7 steps for the new Israeli government to take in the international arena

Here are seven key steps that the new government should take in order to meet these challenges and take advantage of these opportunities.

Prime Minister Benjamn Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the swearing in of the new government (photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamn Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the swearing in of the new government
(photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
The new Israeli government and foreign minister will face, from day one, numerous significant challenges in the international arena.
Some of these have long been centerpieces of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the government’s diplomatic-security efforts, such as maintaining and expanding sanctions on Iran, preventing the entrenchment of Iran and Iranian militias in Syria, and countering Hezbollah’s precision-guided missile program.
While strategies and tactics will have to be adapted to the new COVID-19 reality, this largely represents a continuation of ongoing efforts.
However, the shifting international landscape will also present new or evolving challenges and opportunities. Here are seven key steps that the new government should take in order to meet these challenges and take advantage of these opportunities.
1. If and when Israel moves forward with applying sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, it will face a wave of international pressure. Starting now, the government must make a tremendous effort to explain its steps and logic to all relevant stakeholders, including friendly European governments, the mainstream of the US Democratic Party, and influential Jewish communities. This is in addition to closely coordinating its steps with the US administration.
2. Prepare, on the diplomatic and communications level, for a security deterioration in the West Bank and Gaza. In the event of the application of sovereignty or the departure of Abu Mazen (Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas) from the political stage (and the resulting internal Palestinian power struggle), Israel may be faced with a deteriorating security situation in the PA and Gaza. In addition to security preparations, Israel must make greater investment in the PR “battle between the battles.”
The outcome of the PR battle during periods of high-intensity conflict is largely determined by the day-to-day investment in such PR during periods of relative calm. Unfortunately, as one senior foreign media correspondent remarked to me this week, Israel’s current foreign media outreach leaves much to be desired. Hopefully the establishment of a government will allow several key positions that have been vacant to be filled.
3. Deepen alliances and create new frameworks for cooperation in Europe. While Brussels and some European capitals are threatening sanctions in the case of Israeli steps to apply sovereignty, numerous European nations are deeply interested in increasing cooperation with Israel in fields such as cyber, homeland security, energy and public health. There are opportunities to create new avenues and frameworks for cooperation that can serve as a counterweight to pressure from the European Union bureaucracy.
4. Appoint a high-level coordinator for the fight against antisemitism. Already rising levels of antisemitism can be expected to spike in the event of global economic recession and disruption. Israel needs a dedicated senior official to advance key policies (such as the adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism by governments and civil society bodies), to oversee interagency efforts, and to serve as the main point of contact for the coordinators appointed by the EU, German, UK, France, US and other countries.
5. Continue to optimize the fight against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and delegitimization. Over the last five years, Israel and the pro-Israel network have achieved numerous successes in the fight against BDS, and have exposed BDS connections to terrorism and antisemitism. Nevertheless, the delegitimization network is adapting and adopting new strategies. The pro-Israel network must continue to invest in sophisticated and synergistic efforts against BDS, in order to ensure that it does not develop into a greater strategic challenge, while learning and applying lessons from the last several years. The Israeli government body responsible for leading the fight must be one that is both interested and capable of convening the counter-BDS network, and carrying out a broad range of activities itself.
6. The Democratic Party: While US President Donald Trump’s administration has shown unprecedented support and friendship for Israel, election polls in the US show that there is at least a possibility of a Democratic victory in the upcoming presidential elections. Such a victory would lead to a change in the identity of policy-makers and influencers throughout the US government. Maintaining bipartisan support for Israel in the US must not be merely a slogan – it must be a well-formulated and executed plan of action.
7. Reform Israel’s national foreign relations system: The plethora of government bodies dealing with international relations is not a unique Israeli feature but, rather, a result of changes in international relations, communications and travel that are affecting all countries. Nevertheless, the diverse bodies that make up this system will need to act in a coordinated manner in order to advance the government’s foreign policy goals.
The Foreign Ministry should be given greater resources to carry out its defined roles, but this increase in budget must be accompanied by wide-ranging reforms to correct decades of mismanagement and outdated practices. Such reforms will require leadership on the part of the foreign minister and head of the National Security Council.
Netanyahu will doubtless continue to play the leading role in the most important diplomatic efforts. Israel has already gained a talented and extremely hardworking representative to the United Nations (and come November, to the US), with the appointment of Gilad Erdan. One must hope that all of the other relevant ministerial and ambassadorial appointments in the new government will be similarly successful.
The writer is a former chief of staff and international affairs adviser to Israel’s strategic affairs minister, and a fellow at the Kohelet Policy Forum. Follow him @fredman_a.