Israel's peripheral strategy

Uncertainty in Middle East motivates Israel to strengthen ties in Africa, Balkan states, India.

Netanyahu, India FM SM Krishna (photo credit: Reuters)
Netanyahu, India FM SM Krishna
(photo credit: Reuters)
The Jewish State will continue to secure its interests by aligning with nations outside the greater Middle East.
Following the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords, Israel managed to deescalate its decades long conflict with the Arab world with an earnest effort to forge a peace process with the Palestinians. Over the last decade, however, the peace talks suffered setbacks, leading to an escalation in violence. The PLO and other Palestinian factions, frustrated by the negotiations, engaged in a militant campaign, which increased Israel’s vulnerability to heightened security threats. This escalation hampered the Jewish state's diplomatic ties, especially with its one time regional ally, Turkey.
There is little certainty anywhere in the Middle East. Despite escalating sanctions and countless diplomatic attempts, Iran continues unabated in the development of its nuclear program. In addition, the recent unrest in several Arab nations threatens the regional balance that Israel has come to depend on. Israel has responded by returning to and employing an old foreign relation policy in a new way. The country appears to be restoring its historic peripheral policy by attempting to enhance its ties with non-Western political players.
Throughout its first decade of existence, Israel faced diplomatic and economic isolation at the hands of the Arab League and the former Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser. Israel responded with a doctrine that aimed at securing alliances with the non-Arab nations that surround the Arab Middle East. Israel enjoyed success with this policy, and by 1959, managed to establish strong ties with Iran, Turkey, and Ethiopia.  These relations persisted until Iran's Islamic Revolution in 1979, when the downfall of the Shah and the rise of the Ayatollah caused the strong ties between the two countries to quickly vanish.
More recently though, Israel has seen its once solid and strong alliance with Turkey waiver. This became evident in 2008-2009 when an Israeli offensive into the Gaza Strip drew criticism from Turkey. Then the situation exacerbated when nine Turkish nationals were killed in a confrontation with the Israeli military in an attempt to breach Israel's maritime blockade on the Strip in 2010.
Today, the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians has reached a stalemate, one that shows no signs of breaking amidst a divided Palestinian leadership. There are new indications that Israel is changing its focus in order to cope with this new status quo. The old but new strategy for Israel is to solidify bonds with non-Muslim and non-Arab countries, based on their common struggle against Islamic extremism and potential for shared economic benefits. Israel's interests will thus be served by committing to alliances that can substitute for the weakening strategic alliance once held with Turkey.
As a result, Israel has set its sights on Balkan states. Since 2010, Israel and Greece have experienced rapprochement in the wake of declining Israeli-Turkish ties and Greece's economic doldrums. Most recently, Israel and Cyprus have capitalized on their blooming relations with enhanced economic and security cooperation following the recently discovered natural gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean. Meanwhile, Israel continues to maintain productive ties with Romania and other Balkan countries, as seen in recent joint military aerial drills.
Israel is expanding further still by forging relationships inside of Africa. Since 2011, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and other high-ranking Israeli officials have met with their counterparts from predominately Christian African nations, including Angola, Burundi, Kenya, Nigeria, South Sudan, and Uganda, amongst others. While these African nations can benefit greatly from Israeli knowledge in the fields of security, infrastructure development, agriculture, and water utilization, Israel is also likely attempting to hinder Iran's recent economic interest in Africa by establishing a presence and strong diplomatic ties.
As tensions have soared between Israel and Iran in the last few months, another stage of Israel's strategy has surfaced – strengthening ties with Georgia and Azerbaijan. According to several reports, Israel is operating military and intelligence gathering stations in both countries, which are in close vicinity to Iran. Such stations may  assist in alleged clandestine operations aimed at delaying the development of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.
Israel will also likely continue with its efforts to enhance ties with the world's most populated democracy, India. Earlier this year, India's Foreign Minister S M Krishna arrived in Israel for the first time in a decade, in order to boost bilateral affairs. The countries already enjoy strong relations, and India's rapidly growing economy and ongoing conflict with Pakistani Islamic militant organizations creates a natural environment for a security alliance to emerge.
On February 13, one month after the historic visit, an attack on an Israeli diplomat took place in India's capital, New Delhi. Although all signs point to Iran's involvement, Indian authorities did not reveal their findings until March 16. Israel's silence during this time should be viewed as proof that the Jewish State is willing to make sacrifices to secure India's friendship. It is yet another healthy indication of the newfound importance Israel is placing on the peripheral strategy amid the uncertainty of its immediate surroundings.
The writer is an intelligence analyst at Max-Security Solutions, specializing in Israeli foreign affairs.