Israel was treated and acted like a banana republic for years - opinion

Upon the maritime border deal's announcement, the left-leaning news outlets ran simultaneous stories on the historic agreement.

 THEN-US vice president Joe Biden prepares to sign the guest book before his meeting with then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem in 2010 (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
THEN-US vice president Joe Biden prepares to sign the guest book before his meeting with then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem in 2010
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)

Israel acted like a banana republic over the past year and a half and was treated as such. The maritime deal with Lebanon (read Hezbollah) that requires Israel to relinquish rights to a gas bonanza zone within its sovereign territorial waters is a clear example.

There are arguments for and against the merits of the agreement but one cannot ignore the fact that the main impetus for the Administration’s pressure revolved around the global energy crisis. For his part, Yair Lapid, the outgoing caretaker Prime Minister, exhibited less-than-responsible behavior by kowtowing to United States pressure and hurriedly signing the deal days before an imminent election.

Upon the deal’s announcement, the left-leaning Washington Post, The New York Times, Al Jazeera, BBC, CNBC, France24 and Haaretz ran simultaneous stories on the historic agreement.

In contrast, David Friedman, former US ambassador to Israel, who helped broker the Abraham Accords between Israel, Bahrain, the UAE, Morocco and Sudan in 2020 was much more reserved. “We spent years trying to broker a deal between Israel and Lebanon on the disputed maritime gas fields. We got very close with proposed splits of 55-60% for Lebanon and 45-40% for Israel. No one then imagined 100% to Lebanon and 0% to Israel. Would love to understand how we got here,” he tweeted.

Senator Ted Cruz was more direct, saying that he was “deeply troubled that a Biden official pressured our Israeli allies to hand over their territory to the Iran-controlled terrorist group Hezbollah.”

  London-based Energean’s drill ship begins drilling at the Karish natural gas field offshore Israel in the east Mediterranean May 9, 2022. (credit: REUTERS) London-based Energean’s drill ship begins drilling at the Karish natural gas field offshore Israel in the east Mediterranean May 9, 2022. (credit: REUTERS)

While the reactions around the world have been mixed, the applause in Tehran was deafening. The state-run media hailed the agreement as a historic victory for Lebanon and Hezbollah and a bitter defeat for Israel. The Al-Alam Arabic channel, a key propaganda tool used by the Iranian regime to convey messages to Arab public opinion, described the deal as a bitter defeat to Israel and a great victory for the resistance (Hezbollah), which made the deal possible by threatening Israel with drones targeting its Karish gas field.

“We spent years trying to broker a deal between Israel and Lebanon on the disputed maritime gas fields. We got very close with proposed splits of 55-60% for Lebanon and 45-40% for Israel. No one then imagined 100% to Lebanon and 0% to Israel. Would love to understand how we got here,"

David Friedman tweeted

A headline from Kayhan, a paper affiliated with the leader of Iran, read “Hezbollah Imposes ‘Equation of Power’ in Dispute; Zionists Concede to ‘Historic Surrender.’”

The truth is that there is nothing historic about the deal – at least not in the positive sense of the word. It was in the works for nearly a decade but never came to fruition because Benjamin Netanyahu staunchly stood guard and refused to compromise Israel’s vital security, territorial and energy interests. The deal is, at best, a lopsided agreement on the demarcation of disputed maritime boundaries for ostensible short-term political gain for Lapid and Joe Biden. It did not help the former.

Could this deal have been possible for Netanyahu's government?

IRONICALLY, THIS historic deal would not have been possible if Netanyahu’s government did not insist on extracting gas from the seabed in 2013, providing Israel with a flow of billions of dollars for decades to come. At the time, Yair Lapid and his current energy minister vehemently opposed it.

What is not in doubt is that an internationally binding agreement that calls for Israel to relinquish territorial and economic assets just days before a national election without adequate disclosure, public debate or parliamentary approval is not a kosher occurrence in a democracy that respects the rule of law and due process. It belongs in banana republics.

Biden understandably needed to cater to American interests and to his constituency, particularly before the midterm elections. Yet only a president who disrespects the only democracy in the Middle East would instruct the US ambassador there to speak out against the head of the opposition in Israel, who opposed such disadvantageous terms when he was prime minister and expressed his concerns about the impending deal. By doing so, the US was meddling in Israel’s election.

It was not the first time. Bill Clinton campaigned for Peres in 1996, and Barak Obama, along with the V-15 organization he backed, did everything in his power to bring down Netanyahu in 2015. In both cases, these dubious efforts boomeranged. And after the latest election results, which catapulted Netanyahu back in what is arguably the biggest political comeback in Israel’s history, the American meddling in the domestic politics of a close ally during an election campaign has backfired once again.

In his recently published autobiography, Netanyahu describes Biden as a friend of his and of Israel for over forty years. Even during the greatest disagreements between the two nations, Netanyahu put policy over party politics and personal relations with a sitting US President.

Close allies, such as the US and Israel, can and do disagree at times but such moments of discord should not lead one side to belittle or mislead the other, as Obama did when he secretly negotiated with Iran while falsely reassuring Netanyahu to the contrary.

Unlike the outgoing government, which was headed by Bennett and Lapid whose parties received six and 17 Knesset seats respectively, the anticipated incoming Netanyahu government enjoys a solid majority, including 32 seats for Likud, and thus has a much stronger mandate to govern and implement its policies.

Israelis are proud and politically practical. They do not appreciate their national sovereignty being undermined or their government being treated like a banana republic. With Netanyahu back at the helm, this disrespectful conduct will likely be replaced with mutual respect and a stronger alliance between the two nations.

The writer is a geopolitical analyst at Acumen Risk Ltd.