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The presidents-for-life club

The rise of aggressive dictatorships is straining the international order and forcing Israel to perform a delicate balancing act. 

In recent days President Xi of China and President Putin of Russia have become, in effect, presidents for life of two of the largest and most aggressive countries in the world.

Both Russia and China in recent years have engaged in extensive enlargement of their military forces and have deployed them in their respective geographic regions in a wholesale fashion and outside their regions as well.

Russia is now a major geopolitical player in the eastern Mediterranean along with the Baltic and Black Seas and on the western borders of the former Soviet Union. Military display has been directed at several of the former Soviet republics and satellites. Naval and air bases have been established on the coast of Syria. In addition, Russia has engaged in massive campaigns of disinformation, propaganda and subversion, as well as assassinations and extensive hacking attacks in western countries, including the US.

China has not only occupied numerous uninhabited islands in the East and South China Seas claimed by other countries, but has rapidly turned some of them into naval and air bases, as well as establishing naval bases as far afield as Gwadar on the coast of Pakistan and in Djibouti, at the approach to the Red Sea. Propaganda and military display threats to Taiwan have intensified and China, like Russia, has engaged in extensive cyber-threats and actions.

Soon, along with Xi and Putin, President Erdogan of Turkey will become another member of the Presidents-for-Life Club. Turkey has invaded Iraq and Syria and threatened to attack Aegean islands assigned to Greece after World War I. Unlike Russia and China, however, Turkey is supposed to be an ally of the US and Europe in NATO. It is unclear how long that charade will continue.

The Saudi crown prince has referred to a “triangle of evil,” including Iran, Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood. We may be witnessing the formation of a “pentangle of evil,” substituting Islamic jihadist groups in general for the Brotherhood, and adding North Korea.

The forces of repressive dictatorship and religious intolerance are in the ascendant everywhere, at a time when Europe appears to be self-destructing in an orgy of “political correctness” and the US is increasingly polarized politically and socially.

In such a toxic atmosphere, Israel must struggle to square various circles, including maintaining good relations with Russia and China while strengthening the alliances with the US and India and continuing to upgrade relations with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE in order to counter-balance Iran on the one hand and the various terrorist groups dedicated to its destruction, including Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad on the other hand. This geopolitical balancing act is of existential significance for this sliver of land along the eastern extremity of the Mediterranean and as such domestic political and social conflict must be kept within strict bounds.

This article was originally published in Globes.