Sitting together shoulder to shoulder aboard El Al flight 971 from Tel Aviv to Abu Dhabi, named after the UAE phone code, were senior Israeli and American officials on their way to establish full diplomatic relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.
Having recognized Israel only 11 minutes after its inception, the US has been a firm friend and ally, standing by Israel during difficult days, as well as the good ones. The US has been, and still is, the main international force arguing for peace and normalization between Israel and its neighbors. Thus, the US sees the stability of the Middle East not only as an Israeli interest, but also as an American and an international one.
You need two to tango, and thus peace cannot be forced on an unwilling reluctant Arab leader. But when there is even a slim opportunity for peace and the normalization of relations, history tells that American involvement in bringing peace between Israel and the Arab world is essential and irreplaceable. The US has acted upon that realization when it had brokered the historical peace deals with Egypt, in 1979, with Jordan, in 1994, and agreements with the Palestinians. The US has done so again last month, when it pushed for a groundbreaking agreement with UAE, which possesses major contribution for Israel and the region’s security stability.
In 1962, president John F. Kennedy first defined the relations between Israel and the US as “special relations.” Indeed, it is difficult to find such close relationship between two countries, so different in size and so far apart geographically. Those relations have many aspects and originate from strategic, political, regional and historical considerations. The very basis of these “special relations,” however, originate from the existing true affection between our two peoples, only then does the unique cooperation between the two governments begin. The fundamental caring for Israel in the US crosses party lines, making it robust and unique. At the very heart of those relations is the bipartisan support Israel enjoys. Maintaining these “special relations” is a major aspect of Israeli diplomacy and of the utmost strategic and existential importance for Israel. It requires us to stand by the US, as well as to often consider American interests while formulating Israeli positions.
The US contribution for the security and well being of Israel well-known fact, and as a friend and partner and a true democratic ally in the Middle East, we share a profound and constant military and intelligence cooperation. We stand by the US and supports her efforts at international organizations, share knowhow and practices, have had a unique and successful free trade agreement for more than 35 years and close science, academic and R&D cooperation, among others.
When the Israeli delegation to the UAE made its way back to Israel, onboard El Al flight 972 (Israel’s phone code), another Israeli delegation embarked on its own journey. Initiated and funded by the Foreign Ministry, along with Fire and Rescue Services, a delegation of 10 Israeli firefighters landed in California. They teamed up with representatives of the Consulate General in San Francisco, and would stay on the ground for two weeks. For the first time, Israeli and American firefighters would stand shoulder to shoulder, fighting against the extensive fires ravaging northern California which decimated already more 5,000 sq. km. Authorities in California asked other allies for aid, as often happens when natural disasters strike. The Israeli firefighters were the first to arrive, driven by the deep connection between our peoples.
It is not the first time we had reached out to aid our great friend in time of need. In 2005, Israel sent humanitarian aid and assisted in the rescue and recovery efforts, after Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana and the southern US. Back then, I had the honor to be involved in launching an aid plane to New Orleans, led by the IDF and the Foreign and Health ministries, providing over 80 tons of basic equipment, food and drugs.
In the last few years, the Foreign Ministry had also sent teams of Israeli specialists to train American therapists on how to deal with school shootings. In addition, we work with NATAL, an Israeli organization working to provide emotional assistance to victims of violence and terror. Based on the Israeli experience and the successful visits to the US the Consulate General of Israel to the Midwest partnered with local authorities with aim to mirror NATAL’s activities in the South Side of Chicago, Wisconsin, Indiana and other urban areas affected by violence.
Our humble contribution to saving lives, property and forests in California has not gone unnoticed. California’s Gov. Gavin Newsom had expressed his appreciation for the partnership between Israel and his state. National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, having just been to Israel, also welcomed the arrived of the firefighters form US’s “important ally.”
The “special relations” with the US and its involvement in the normalization of relations between Israel and other countries in the Middle East are not to be taken for granted. As in human interactions, international relations also require constant caring and maintenance. The art of diplomacy is based on building trust between people. Today, more than ever, diplomacy cannot solely be held in international meetings at fancy halls and is measured also by our ability to stand by our ally, in its time of need.
The writer is deputy director-general & head of the Foreign Ministry’s North America division.