Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 22 August 2019

Netanyahu's grave misunderstanding of what true allies are

Alliances are built on mutual respect, common values and moral perspectives – not on shared antipathies

Benjamin Netanyahu attends the inauguration of Brazil's new far-right president Jair Bolsonaro. Reuters / Adriano Machado
Benjamin Netanyahu attends the inauguration of Brazil's new far-right president Jair Bolsonaro. Reuters / Adriano Machado

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement that Arab nations regard his country as an “indispensable ally” in the struggle against the threat of Iranian aggression is an over-simplification. Despite the old proverb, the enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend, and certainly not while it continues with its decades-long policy of demeaning and oppressing Palestinian Arabs. To be an ally is to share much more than a single common threat. It is to stand on common ground defined by mutually respected principles and moral perspectives. It requires a willingness to acknowledge each other’s needs and ambitions and a readiness to co-operate and compromise in their pursuit.

This is not Israel’s relationship with the Arab world. Only Egypt and Jordan even have diplomatic ties with Israel. No Arab state that has any level of solidarity with the Palestinian people can truly be said to be an ally of an increasingly hardline, right-wing Israel. It is true that under its current leadership Iran poses a threat to the entire Middle East, as witnessed in its military meddling in Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan and its political interference in Iraq. But Netanyahu’s claim that the mutual recognition of that threat has caused “a revolution in relations with the Arab world” is wishful thinking.

It is revealing that Netanyahu’s statement was made during his visit to Brazil. He was one of few world leaders who accepted an invitation to attend the inauguration of President Jair Bolsonaro, offering his implied blessing for the far-right policies of the apologist for Brazil’s former military dictatorships. Netanyahu’s comment offers more of an insight into Iran’s divisive influence in the region than it does into any perceived improvement in relations between Israel and the Arab world. It may also reveal something of the increasing pressure under which Israel and its beleaguered prime minister is operating.

The economic and strategic landscape of the Middle East is changing. Saudi Arabia and the UAE, especially, are increasingly players to be reckoned with in regional and global politics, willing and able to project political influence and military force where necessary. The economic might of the UAE was cited in November in the largely fanciful Israeli plan, enthusiastically fronted by Netanyahu himself, “Tracks for Regional Peace” – a trans-Arabian railway system linking the Gulf states to Europe and beyond via Israeli ports on the Mediterranean. Perhaps the reality thinly concealed by Netanyahu’s “charm” offensive is that, faced with the threat of Iran, and the rising strength and influence of the Arab world, both he and Israel need all the friends in the region they can get. But as long as Israel continues to oppress the Palestinian people, treating them as unwelcome squatters in their own homeland, true friends are unlikely to be found in the Arab world.

Updated: January 2, 2019 05:52 PM

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