Tenacious Tenets of Israel’s Foreign Policy

Tenacious Tenets of Israel’s Foreign Policy

The core task of foreign policy is to serve the national interest to the utmost despite external circumstances and treacherous conditions. Making friends and neutralising potential dangers to the cause remains the crux of diplomacy, However, often foreign policy of a nation is the reflection and extension of its domestic policy. Israel is no exception. Moreover,circumstances of the creation of the modern state of Israel carved out of Palestinian territories in post WWII ‘snatch what you can’ scenario laid the foundations of not only the Jewish nation but also the continued rivalry and conflict between the Arab world and Israel. Security in all its dimensions for the new nation became non-negotiable because this became the pre-requisite for its very survival in its hostile neighbourhood. Consequently security apparatus , intelligence (Mossad ) and defence outfits (IDS) prevail over the foreign policy establishment. Often the generals dominate and dictate the foreign policy choices, their implementation and outcomes.

The Arab -Israel Conflict and consequent non-resolution of the Palestinian issue have continued to vitiate the regional peace despite three wars and attempts by the Quartet, Camp David Summits and Oslo Accords let alone UN Resolutions. The Peace Process has been in limbo for a while. USA has been the arbiter of peace but recently lost its credibility as a trustworthy negotiator with Trump’s declaration of shifting of the US embassy to Jerusalem thereby de facto declaring the holy city as the capital of the Jewish state. Israel in 1990s was able to successfully negotiate peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan which paved the way for some accommodation even though the inherent contradictions and looming Palestinian predicament did not permit excessive bonhomie with Israel. Hence a “Cold Peace” prevails. However, over decades and with recent Intra-Arab conflicts and the anti-Iranian tirade of the key Arab states, Israel with the support of the Americans was able to wean away, especially,the Saudis and Emirates, given their younger and progressive leadership, from rabid antagonism towards a possible working relationship. This is likely to positively advance the Jared Kushner-led Trump “ Deal of the Century” for the Israel-Palestine conflict. The fact that the issue and status of Jerusalem has at least accrued de-facto to Israel by Trump could be perceived as a success for their foreign policy.

Israel owes a great deal to its passionate, highly successful and influential diaspora especially in USA. The Jewish lobby is strongest and mighty powerful in ensuring that the vital interests of Israel are not compromised. The US is the closest ally that Israel has got, the power it wields in the US is unique and was evident when President Obama was not keen on the visit of PM Netanyahu but he still went to Washington and even addressed the Congress. No other country or leader could get away with that. It does not have very many powerful friends but is expanding its outreach, India has emerged as its special strategic partner. China and Russia remain its important partners. With Europe it’s a balancing act since the Palestinian issue acquires greater prominence. Netanyahu is trying to reach out to African as well as Latin American countries. Israel normally has considered having limited foreign policy choices and in its quest to make friends sometimes has gone to the other end of the pendulum as with the previous apartheid regime of South Africa.

Israel also tends to believe that crude power only dominates and sustains at the global stage and has made every effort to secure a military, intelligence , economic and technological edge and superiority . Speaking at the Raisina Dialogue during his recent visit to India, Netanyahu underscored military capability as the first requirement of national power and in Israel’s case this required considerable investment in intelligence to “compensate for our size”. He further added “Israel’s long struggle to survive had led it to understand a lesson. The weak don’t survive, the strong survive. You make peace with the strong, you make alliances with the strong, you are able to maintain peace by being strong.” He also defined India- Israel relations as an “Alliance”.

Israel has been beset by the “seige mentality and splendid isolation” since it tended to feel that it was entitled to exceptionalism in its relations with the world and the rules of the game could be different for it. It is true, especially as it banks heavily on the underwriting influence and good will of the sole hyper power that in itself is largely generated by the powerful Jewish lobbies and US’s strategic interests in the Middle East. However, a 2012 BBC survey of the international standing of 22 countries indicated that Israel was viewed negatively and stood in the company of North Korea. Iran and Pakistan. Similarly, the 2015 Israeli Foreign Policy Index of the Mitvim Institute reported widespread concern about Israel’s foreign affairs.  Several findings indicated that they regard Israel as a regional superpower, oppose the assertion that “the whole world is against us”, believe in the feasibility of regional cooperation with Arab states, and indeed see Israel as connected to its regional geographical surroundings. However,there is a clear disjunct as the Issues deemed by the public to be important in the field of foreign policy are incongruous with the rhetoric of political actors. Surprisingly neither the fight against the BDS movement, nor the Iranian nuclear program are top priority for the Israeli public. In the near future, the public is principally interested in Israel strengthening its ties with the US – only 16% of the public rate these relations as “good”. In second place, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and third, relations with “moderate” Arab states. Perhaps the 2018 survey may give an improved story but it would be prudent for the Israeli foreign policy establishment to give credence to their own people’s perceptions and expectations since there is no substitute to peace in the region that is so essential for the redemption from the “Villa in the Jungle” mentality and Israel’s growth path. Nonetheless Netanyahu claims that “Israeli diplomatic relations are undergoing nothing short of a revolution”.

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