Between 1950 and 1975, the State of Israel was in a vastly hostile region. Facing the convergent Arabic rhetoric of “expelling the Jews towards the Mediterranean”, Israel was in both a militarily and politically dangerous situation. Under this scenario, the Israeli secret services, headed by the Mossad, tried to develop a strategy called by former members of the agency as the “Doctrine of the Periphery” (DP). This tactic sought for the Jewish State to ally itself with ethnic and religious minorities living in rival Arab countries, support non-Arab and non-Muslim states, and support non-Arab Muslim states. This complicity paved the way for Israel to currently have relationships with these entities publicly and even helped moderate Sunni Arab states-such as Bahrain, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates-to have today direct links with Israel thanks to the fact that the DP attracted them.
Since its creation, the State of Israel – with the backing of the United States – sought to ally itself with key states in the region, such as Turkey and Iran. In fact, thanks to them are how the DP begins. Turkey was the first Muslim country to recognize Israel and Iran, governed by the Pahlavi dynasty, were both viewed as good allies to the western bloc. Thanks to these alliances, which were hampered after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, an information/complicity channel was created. This partnership allowed both Turkey and Iran to greatly benefit in terms of knowledge about current security and geostrategic dynamics in the region.
Internally, Turkey supported this alliance because it gained the support of Jewish lobbying groups in the United States Congress, which aided their campaign to dismiss accusations of being responsible for the Armenian Genocide.
In the case of Iran, its alliance with Israel provided it direct access to the White House. Moreover, by partnering with Israel they sold an image of being a pro-Western regime. As such its bilateral relation served as a distraction to the human rights violation that the Iranian people lived under the regime of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
Israel’s gain in this relationship was the ability to promote the idea that they were not alone in the politically and militarily unstable Middle East.
While Israel engaged with its uncanny allies, Israeli politicians such as David Ben Gurion and Golda Meir furthered the belief that in the aftermath of the Holocaust the newborn State of Israel had a moral duty to support minorities in the region. As a testament to this philosophy, and in order to strengthen and enlarge the DP, the Mossad helped train and arm Sudanese Christian rebels. These efforts bore fruit when the rebels managed to get the Muslim regime in Khartoum to grant them autonomy. The Mossad would also go on to aid the Druze in Syria, in their independence aspirations in the 1960s, and training to Lebanon’s Shiites and Maronite Christians, although in two different historical contexts.
Other DP beneficiaries were Iraq’s Kurds, who have historically been engaged in conflict with the government of Iraq. Israel managed to forge a very strong alliance with the Barzani Kurdish tribe, which were very friendly with the Jewish Kurds and even helped them to make Aliyah. Israel took advantage of its diplomatic ties with Iran at that moment and- provided weapons, explosives, and training to the Kurdish rebels. The main goal was to ensure that Iraq did not join other enemy Arab states in a future military campaign against the Jewish State. Internal Kurdish hostilities in Iraq would divide Iraq’s military focus on an offensive against Israel. Although the Kurds did not really abide by these agreements, the ties created were very effective and existing to this day. In recent history, we can see that Israel continues to voice support for Kurds by hinting at its involvement in training the Peshmerga in Iraqi Kurdish territory and publicly supporting the independence referendum promoted by the Iraqi Kurdistan government in 2017.
Israel also sought to reach out to non-Arab and non-Muslim states like Ethiopia (which has borders with large Arab/Muslim states like Egypt, Sudan, and Somalia). In the case of Ethiopia, beyond the historical religious ties between the two, this relationship was based on being able to ensure the stability of the Ethiopian empire. In this way, Israel sought to preserve the relationship between the two and strengthen closeness to its enemies that border Addis Ababa. That is why in his first meeting in 1977 with former US President Jimmy Carter, the newly elected Prime Minister, Menachem Begin, spoke to his counterpart (to his surprise) about the stability and security of the no-longer-existing Ethiopian Empire.
Based on the aforementioned facts, I theorize that the effectiveness of the periphery theory allowed certain MSAS to turn – mainly, but not always, through third parties – to Israel. That is why countries like Morocco directly turned to Israeli intelligence services to assassinate a critic of the Moroccan monarchy in Paris, to provide security to the King of Morocco, and even to organize high-ranking meetings between important Israeli ministers and the Moroccan royal house. For example, these precedents were key for Morocco to be one of the main brokers in the peace accords between Israel and Egypt signed in 1979.
But not only did Morocco turn to Israel for help, so did Oman and Saudi Arabia via the United Kingdom. In the case of Muscat, they did it to be able to transport their oil to southern Israel and from there to Europe, and in the case of Riad in order to support the Saudi-allied North Yemen royal house ruling there. In this case, the Israelis dropped arms-from the air-to the royalists in Yemen. After a disillusioned Egyptian pilot defected to Israel and told his interrogators that his fellow Egyptians were using chemical weapons in Yemen, the Israelis initiated Operation Porcupine. This included 14 airlifts of Israel’s largest transport plane, the Boeing C-97, over two years. Airlifts were complemented by the deployment of Mossad intelligence agents, one of whom was captured by Yemeni rebels, handed over to Egypt, and returned home in a prisoner swap after the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.
Undoubtedly, the previously exposed text shows us that the existence of these precedents must be studied in depth in order to understand how Israel skillfully worked to get closer to its regional partners, enemies, and future enemies (like Iran, which Israel even supported at the beginning of the Ayatollahs regime by supplying them tires for their planes during the war with Iraq; all this with the hope that ties would not be lost). In this way, we will be able to understand why and how it has managed to be recognized among its neighbors. An example of this is not only that it has signed separate peace agreements in exchange for land and political flexibility with Egypt and Jordan, but that it has also managed to reach peace agreements without giving up land or political power with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Sudan. In these days of bewilderment, Saudi Arabia’s crown king recognized the right to exist of the Jewish State, and even Morocco flirts-in private-with the possibility of reaching a peace agreement with the Jewish State if Israel recognizes and legitimizes the Moroccan presence in Western Sahara.
I believe that in the future we must study this doctrine in order to understand how Israel also allied itself with smaller non-state entities and why individuals like Nelson Mandela and the former Ugandan dictator and genocidal, Idi Dada (who together with a Palestinian group kidnapped a plane with Jewish and Israeli passengers in 1976) were trained by Israel. Studying this doctrine will allow us to comprehend the diplomatic dynamics that we see today between Israel and many of its neighbors, and why Israel is the eighth power in the world today.