Indonesia might normalize diplomatic relations with Israel — but?

The Saudi Arabia is uncertain about the normalization of the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco with Israel. King Salman and the Crown Prince want to raise the fire of normalization, but also don’t want their own house to be burned by the fire. So in the end, what Saudi can do is only to encourage other Middle Eastern countries, or countries with a majority Muslim population, to follow in the footsteps of the UAE. The Saudi efforts are fully supported by MBS and MBZ (UEA), one of which is to Indonesia, which has the largest Muslim population in the world.

Regarding the normalization of diplomatic relations between the United Arab Emirates and Israel, what is the real position of Saudi Arabia? The most appropriate words are “Miscellaneous Wrong.” In English, there are two opposite words to describe it. “Dammed” and “Damned”. The king and his son (MBS) will be dammed (dammed) in the domestic sphere if they try to follow the UAE on a “taken for granted” basis. Very few of the current Saudi elite are supportive. Therefore, the Saudi foreign minister has always said that the Saudis are still loyal to the Arab Initiative

However, the King and his son must also be prepared to be condemned (Damned) by Washington, which has proven unconditional loyalty to Riyadh. Washington even did not hesitate to ignore the murder of journalist Jamal Khausogi, at a time when the world was cursing Prince Salman. As a result, like it or not, the remaining option is that the King and Prince must not flinch, be silent at a thousand languages, stand in the gray area between “agreeing” and “disagreeing”, between standing and sitting (squatting), but still walking in a deep direction of chronic infidelity with Israel, like a decade back. And this style has become evident when the Saudis allowed the Israeli delegation’s planes to pass through its airspace, without giving an official statement

I think that Saudi will have the opportunity to strengthen its position at the time, (1) when power has officially passed to Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has long served as mentor to Muhammad bin Zayed (MbZ). The Prince’s young soul, tends to take him to a “new path” like MbZ. His goal of raising NEOM City will lead him to Jared Kushner and Israel at some point in the future. (2) When Iran is getting crazier, where the Saudis and the Arab league really need sophisticated weapons, ranging from anti-missiles from Israel and F35s Combat Aircraft from the US. The greater the Iranian threat, the higher the chances of domestic support for taking an “anti-Iran” stance (embracing the US and Israel).

On the other hand, with the squatting position unfazed, meaning that de facto, the Saudis have accepted that the “leadership” in Arabia is slowly moving to the UAE. The King and Prince are rational enough to admit that the Saudi current account has been overlooked by the UAE last year. Saudi is no longer the number one economic actor in Arabia, but the UAE. And if the UAE finally manages to bring home the F35s, then the UAE will be the first country in Arabia to have them (plus advanced drones and Israeli missiles) after Israel.

So, Saudi Arabia was hit twice by the UAE, namely economy and defense. But in geopolitical calculations, it is much better for the Saudis, rather than having to be dominated by Iran, rather than by the UAE. The two countries have been “out a lot” in Yemen to stem the Iranian Shiite force that is backing up the Houthis. If there is no one that stands out, then Iran will slowly stand out on its own, and one by one the countries in dispute in Arabia, such as Yemen (Houthi), Syria, Lebanon (Hezbollah), and Palestine (Hamas, Fatah, PIJ, etc.) will permanently fall into Iranian hands.

It is in that constellation that we can interpret the news which reports that Saudi Arabia and the UAE are trying to seduce Indonesia to follow the steps of normalization with Israel. Actually, its geopolitical value for Israel and Indonesia is not much. Israel is in trouble in the Middle East, not in Southeast Asia. If the majority of Middle Eastern countries continue to be hostile to Israel, then Israel will always be the target of attack. And the potential for such attacks is very large from Middle Eastern countries due to geographic and geopolitical factors, while almost zero from Muslim-populated countries in Southeast Asia.

But even so, the normalization of Israeli diplomacy with Indonesia will have a high “selling” value on the international stage, especially for Israel and Saudi Arabia because Indonesia is a country with the largest Muslim population in the world. About 87 percent of Indonesia’s 260 million population is Muslim. Israel will greatly benefit from an image perspective. Netanyahu too. The whole world will be jolted if Netanyahu’s government succeeds in seducing Indonesia to open diplomatic relations. Especially for Saudi Arabia, if it succeeds in encouraging Indonesia to lean towards Israel, then Saudi Arabia will be increasingly seen as the leader of Muslim countries that has succeeded in mediating the interests of Muslim countries, both with opponents and friends.

So what about Indonesia? Rejection will inevitably emerge, as always. Because when it comes to Israel, the average population of Indonesian Muslims will suddenly become Shiites and Iranians, that is, they see Israel as a country that must be destroyed. But Indonesia still has the opportunity because the domestic political constellation has proven that whatever the government wants to do, will be realized even though it begins with rejection. But in the end it goes away on its own. Just look at the Corruption Eradication Committee Reform Law and Omnibus Law cases, the government can casually deny the rejection. So if Saudi, UAE, and Israel can persuade the government to normalize relations with Israel, then the Government has the opportunity to make it happen.

But there is no free lunch. Indonesia can negotiate with all four parties, including Saudi, UAE, Israel and America. Indonesia can make the Investment Management Institution as a bargaining chip with the Saudis and the UAE, where the two countries must allocate a large amount of funds to invest in the Indonesian Sovereign Wealth Fund (LPI), which can be several billion dollars each. Then with Israel, Indonesia can bargain to get missile and drone technology, advanced technology for agriculture “such as in the Negev region of Israel, and investment from Israeli venture capitals for Indonesian start-up-start-ups.

And finally to America, Indonesia can realize its desire to have advanced fighter aircraft in the class of F35 and F35s and a commitment to invest in the Natuna Sea which incidentally means America’s guarantee to keep Natuna in Indonesia at any time, despite frequent interference from China. Then persuading the US government to encourage Elon Musk to open a battery and electric car factory in Sulawesi which has a lot of nickel content. And many other negotiation models that can be proposed. But, is the government willing and able to solve domestic problems that will arise? The answer depends on the elites in the governing coalition.

About the Author
Doctor of Sociology from Padjadjaran University, Indonesia. Defense and Environment Observer.
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