There are many things to criticize Benjamin Netanyahu for. Although I’ve agreed with some of his policies, by and large, I am not a fan of the current Israeli Prime Minister. But I can admit that I admire his strategic mindset, and how it has helped protect Israel and achieve some of its national security needs. Aware of the criticism (sometimes racist) from center-left, establishment governments in western Europe, Netanyahu has strengthened Israel’s ties with the east of the continent, exploiting recent political divisions in the Old Continent. Meanwhile, as the European Union on the whole declines economically and politically, Bibi has turned towards countries in the developing world. By offering Israeli agri-tech and security expertise to various African, Asian, and Latin American countries, he has improved the lives of millions. In doing so, such Non-Aligned countries are swaying more towards Jerusalem and away from Ramallah & Tehran. Netanyahu has kept the Jewish state’s strategic alliance with the US and doubled down on it, while at the same time opening up to other world powers like India, China, and Russia. And he has made inroads into the Muslim and Arab World, downgrading the issue of the Palestinians.
Some might argue that Netanyahu is too committed to keeping the status quo, particularly when it comes to dealing with the Palestinians. This is true to a degree, but he is also committed to making a number of great changes when it comes to Israel’s image and influence in the world. True, Bibi has kept the status quo of Israel’s strong alliance with Western countries–chief among them the United States. One could argue that the Jewish state has deepened its relationship with Washington following the election of Donald Trump to the White House. Yet Netanyahu has also courted Chinese businessmen, Indian military officials, and the Russian president for his own diverse agendas. Chinese investment in Israel and consumption of Israel technology has benefited Israel tremendously when it comes to the economy. China, along with India, sends some of the largest numbers of tourists of any country to the country’s archaeological sites, natural wonders, and beaches. India, for its part, has joined Israel in developing a number of missile systems and consumes more Israeli weaponry than any other country. In Syria, Israel has some differences with Russia, yet both have shared interests there as well: to prevent a large-scale regional war, and to keep Iran and its proxies as weak as possible by bleeding them in a war of attrition. Russia and Israel also have a shared interest in strengthening ties with eastern European countries and exploiting political differences with the core of the EU in western Europe. Typically, Britain, France, and Germany remain the most critical countries (alongside other, less powerful countries in the west of the continent) of Israeli and Russian foreign policy.
In essence, Netanyahu isn’t hedging his bets at all. He is keeping ties with western European countries and consolidating them with the United States. But he is also preparing for a future that may be less Western-oriented by strengthening ties with Russia, China, and India. Furthermore, he is extricating western European influence over Israeli policy by contributing towards EU institutional weakness and befriending Cyprus, Greece, and the Visegrad group–contributing to a more multipolar EU, rather than the united stance Brussels would like to maintain.
Netanyahu has also strengthened ties with Third World countries that were once reflexively pro-Palestinian. While this hasn’t led to massive changes, it has brought about a general shift in the conversation. These countries–African, Asian, Latin American, Muslim, and even some Arab–are hungry for money, weapons, technology, and agricultural prowess that Israel has to offer. In exchange, they have abstained, been absent from, or even voted against pro-Palestinian resolutions in the UN. Singing Ramallah’s praises has done little to nothing to improve the lives of the peoples of the Third World, yet increasing ties with the Jewish state have.
Other leaders in other countries have called for the continuation of the status quo. French President Emmanuel Macron has chosen to ignore the devastating effects of hyper-capitalism on economic equality in the world, and sings the praises of Reaganomics and Thatcherite business plans. This has brought about protests and riots in Paris. Angela Merkel, Germany’s Chancellor, has chosen to parrot calls for “ever increasing union” in Europe while ignoring the populist trend calling for individual state interests and sovereignty. European Union Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini would prefer to keep the status quo when it comes to UN resolutions on Iran and the Palestinians, instead of embracing the new realities and acting to challenge terrorism. All of these leaders are either on their way out of office or deeply unpopular, because they have failed to think out of the box and act strategically.
Meanwhile, on a regional level, Iran and Turkey mistakenly invested a lot of military, economic, and political capital into the region’s conflicts while presenting a friendly face to western Europe. Iran has wasted millions of dollars on bases and proxies strewn about Gaza and Syria that have only been bombed out and destroyed by the Israelis. Netanyahu, on the other hand, invested a lot of diplomatic clout into an aggressive UN effort against Hezbollah and Hamas that is changing the regional dynamic and justifying (at least in theory and in some quarters) Israel’s pre-emptive actions. At the same time, he successfully convinced the US to scuttle the nuclear deal with Iran, which has further devastated the Islamic Republic’s economy and reputation amongst its own people. Turkey’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood and radical actors in Egypt and Syria have quickly collapsed. Russia, Iran, and their various allies have destroyed much of the Turkish-financed opposition groups, and the Egyptian Army quickly overthrew the Ankara-backed Morsi government. Now in an economic crisis and diplomatically isolated in the eastern Mediterranean, Turkey has no choice but to tie itself to other pariah countries–Qatar, Russia, and Iran–that are themselves in deep political and financial straits.
Netanyahu has exploited the divisions and weaknesses amongst the Arab World to improve Israel’s status. With America’s possible regional withdrawal, Israel is both a conduit to Washington as well as a new guarantor of security for these Arab regimes against Iran, Turkey, and their proxies. Moreover, cooperating with the Israelis against environmental issues, Sunni terror organizations, and for business, could be of huge benefit to the broader Arab World. Rather than hedging his bets, Bibi has maintained a certain level of comfort when it comes to Western ties, settlements & the Palestinian situation, while expanding Israeli ties with other countries. He has both weakened Israel’s critics and regional enemies and improved ties with a host of other countries and overseen the growth of the Israeli economy. While Netanyahu may have backtracked on the issue of migrants, tied himself too closely to far-right ultra-Orthodox parties, and hasn’t addressed the grave income inequality in Israeli society, he should be given credit where it’s due in being the world’s most strategically-savvy head of state.