September 24, 2020
With the Abraham Accords, The Times They Are A-Changin’: An Israeli View
Years ago, a survey was done in Japan, where people were asked how many people were there in Israel. The top of the bell curve answer came back with 125 million people, about the same population as Japan itself.
Clearly, the people in Japan were impressed by Israel’s ubiquitous presence in the news and in the halls of power. The evident conclusion: this must be a significant and important nation.
It appears that these Japanese survey takers were on to something. While Israel, for better or worse, is often at the center of international attention, the recent normalization agreements reached with the UAE and Bahrain (which hopefully will be followed by others) have the potential to portend a tectonic shift in international geo-political alignments.
Much has been stated already about the paradigm smashing significance of these agreements, in which the reflexive constructive veto given to the Palestinians has been annulled. This simply has been the product of agreements that do not reference the Palestinians, nor their continuing struggle with Israel.
Instead, as their title connotes, the Abraham Accords demonstrate the significance of the renewed reconciliation between Isaac and Ishmael themselves, and, for the first time, their progeny, the Jews and the Muslims.
Admittedly, this process has been driven by self-interest, the great driver of all international relations. But here, self-interest was not forced to take a back seat to immutable religious differences.
Instead, each party was able to view the other through a half full glass – both are avowedly monotheistic, and both share a major ancestor in common.
Where can this all go? Is it unrealistic to posit a regional NATO-like alliance composed of the pragmatic Sunnis and Israel, backed by the United States? Such an alliance could pose a strong counterweight to such influences as Iran’s, Turkey’s and the Muslim Brotherhood’s.
In the meantime, there will be great opportunities for co-investment, partnerships and joint initiatives that combine Israeli expertise and Gulf state capital. Whether it is in water, medical, agricultural or security tech, the opportunities for partnership are many and varied.
Combining these two facets of economic vibrancy and muscular security has enormous potential to set into motion an even larger, and more pervasive global realignment.
Clearly, much of the desire of the Gulf States to reappraise, and to ultimately shake Israel’s hand, had much to do with the continuing menace that Iran presents. Here, both parties to the agreement see completely eye to eye on the danger that Iran poses, and the need to present a united and strong front in opposition to it.
But it gets even more interesting and complicated by virtue of China’s recently announced massive investment plan in Iran. By doing so, China has shown its hand in terms of with whom it is aligning itself.
Much as the Chinese might want the world to perceive of this association as yet another Belt and Road investment initiative, the clear perception is that this association is akin to a strategic alliance.
Ironically, this is a great relief of a sort for Israel, which had been feeling the pressure of being caught between the interests and agendas of the U.S. and China. Israel and its prime minister in particular have worked hard to cultivate relations with China, designed to provide investment and market opportunities.
But two things have arisen that are significantly changing Israel’s orientation. One is the recognition that China is a rapacious investor, with the goal of usurping, stealing or otherwise appropriating Israeli technology and know-how. The second is China’s deal with Iran.
As a Middle Eastern country, Israel is well familiar with the axiom that “friend of my enemy is also my enemy.” This combination of factors has been moving Israel away from China, augmented by the increasingly insistent requests by the U.S. to do so.
Amazingly, this re-pivot has been made a great deal easier and far less painful by the prospect of replacing prospective Chinese investment capital with Gulf State capital. Money is fungible, and investments from the Gulf are just as bankable, and probably far less fraught with potential negatives than Chinese capital.
As the larger potential domino effect implications of the Israel/Sunni alliance become more manifest, it might not be a major leap of imagination to foresee India joining as well. India would be a natural and powerful addition to the alliance: they have one of the largest Muslim populations in the world, they have an increasingly close friendship with Israel, and, above all, they hate and fear the Chinese.
The prospect of India throwing its lot in with the Israel/Sunni alliance could be the precursor to China’s worst nightmare: a unifying vehicle for all those countries who fear its increasingly aggressive posture. Japan, Southeast Asian countries and Australia, among others might see in this snowballing alliance a way to effectively stare China down.
The bottom line is that the Israel/Sunni alliance, which has great implications and benefits in and of itself, is coming at a time when the bloom has come off the Chinese rose, and where more countries are viewing Chinese initiatives and postures with suspicion and fear.
It might be fanciful, but I do not think it is at all inconceivable that the Abraham Accords, so meaningful to Israel in terms of its international normalization, could have much further reaching resonance and impact.
We might have just seen the first domino to fall in a new international alignment, in which nations seeking to protect themselves against China/Iran will find common cause to work together to protect their own individual and collective interests.
If so, the Japanese survey takers will be shown to be exactly right: little Israel, Light to the Nations, will have set the wheels of a global realignment into motion.
Mr. Altabef is the Chairman of the Board of Im Tirtzu, Israel’s largest grassroots Zionist organization, and a Board member of the Israel Independence Fund. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image credit: White House, via Flickr, public domain