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Israel adds diplomatic skill to its armory

Israel has long been known for its military prowess. It has long been known for its very high scientific and technological achievements. It has also been long known for its abysmal public relations. Recently, however, two other important elements of statecraft have come to the forefront.

The first is the discovery of significant natural gas deposits offshore in Israel’s exclusive maritime economic zone and their use in economic statecraft, with actual and potential agreements with Jordan, Egypt, Cyprus, Greece, Turkey and other countries.

More recently, Israeli diplomacy, long neglected, has come to the fore. With Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu touring African countries and with a Latin American trip being planned (originally scheduled for last year but postponed), this is a good time to make an assessment of where the country stands on the diplomatic front:

  • It would be appropriate to begin by noting the very high level of recent ambassadorial appointments to the US, the UN, China and elsewhere. The diplomatic equivalent of “boots on the ground” is finally being given the attention which it requires.
  • Success in maintaining excellent defense, security and intelligence cooperation with the United States, despite a difficult political relationship with the current US administration. 
  • Highly skillful negotiations and agreements with Russia, resulting in formal and informal cooperation with that country in the region.
  • Continuing engagement with Far Eastern and South Asian countries, such as China, India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam and others, resulting in significant economic, political, diplomatic, scientific and technological cooperation, to some extent replacing a Europe becoming steadily less important in all these areas.
  • Very skillful approaches to the surrounding Sunni states, including Jordan, Egypt and now many of the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Kuwait, exploiting common interests, especially the threats represented by Iran and terrorist groups such as Islamic State, al-Qaida affiliates, Hamas and Hezbollah. 
  • Finally, but most controversially, the recently-signed agreement normalizing relations with Turkey. Since on the surface it would appear that on a cost-benefit basis Turkey came out of the negotiations in a much better position than Israel (see my recent column on the subject), and since the government in Jerusalem is neither stupid nor malicious, it must be assumed that there were also significant unannounced agreements, probably involving Turkish pledges to prevent Hamas from again attacking Israel. If that is the case, another important diplomatic success!

In short, Israel is now emerging as a diplomatic powerhouse, along with its other well-known international assets. However, it must be emphasized that most of these recent successes are very fragile. Unlike the other elements of national power, diplomacy depends entirely on continuing common interests of the counterparties, and that is usually a factor which cannot be controlled by Israel. In addition, some of the countries with which Israel is dealing are led by figures under siege, such as President al-Sisi of Egypt, or who are notoriously unpredictable, such as Presidents Putin and Erdogan.

“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty”. It is also the price of effective diplomacy, coupled with flexibility and agility.

This article was originally published by Globes.