved by the ceremony and the tribute to his brother. Afterwards, continuing his African travels, he met with the leaders of six other East African nations: Kenya, Rwanda, Ethiopia, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Tanzania.

The atmosphere at all the diplomatic engagements in the past six months was cordial and included displays of animated enthusiasm. The countries cited, plus others that also enjoy warm relations with Israel—in Europe, the Americas and elsewhere—represent most of the world’s population of 7.3 billion. Whatever criticisms some may have of Mr. Netanyahu, Israel’s credibility in the international community has not suffered. Indeed, it is greater now than at any other time in recent memory.

Critics who have leveled acrimonious characterizations of Netanyahu’s international outreach efforts should be obliged to catch up with reality. He has led the Jewish state through a half-year of remarkable diplomatic successes.

About the Author
Leonard Cole is an adjunct professor of political science at Rutgers University, Newark, New Jersey, USA, and of emergency medicine at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, where he is the Director of the Program on Terror Medicine and Security.
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