Israel’s surprising new international partners

Indo-Israeli trade is annually almost $5 billion. Israel, as India’s No. 2 source of weapons, sells it a billion dollars of military hardware.

Indian Army soldiers march during the Republic Day parade in New Delhi (photo credit: REUTERS)
Indian Army soldiers march during the Republic Day parade in New Delhi
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel is beset by a possible third Palestinian intifada, the growing strength of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement in Europe and the United States and the Islamic State forces near its border.
It has serious concerns about the Iranian nuclear deal, the spread of the Iranian-dominated “Shi’ite Crescent” and evolving Iranian nuclear capability to make good in coming years on a threat to exterminate Israel.
Yet, in the past two decades Israel has also made remarkable progress in weapons, water technology, high-technology, intelligence and trade. It has surged from a Third World economy in the 1950s to strong First World economy nearing $40,000 GDP/capita today. This interests many countries struggling to also move from the Third World to the First World. Additional interest in Israel reflects the ancient Indian saw that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
India, facing a hostile, nuclear- armed Pakistan, has found much to like in Israel. Last year Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon visited New Delhi. In turn, Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj of India, a country that did not even recognize Israel until 1992, just visited Israel and called the Indian-Israel relationship of the “highest importance.” She saw “much more potential” for the relationship. This also reflects the warm attitude of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who in 2014 tweeted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Hebrew Hanukka greetings.
Indo-Israeli trade is annually almost $5 billion. Israel, as India’s No. 2 source of weapons, sells it a billion dollars of military hardware.
The two countries are discussing a possible free trade zone that could reach $15 billion a year.
Vietnam, another country with an enemy it fears (China), also has developed a positive view of Israel.
Israeli-Vietnamese trade is heading toward a billion dollars a year, including the export of Israeli weapons and water technology. Work is proceeding on formal defense ties.
Last year in Washington Dore Gold, then incoming director-general of the Foreign Ministry, shared a stage and a handshake with General Anwar Eshki, a former top Saudi adviser. Both talked of Saudi-Israeli peace and named Iran as the major threat to peace in the Middle East.
Abu Dhabi, also worried about Iran, is allowing the Israelis to open an office at the International Renewable Energy Agency.
Egypt, which withdrew its ambassador in 2012, is sending a new ambassador to Israel next month.
Egypt and Israel, both fearing Iran, have been cooperating on fighting Islamic State (IS) in the Sinai. Israel has allowed Egyptian forces to enter areas forbidden by the Camp David Accords. As for Jordan, whose leaders meet frequently with Israeli leaders, King Abdullah II and his cabinet were doubtlessly relieved when Israel pledged to protect Jordan’s vulnerable border against any IS encroachment.
Once-friendly Turkey has since the Mavi Marmari incident and the Islamist turn of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan become hostile toward Israel and threatened to send a Turkish fleet off the coast of Israel.
The historic enemies of Turkey – Bulgaria and Romania – have moved toward Israel. Romania finds Israel, with its 500,000 Romanian Jews, congenial business ties, El Al flights and military equipment, very friendly.
In 2014 the Romanian president made his second trip to Israel.
Bulgaria, which saved 48,000 Jews from the Nazis in World War II, is remembered fondly in Israel. The Bulgarian president Zhelyu Zhelev visited Israel over 20 years ago.
Today, Bulgaria talks of joint military exercises and a three-way gas summit.
The common hostility toward Turkey has reached even the Mediterranean.
Greece, historically fearful of Turkey, has built such good relations with Israel since 1991 that Defense Minister Ya’alon has called Greece “an important ally.” The Greek and Israeli defense and prime ministers have exchanged visits. Fully 350,000 Israelis visit Greece every year. The two states conduct joint air and naval exercises, intelligence sharing and trade. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras visited Israel this month and Prime Minister Netanyahuhas called relations with Greece “a growing and enduring partnership.”
Netanyahu will visit Greek Cyprus this year to discuss a three-way gas deal.
Israel faces emerging dangers around its borders and to its existence.
Yet, formerly hostile countries in Asia, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Mediterranean have developed close ties to a strong Israel.
Who could have imagined this? Life is indeed stranger than fiction.
The author is a professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver in Colorado.