Israel, United Kingdom building 'new strategic relationship'

The Brexit referendum and ensuing uncertainty has seemingly not dampened the trading spirit, with Israel becoming the first country to sign a post-Brexit continuity trade agreement with the UK.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson welcomes Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside Downing Street in London, Britain September 5, 2019. (photo credit: SIMON DAWSON/ REUTERS)
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson welcomes Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside Downing Street in London, Britain September 5, 2019.
(photo credit: SIMON DAWSON/ REUTERS)
Israel and the United Kingdom are building a "new strategic relationship" driven by soaring bilateral trade and deepening ties in various sectors, according to a new report.
The increasing strength of the relationship, the report by the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM) states, is symbolized by soaring bilateral trade between the two countries. Trade increased by 72% from $6.1 billion in 2012 to $10.5b. in 2018, and the UK is now Israel's third largest export market, surpassed only by the United States and China.
The Brexit referendum and ensuing uncertainty has seemingly not dampened the trading spirit, with Israel becoming the first country to sign a post-Brexit continuity trade agreement with the UK.
Since the June 2016 vote, 65 Israeli companies have established or increased their activity in the UK – creating 1,500 jobs. Today, more than 500 Israeli firms have a physical presence there. During the same period, Israeli investors have injected more than $500 million into the UK.
Highlighting the UK's desire to access Israel's innovation ecosystem, the establishment of the UK Israel Tech Hub in 2011 at the British Embassy in Tel Aviv was the first special tech-focused mission of its kind. By 2018, the hub had generated 175 partnerships worth £85m. ($110m.), estimated to have contributed £800m. ($1.04b.) to the UK economy.
Commercial cooperation in cybersecurity has grown, too, with an increasing number of UK banks and finance companies working with Israeli cybersecurity teams to protect their operations.
"In just a few years, Britain-Israel relations have been transformed," said BICOM CEO James Sorene. "Bilateral trade is booming with an increase of 72% in six years. But beneath the stats, there is evidence of extensive collaboration in cybersecurity, fintech and healthcare."
In 2018, the UK imported Israeli pharmaceutical products valued at over $2.8b., largely from drugmaker Teva.

BEYOND EXPANDING commercial ties, Israel is estimated to be Britain's third largest arms supplier. Recent acquisitions have focused on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), anti-tank guided missiles, fighter jet-targeting systems and flight training systems. Demonstrating shared defense interests, the countries have increasingly cooperated on matters of security, intelligence, training and weapons development.
In addition, government-to-government cooperation in cybersecurity has remained strong. The report cites one senior UK official describing cybersecurity collaboration as a "first-order partnership."
"I have seen the vast potential for UK-Israeli collaborations," said UK Ambassador to Israel, Neil Wigan. "Our two countries complement each other’s strengths. There is potential to do even more, including after Brexit. Trade is already over $10b., and the UK is Israel’s biggest trade partner in Europe."
The arrival of Charles, Prince of Wales, in Israel later this week "highlights the depth of our connection," said Wigan. Charles will participate in the Fifth World Holocaust Forum at Yad Vashem on Thursday, marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. In June 2018, Prince William also visited Israel – the first official visit by a Royal family member.
"His Royal Highness’ visit takes place as we prepare to celebrate 70 years of full formal Israel-UK diplomatic relations, and underlines the exceptional progress we have made," said Israeli Ambassador to the UK Mark Regev. "We are partners whose shared prosperity and security is built on our common values of democracy, liberty and the rule of law – and the visit of His Royal Highness is but the latest cause for us to celebrate all we have achieved together."
While the UK government has led a more supportive foreign policy approach toward Israel than other European Union member states, the BICOM report believes the large Conservative victory in last month's general election and Britain's departure from the EU could "serve to deepen and enhance the Britain-Israel security partnership."
In relation to Iran, the report cites four overlapping areas of interest for Brits and Israelis alike. These are preventing Iran from achieving nuclear capability; curbing its advanced missile program; countering Iranian proxies in the wider Middle East; and tackling the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) international network of terrorist organizations.
Areas of divergence are noted both with regard to the UK's resolve to uphold the 2015 JCPOA nuclear agreement and its commitment to supporting a two-state solution, opposing Israeli government voices advocating for the application of sovereignty to West Bank settlements and the Jordan Valley.
Among members of the public, BICOM notes that attitudes in the UK toward Israel have remained "remarkably stable" since 2011. Warmth toward Israel has stabilized at around 18-21% and warmth toward the Palestinians has remained at 18-23% over the past decade.
A total of 46% of respondents in a recent poll carried out by BICOM and Populus said that they "don't boycott goods or produce from Israel" and find it "difficult to understand why others would single out Israel to boycott, given everything else that’s going on in the world." Some 14% of respondents disagreed.
According to plans announced in the Queen's Speech on December 19, Prime Minister Boris Johnson's new government intends to introduce new laws making it illegal for public bodies to conduct their own foreign policy, including boycotts of Israel.