Israel is facing what may be its most politically tumultuous period in years. What can we expect from Benjamin Netanyahu following the tornado of international events that threaten the status quo of his country?
Netanyahu’s work stress seems to be never-ending these days. Among other things, his country has faced a string of terrorist attacks, the international community seems to be ignoring his calls to pull the plug on the Iran nuclear deal, and the American ambassador has lambasted his settlements policies. What can we expect from “Bibi” in the following weeks and months? Let’s explore:
Israel currently has a lot on its plate. President Reuven “Ruvi” Rivlin recently cautioned that:
“Daesh is already here and influencing Israeli Arabs … a number of Bedouin villages in the Negev and Arab towns in the North have been heavily influenced by extremists. Even places known to be primarily secular have been impacted by religious extremism.”
His comments follow a string of terrorist attacks in the West Bank and Tel Aviv that has raised a lot of questions regarding the safety of the Israeli citizens.
Although we have not heard much regarding the nature of the attack (i.e. whether these were lone wolf or internationally planned attacks), either way we should be expecting a growing police presence as the government tries to quell any potential public anxiety. However, this may also mean greater hostility in the occupied regions as IDF forces reinforce check points and establish greater scrutiny of the Palestinian people.
A nuclear Iran
The nuclear deal with Iran was recently formally put into action; this prompted another wave of protest from the Israeli establishment. Israel accuses Iran of being one of the largest state sponsors of terrorism in the region and relies on the US to provide the soft – and at times hard – power to make its voice heard.
But lately America is not playing ball. In fact, on January 18th US ambassador to Israel Daniel B. Shapiro and UN Sectary General Ban Ki-moon provided damming accounts of the country’s settlement policies in the West Bank which evidently hit many nerves with Netanyahu.
This lack of attention by the international community is likely to anger Netanyahu which means probably drawing for the US’s military aid budget to increase its defences. Diplomatically we can probably expect harsh rhetoric from Netanyahu urging the international community to rethink its strategy with Iran.
All in all, we must take their reaction to the situation in Iran with a pinch of salt. Do they have a right to be apprehensive about the nuclear deal? Yes. Should they prepare for a potential military encounter with Iran? No.
Any scenario that involves military engagement between Israel and Iran is very unlikely to occur; both sides will have too much to lose and very little if nothing to gain. But without the unfailing support by the US that the country is used to, Israel will be forced to take matters into its own hands if they feel they need to.
China’s two cents
In an unexpected change of events, China’s premier Xi Jinping has added his voice to the call of a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine. This follows his first Middle Eastern tour where he visited Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Iran to discuss bilateral trade partnerships.
Specifically, Xi called for establishing a Palestinian state within the pre-1976 war borders with East Jerusalem as its capital, and dedicated a fund of 50 million Yuan ($7.6 million) in aid for the Palestinians. This comes as a strategic move on the side of China in order to have more influence in the Middle East.
For the Egyptians, Saudis, and especially the Iranians who have the capability now to really exercise their internationalism, doing business with the Chinese may be their answer to their much-needed economic diversification.
However, for the Israelis this comes as a serious shaking of the status quo. This is an unprecedented and unusual move, and can be considered hypocritical for such a nation like China who have their own territorial disputes (such as the Tibet question) to deal with.
The big ally
Israel’s next move will be very interesting to watch. Could we be seeing a more flexible Israel in terms of land and human rights protection of the Palestinians? Or is this announcement likely to rally a sense of nationalism resulting in staunch opposition and a new revival in Israeli lobbying groups in the US, including the Christian United for Israel group, American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organisations?
If history has taught us anything it is that allies help you win battles, and for Israel it can use all the allies it can get. However, Americans are waking up to the fact that the almost unquestionable support for Israel since its genesis in 1948, despite its continued human rights abuses of the Palestinians, is actually doing more harm than good for their international reputation.
2016 may become a defining moment in US-Israeli relations as Americans elect who they want to lead them later this year. There is a growing awareness of international issues within the US as the threat of Daesh grows. Their alliance with Israel through thick and thin may need to be questioned, especially if holding such an alliance threatens the safety of the American people.
It will be interesting how the region will react, and what relationships are formed with American’s new commander-in-chief. Nobody said international relations is easy, and it seems like Bibi knows this more than most, especially now.