One Thursday afternoon back in August (13 Aug, 2020) Binyamin Netanyahu, stood up in the middle of a cabinet meeting and walked out of the room. When he was asked, “Where are you going,” the Prime Minister replied, “You will find out later.”
What transpired was a conference call between US President Donald Trump, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi and when Netanyahu joined the conversation, a declaration of the first historic peace agreement between Israel and an Arab country in 26 years was announced.
Netanyahu later told the public, “This agreement is different from its predecessors because it is based on two principles, Peace for Peace and Peace through Strength. He reminded the people that under this doctrine, Israel is not required to withdraw from any territory and therefore can focus solely on trade, investment, health, tourism, agriculture, environmental protection and many other areas including defence and security cooperation.
This peace was not achieved because Israel weakened itself by withdrawing to the 1967 lines. It was achieved because Israel under the leadership of Netanyahu cultivated a strong free economy, along with huge military and technological strength. In doing so, Israel has achieved unprecedented international influence and Bibi has rightly taken credit for developing this strategy in the past 11 years.
Netanyahu’s doctrine on how to make Israel a powerful force, while pursuing real peace was always about placing Israel in a position where almost every country would need the Jewish State.
For years, Bibi has worked hard on developing relationships with the four major world nuclear powers today, namely Russia, China, India and of course the United States. He is the only world leader who can pick up the telephone and speak directly to anyone of these leaders because of the strong relationship Netanyahu has with each one, and they highly respect him.
Netanyahu was also able to successfully undermine the European Union’s attempt of a single foreign policy to weaken Israel, by creating special individual relationships with EU countries such as Austria, Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Italy, Greece and Cyprus. This divided EU opinion on Israel which in turn weakened the Palestinian Authority’s position in the world.
This was essential otherwise the Palestinians would have a veto over the achievement of peace between Israel and Arab countries. The PA insisted that no Arab state could sign an agreement with the Jewish State, until their own demands had been met. But Netanyahu predicted at the UN General Assembly in 2013 that peace would come to the region, only once Arab states would make peace agreements with Israel. Then the Palestinians would make peace with the Jewish State.
As a result of these “games” Netanyahu played for years, individual countries including moderate Arab states, have seen that Israel could become a strong ally, and that the real threat to the stability of the region is the Islamic Republic of Iran.
In fact it was Netanyahu who saw the 1600 year old conflict between Sunni and Shia Muslims resurface, after the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. He could see that Arab Sunni states were genuinely fearful of Iranian expansion into Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen and Netanyahu took advantage of the situation by highlighting the dangers of Iran’s aggression, and its efforts to attain nuclear weapons.
In response Arabs states began to question the Palestinian issue and whether it was more of a burden to them, rather than their own interests. Gulf States such as UAE, Bahrain, Oman and Saudi Arabia were happy to openly have contact and cooperate with Israel, and in some cases, pictures of Israeli leaders with their Arab counterparts were published.
Another advantage Israel has is the discovery of more than 30 trillion cubic feet of gas off the country’s coast, making it the largest natural gas reservoir in the world. Israel has now begun to export gas to Egypt and Jordan. But Netanyahu wasted no time in creating special relationships with Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Eastern Europe countries and even Russia, all of whom need this special Israeli resource, despite an outcry from some in Israel to make gas available for Israelis.
Netanyahu could see through his policy of manoeuvring and posturing that the world would come to Israel because of what it could offer them.
The Director of Governability and Democracy in Israel, Danny Seaman, who has held various senior political positions over the years, and has known Netanyahu since he was appointed Ambassador to the United Nations in 1984, stated, “While most politicians are busy playing checkers, Netanyahu has always been playing three dimensional chess.”
Today Israel is no longer the third world country it once was. Instead it is a thriving stable world power with huge influence over world affairs, and all this has occurred in the last 11 years under the leadership of Binyamin Netanyahu.
Along with a very strong President Donald Trump who understands world affairs and the international “game,” Netanyahu believes many dictatorships will fall in line with the United States and this is what has brought about the deal between UAE and Israel.
Danny Seaman says, Saudi Arabia also recognises that it’s smart to have ties with Israel, not just because of an Israel-Sunni / Muslim alliance against Shia Iran, but because of Saudi oil.
“It costs a huge amount of money for Saudi Arabia to ship its oil through the Suez Canal. “If it had a trade agreement with Israel, Saudi could set up a railway line and export its oil to Europe through the ports of Haifa and Ashdod,” said Seaman.
Of course, Israel recognises the benefits on an economic level and on an international standing, if Arab states make peace with the Jewish State. But the UAE are using Israel for its own benefit, because it is smart business. It also paves the way for the Emirates to purchase stealth F35 fighter jets from US, something they have been trying to do for 6 years.
To understand Netanyahu, you have to understand his goal has always been to isolate Iran. This has been done at the expense of not retaliating too hard against the Islamists in Gaza or applying sovereignty over parts of Judea and Samaria – that will come.
“In any case, Israel is still in full control of Judea, Samaria and all the Jewish communities, says Danny Seaman, “except for the autonomous cities given to the Palestinian Authority.”
But for now, the focus has to be on world affairs and undermining the threat that Iran poses by destroying Iranian bases in Syria and ammunition transfers from Lebanon.
In addition, Israel is the “Start-Up Nation” and second only to the United States in this field. Research and Development is Israel’s speciality and Israel has become the R & D of the United States, both in high-tech and militarily, and this gives Israel a huge advantage.
The stable Arab world understands this and would benefit hugely by investing in Israel – they certainly have the money. And especially at a time when China is investing in Iran, it would make sense if moderate Arab states with strong economies and thriving abilities would invest in a stable Israel. The failing states like Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen, who all are fighting civil wars, are the same states that wish to destroy Israel.
Henry Kissinger said the more agreements and economic ties you have with other nations, the less likely those countries will want to go to war with you. This is what has happened with Egypt and Jordan and will likely happen with the Emirates and other Gulf States.
Bar-Ilan University lecturer and expert on Middle East Affairs and Arabic culture, Dr Mordechai Kedar, told Avi Abelow on a zoom interview, “When Arab countries accept Israel is invincible, they will accept us and make peace with us.”
There is still talk that Bahrain and Oman will also sign an agreement with Israel. But in any case an official Washington signing ceremony between Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed and Binyamin Netanyahu on the White House lawn, with Donald Trump looking on, will likely take place before the American election.
Dr Kedar, believes the signing ceremony will happen one week before the November 3rd election, in order to convince supporters of Israel to vote for Donald Trump. “Instead of the 6 separate hands of Trump, Netanyahu and bin Zayed shaking, you may instead have 10 hands, which will include the leaders of Bahrain and Oman.”
All the Gulf States are believed to want Donald Trump to remain in the White House because they fear a reverse of American policy on Iran under the Democrats.
However one thing is full sure, in these Covid days, we are unlikely to witness any hand shaking between the parties on the White House lawn.
James J. Marlow is an Israeli political analyst and Middle East broadcast journalist