Does Israel Really Need Relations with the Arab World?

For decades, many Western, Arab, and Israeli leaders, experts, and officials have repeated the idea that normalized relations between the Arab World and Israel will come only when a Palestinian state (especially one with a capital in east Jerusalem and along the 1967 Green Line) is established. Currently, some Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, insists that a Palestinian state can only be established when the Arab World normalizes relations with Israel and can put pressure on the Palestinians to negotiate with Jerusalem and accept such a deal. This has caused a debate to emerge in the world of foreign policy wonks and leaders, as Arab countries reject this new idea and insist on the establishment of an independent Palestine before normalization. But the bigger question Israeli leaders should be asking themselves is whether ties and relations with Arab countries are necessary at all.

Don’t get me wrong: ties with Arab countries can bring some benefits and are desirable for many reasons. People-to-people interactions can lessen the hatred and misunderstandings about Israel in Arab society, and vice versa, to a lesser degree. It can build bridges between loyal Israeli Arabs and their brethren in other countries that sometimes denounce them as traitors. And from a military standpoint, collaboration between Israel and the Arab World would be a strategic asset for the West’s war on ISIS and other jihadist outfits. Jerusalem sees ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, and other such groups as threats to peace and to Israel’s survival, as each declares routinely its desire and ultimate goal of “destroying the Zionist entity” or “liberating occupied Palestine”.

Arab countries see them as “proxies of the Safavids (Persians)” and as forces that could remove them from the throne and bring the kind of chaos that enveloped Libya and Syria to Saudi Arabia, Oman, the UAE, Kuwait, and other such nations. Combining and harnessing a massive Arab coalition with Israel’s military power would be beneficial for the West in defeating terrorist groups in the Near East. But an even bigger reason for Israel and the Arab World to collaborate is Iran. Tehran’s repeated threats to “wipe Israel off the map”, nuclear weapons program, and sponsoring of terrorist groups (notably, Hamas and Hezbollah) that have fought Israel in the past, are enough of a reason for Israel to talk “under the table” with its former arch-rivals. As for the Arab World, conflict with Iran and its terrorist proxies has been going on for centuries, as part of the Sunni-Shiite split, and even before that, the ethnic-based Arab-Persian rivalry. Both Israel and the Arab World see the nuclear deal with Iran as tantamount to the West giving consent to Iran’s imperialist ambitions in the Near East.

But even with these shared interests, ties with the Arab World aren’t necessary, or even desirable, from other standpoints. It’s unrealistic to expect that the anti-Jewish racism in the Arab World will vanish even if a Palestinian state were created on the Green Line. Calls for jihad against Israel will continue after, just as they did in 1948 and all the years prior to the “occupation”. And even if Israel and the Arabs joined together to defeat the hostile Iranian regime and various jihadist groups patrolling the deserts of Syria and Iraq, what’s to stop them then from resuming their “struggle” against Israel?

Furthermore, if Israel normalized relations with the beheading barbarians of Riyadh, the homophobes of Abu Dhabi, or the anti-feminists of Rabat, how would that make Jerusalem look to the liberals of the world? Israel couldn’t claim to be a liberal bastion in the Middle East while buddying up to its theocrats and autocrats. It might face more threatening boycotts, and even scorn by Jewish groups in the Diaspora.

Moreover, the Arab World doesn’t have much to offer Israel. The Jewish State certainly doesn’t need its oil in an age where it can buy from other countries or rely on green energy, which is growing more attractive. The instability and uncertainty facing the Arab World is also likely to continue for decades, so even if Israel did establish ties with an Arab state, who’s to say it would remain the case after a few years?

This was especially worrying in 2012 with Egypt, when Hamas’ friend and Muslim Brotherhood member Mohammed Morsi became the (short-lived) president. Morsi was far less of an ally to Israel & the West than his predecessor, Mubarak, and certainly less than his successor, al-Sisi. And what about dealing with jihadists and Iran? While it would be nice if Israel could work more directly with the Arab World at containing and eliminating this threat, Israel’s military and intelligence capabilities are the best in the region, and probably even surpass those of many in Europe, Asia and Africa. The Arabs may need to rely on Israel’s help for destroying terrorist groups or countering the threat of Iran, but Israel certainly doesn’t need them to achieve these goals.

Israel already enjoys massive (although sometimes tenuous) ties with the West, especially the USA. It is increasing and investing in its partnerships with Russia, China, India, and other powers to the east. It’s giving massive assistance to the Third World with food aid, irrigation, and intelligence for anti-terrorism reasons, which increases positive feelings towards Jerusalem in those countries. The BDS campaign against it is failing. While there are, of course, dangers to the Jewish state, in some ways it has never been in a better position. Despite various unfair UN resolutions against Israel, the UN is powerless to really cause any damage. The EU may be trying to build illegal Palestinian settlements on Israeli land, but Israel easily razes them into the ground. Syria, Libya and Iraq, once some of Israel’s worst enemies, are in complete chaos and have consumed the attention of the entire Arab World. The Arabs and the West, once focused mostly on the Palestinians as their primary agenda in the region, are mainly focused on refugees from Iraq and Syria, and on  combatting terror. While the EU condemns Israel’s settlement building, they also must rely on and learn from Israel’s anti-terror capabilities and expertise to combat the growing jihadist threats facing Brussels, Paris, London, and Berlin, just to name a few places. And Israel is building ever closer partnerships with Greece, Cyprus, Egypt and Jordan, both to fight terrorism and contain Turkey (with whom Israel has bettered relations), while also making deals for the sale of natural gas. The risks of embracing an unstable Arab countries–that in many ways remain hostile to Israel–far outweigh the benefits. Israel has prospered for decades without relations with the Arab World (or with relations only with Jordan and Egypt, in more recent years). It can and will continue to do so without establishing ties with the others.

About the Author
Dmitri Shufutinsky is a graduate of Arcadia University's Masters program in International Peace & Conflict Resolution. He is an ardent Zionist and a supporter of indigenous rights, autonomy, solidarity, and sovereignty. He currently lives in Philadelphia, USA.
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