If Bhutan were a child, it would be the reclusive kid in class - analysis

Were Bhutan a kid in high school, it would be that small, reclusive, rather odd kid with the crew-cut in class that nobody knows too much about.

Bhutan Bhuddist shrine (photo credit: AP)
Bhutan Bhuddist shrine
(photo credit: AP)
Were Bhutan a kid in high school, it would be that small, reclusive, rather odd kid with the crew-cut in class that nobody knows too much about; that kid who never invites anyone home or seems to have many friends except for one big kid – India --who sits in the desk behind him.
So why would anyone court this kid’s friendship? Moreover, why would anyone make a big deal about becoming friends with him?
Which is exactly what many in Israel were asking themselves Saturday night when it was announced that Bhutan and Israel established formal diplomatic ties.
Coming just two nights after Morocco and Israel established diplomatic ties, and just a few weeks after ties were established with Sudan, Bahrain and – most importantly – the United Arab Emirates, the establishment of ties with this sparsely populated (780,000 people) Himalayan kingdom sandwiched between India and China seemed anti-climatic.
Okay, the importance of the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco to Israel is understood; the importance of Sudan can be explained. But Bhutan? Who cares? Why does it matter?
It matters to Israel for two main reasons: It enjoys a very close “special relationship” with India, and it is a UN member state whose vote carries as much weight in international forums as that of Russia, France or Algeria.
According to one source in Jerusalem, while Bhutan does not have much to offer Israel – even with its breathtaking scenery it is not interested in being flooded with Israeli tourists – it is very important to India as it sits on the Himalayan border with China, a long border that is frequently a flash-point between the two regional super-powers.
With the Chinese-Indian border often tense, it is important – from India’s point of view – to strengthen Bhutan, and India views Israel as one of the actors, through its ties with the US and its security technology, that is able to help do that. While Israel has been working on bilateral ties with Bhutan for years, one of the reasons why formalizing ties is good for Israel is because it is important for India, and Indian prime minister Narendra Modi has turned his country into a close friend of Israel.
India, for its part, has not reacted to the latest diplomatic development.
And the second, more important reason that these ties matter is because a nation’s stature in the international arena is derived to a certain degree by the extent of its relations with countries around the globe.
This is especially important for a country like Israel which is still engaged – 72 years after independence – in a battle for legitimacy, with voices cropping up every once in a while that even call for Israel’s expulsion from the United Nations. In this battle, the more countries that recognize Israel’s legitimacy – even if they are small countries way up in the Himalayas – the better.
Even though Israel’s population has exploded over the last seven decades – as has its economic, military and diplomatic power – it still remains, at least physically, a small country in a very challenging neighborhood.
In diplomacy, you never know which relationship that you cultivate may help you out in a pinch. As a result, states are keen on cultivating relationships with as many different actors as possible since no state ever knows from where  salvation may come.
In 2012 Bhutan lost an effort to join the UN Security Council to South Korea. But it may try again in the future. And in the Security Council, unexpected countries may come to be of great help when needed most.
A good example of this was in 2014 when a Security Council resolution vote on setting a deadline for the establishment of a Palestinian state failed because Rwanda and Nigeria abstained, denying the Palestinians the nine votes necessary for the measure to pass. Rwanda was anything but a power at the time, but Israel’s cultivation of ties with that country paid significant dividends, and continues to do so today.
Going back to that imaginary high school, if you are not the biggest, strongest, wealthiest or most popular kid  on the schoolyard – in fact, if you have a lot of enemies who want to beat you up but you keep them at bay because you are scrappy, energetic and street-wise – you will look for friends and allies wherever you can find them, even from that shy, skinny kid way over there in the corner: who knows exactly when and how he can help?