Fundamentally Freund: Periphery doctrine's rebirth
Liberman’s momentous foreign policy achievement.
Liberman greets visiting US Sec. of State Clinton Photo: REUTERS
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman faces a daunting and largely thankless task.
Overseeing the diplomatic relations of the one and only Jewish state, which is
frequently the target of unfair criticism abroad, would test the greatest of
statesmen even in the best of times.
Between the UN and its constituent
bodies, the European Union and the Muslim world, there is enough anti-Israel
bias and opprobrium out there to keep him fully occupied without leaving a great
deal of time for much else.
And yet, Liberman has done anything but kick
back and relax. In what is perhaps one of the most important as well as
least-noticed shifts in Israeli foreign policy in recent memory, our foreign
minister has piloted a critical new strategy that promises to bear great
Simply put, Liberman has revived Israel’s “periphery
doctrine” of the 1950s, adjusting it to modern strategic realities. It is his
greatest contribution thus far as foreign minister to Israel’s well-being, and
it warrants far more attention than it has garnered to date.
periphery doctrine dates back to the bad old days of the 1950s, when Israel was
encircled by hostile Arab nations. At the time, David Ben-Gurion developed a
strategy based on diplomatic outreach to countries on the region’s periphery,
such as Iran, Turkey and Ethiopia, in the hopes of cultivating their friendship
and support as a counterbalance to our unfriendly neighbors.
while it lasted, helped to ease Israel’s isolation and opened new avenues for
cooperation in a variety of fields, from trade to intelligence-sharing. It was a
classic balance-of-power move, one that provided the young state with a host of
benefits, both tangible and otherwise.
After the 1979 Islamic revolution
in Tehran, which overthrew the Shah and brought the ayatollahs to power, the
periphery doctrine began to fade from view, for the simple reason that Iran, a
pillar of the strategy, turned hostile to Israel.
This process was
accelerated by the signing of peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, for all of a
sudden it seemed that Israel could focus its efforts on making peace with its
neighbors, rather than scan the horizon to seek out potential new
And once relations with Turkey took a turn for the worse after
Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Islamist colleagues came to power, the periphery
doctrine seemed destined to be consigned to the history books and to graduate
But then along came Liberman with a novel and
shrewdly inspired approach. Realizing that the bulk of Israel’s diplomatic
attention and resources are directed towards the alliance with the United
States, Liberman sought to broaden the base of Israel’s support elsewhere in the
world by launching a concerted effort to develop closer ties with other nations,
particularly African, South American and Eastern European countries.
other words, he has resurrected the periphery doctrine but with a global twist,
pivoting Israel’s diplomatic attention to parts of the world that had previously
been all but ignored.
Thus, for example, in the latter part of 2009,
Liberman visited five African countries, including Kenya and
Leveraging Israel’s formidable knowledge and expertise in fields
such as agriculture and health, he offered to assist his hosts with
biotechnology, advanced water-purification techniques, and in the battle against
As a result of his visit, which marked the first time an Israeli
foreign minister had visited some of these countries in nearly 40 years, a
series of important diplomatic agreements and economic deals were
Liberman also traveled to South America, strengthening ties with
Brazil, Argentina, Peru and Colombia, nations that had not previously received
the attention they deserved. On the other side of the globe, he worked
assiduously to build bridges in Asia and deepened relations with rising powers
such as China and India.
And he placed a renewed emphasis on the Balkans
and southern Mediterranean region, promoting closer cooperation with Greece and
Cyprus to offset the deterioration in relations with Turkey. This has had major
benefits such as cooperation on energy resources and also helped to prevent the
most recent attempt by pro- Palestinian anarchists to send a flotilla to
In addition, he expanded the number of countries with which Israel
holds high-level diplomatic consultations, and despite cuts in Israel’s national
budget, he fought successfully to open nearly a dozen new consulates and
embassies abroad. These include consulates in Sao Paulo and St. Petersburg, as
well as ones in Bangalore, India, and Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo,
that will open shortly.
These initiatives have strengthened Israel’s
diplomatic standing in the world and enabled it to reach out to parts of the
planet that are increasingly important from a political and economic
And they undoubtedly contributed to the success of Israel’s
efforts last year to stave off the unilateral Palestinian attempt to win
official recognition of an independent state.
Obviously, Israel remains
in a very difficult position, facing an existential threat from a
nuclear-addicted Iran amid the mounting instability caused by the Arab Spring
Say what you will about Liberman and his politics, but in
laying the groundwork for a far more sophisticated and global approach to
Israeli foreign policy, he has greatly enhanced the Jewish state’s status
throughout the world. This is a genuine achievement, one that will bring great
benefits to Israel for many years to come.