The past few weeks have included some very significant events, which will define Israel’s foreign policy for years to come.
Specifically, the relations between Israel and the US have been put to test through the Geneva deal between Iran and the P5+1 world powers, while the relations between Europe and Israel have been tested via the negotiations on the Horizon 2020 agreement.
In this column, I want to analyze these two events and try and discern the linking factor that can explain what has been one of the toughest periods ever for Israel’s foreign policy, which many analysts see as a resounding failure.
The United States
The US and Israel have strong relations, which are based on deep links between the two countries that will outgrow any government.
These links existed before US President Barack Obama, and they will exist after Obama. These links survived president Jimmy Carter and prime minister Menachem Begin, and they will survive Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Obama.
Still, the events of the last few weeks teach us a powerful and important lesson. Even if there is great friendship between the people of Israel and the people of the US, at the end of the day, each country prefers its self-interest to the interest of the other country.
This is true not only when it comes to defining which goals to pursue, but also when choosing which strategy to apply. In fact, even when the two countries have identical goals, their strategies can differ. This is exactly what we have seen in the Geneva agreement.
Both countries want to prevent a nuclear Iran. This is a fact. Anyone who claims that Obama wants a nuclear Iran is not a serious commentator. However, the question is how much they are willing to risk to allow for the diplomatic process to proceed.
Israel cannot risk Iran getting nuclear capabilities – it is out of the question. The reason is simple: Iran having these capabilities would greatly damage Israel’s strategic edge in any conflict, since Tehran could always threaten to use the bomb if Jerusalem does something it does not like. Israel is also on the frontlines with the Iran, and it is a known fact that the Islamic Republic’s leaders fantasize about a day in which the Jewish state will cease to exist.
On the other hand, the US is willing to take the risk – as it is not on the frontlines. Its borders are much wider, and it is much farther away from Iran. Moreover, new technologies will enable the US to better defend itself even if Iran does get the weapon.
Again, the US’s true goal is to see Iran’s nuclear program dismantled. However, it is willing to take risks with the diplomatic process which Israel cannot take.
This difference in realities resulted in a difference in strategies. It made America agree to negotiate with Iran while Israel looked back, puzzled, not understanding how the US could lift sanctions when the sanctions were so close to finally achieving the desired results. America is willing to take a greater risk of a nuclear bomb in order to prevent war. Israel does not have that luxury.
The conclusion here is clear: It does not matter how close we are to America. It does not matter who is president of the United States. Israel cannot depend on anyone, and has to be willing and able to defend itself against any threat.
The EU sent mixed signals to Israel in the past few weeks. On the one hand, many major countries seem to be closer to Israel than they have ever been in the past. The international strategic situation has led countries such as France and Greece to start building strong ties with Israel.
On the other hand, the guidelines which the EU defined against Jews living in Judea and Samara are reminiscent of the Europe we knew during World War II. Yes, this is quite a harsh statement, but how else are we to interpret the European singling out of Israel, claiming it is an occupying force, while it ignores real occupations in Western Sahara or Northern Cyprus? How else are we to interpret den facto sanctions against Jews just because of the geographic area in which they decided to live, especially when this area is the historical homeland of their nation? How are we to interpret these two levels of relations? One clear way is to understand that the EU does not speak for Europe. It is run by bureaucrats who have their own agenda, and not by politicians who represent the people’s interests. Even as Europe and Israel develop economic ties and are becoming ever closer, the EU bureaucrats are pushing their anti-Israel agenda.
This is not a great comfort to the Jews in Judea and Samaria who are being discriminated against, as has happened in the Horizon 2020 agreement.
The Horizon 2020 agreement that has now been signed leads me to say that the only actor to blame for the current situation is Israel.
The Jewish state has a long history of marking clear red lines, promising not to cross them, and then crossing them.
Once upon a time, Israel promised never to negotiate with terrorists. Today, not only have we negotiated with arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat, but we have also (indirectly) negotiated with Hamas.
Once upon a time, Israel promised never to release terrorists with blood on their hands from its prisons. Today, not only do we release terrorists in prisoner exchange deals for a captured soldier, but we also release terrorists for the great privilege of negotiating – in talks that will lead nowhere.
And now, after so clearly stating that Israel will never sign an agreement that differentiates between Jews on one side of the Green Line and Jews on the other side, Israel has signed such an agreement. Sure, Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennet claims that he managed to remove some of the more problematic sections of the agreement.
This is really an important accomplishment.
However, the fact is that Israel is still signing a peace of paper which formalizes guidelines singling out the Jewish nation and making Israel “the Jew of the nations.”
Every time Israel crosses a red line that it itself drew so clearly, its credibility is hurt.
Then, America is not afraid to make deals with Iran, because it doesn’t believe Israel will actually attack Iran – even when Tehran crosses that red line. Then, Europe is not afraid to declare sanctions against Israel because it knows Israel won’t actually do anything against it.
With our credibility dying, our deterrence also erodes. Countries around us are not afraid to threaten us, and even to go to war against us.
This also has far-reaching consequences on other issues. Iran does not believe Israel’s threats. The Palestinians look at red lines Israel declares during the negotiation process as current positions, and still hope for a day where Israel will agree to divide Jerusalem, to the “right” of return and to every other one of their demands.
If anyone is to blame for Israel’s current failures in foreign policy, it is Israel itself.
Bringing back our red lines
The only way to get back our credibility and to start regaining our deterrence, which is so needed in order to survive in this part of the world, is to start meaning what we say once again.
As long as we keep making a joke of our own statements, the world is not going to take us seriously. And as long as the world does not take us seriously, our interests and desires will be completely ignored.
I once heard someone in the Foreign Ministry saying that he joined the ministry “in order to do peace.” That is right; his goal was not to pursue Israel’s interest in the international stage, but rather to do peace.
There is a warped understanding in Israel that diplomacy means peace-seeking or, even worse, appeasement. Avigdor Liberman cannot possibly be a good foreign minister since he does not know how to appease.
Ze’ev Elkin cannot be a good deputy minister since he has an ideology that he will not sacrifice.
It is time for Israel’s leaders to regain the respect of the world by going back to a tougher diplomatic stance. Only then will people start taking us seriously. Weak diplomacy is not good diplomacy.
Tough diplomacy, in certain situations, is exactly what the doctor ordered.