The media narrative is that Israel is increasingly isolated — on the verge of becoming a pariah. Whether there’s another university campus calling for a boycott or a United Nations condemnation, the narrative gets perpetuated.
However, there’s another story that’s not getting told: Israel is experiencing a diplomatic renaissance. Its relations with its Arab neighbours are better than they have ever been. Even the leader of the Lebanese terrorist group, Hezbollah, noticed recently that “…these days Israel is [no longer] officially considered the Arab League’s enemy.”
A month ago, Saudi General Anwar Eshki, who leads a think tank in Saudi Arabia but was formerly a top advisor to the Saudi government, led a delegation from Saudi Arabia to Jerusalem to discuss a plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace with senior Israeli officials.
This highly unusual trip, which likely could not have happened without high-level Saudi approval, has led prominent Middle East analyst Aaron David Miller to observe that “The Saudis appear to be more worried about Iran and the rise of ISIS than about being seen with the Israelis.” This is perhaps unsurprising in light of the Saudi Foreign Minister’s recent comment that, “Iran is on a rampage. It wants to reestablish the Persian Empire….”
Israel, which is also threatened by Iran’s nuclear and hegemonic ambitions, has emerged as an important ally to the Gulf states. Consequently, Israel established its first diplomatic office in the capital of the United Arab Emirates, and the Saudis have even launched a domestic media campaign to combat anti-Semitism, potentially in order to prepare its people for better relations with Israel.
However, Israel’s diplomatic advances have not just been limited to the Gulf. Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry publicly visited Jerusalem in July – the first public visit by an Egyptian Foreign Minister to Israel since 2007 – to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Instead of continuing to use the Palestinian conflict to isolate Israel, both Egypt and Saudi Arabia are using the conflict “as a basis to engage,” according to Aaron David Miller. Moreover, Egypt has actively opposed Hamas, the Palestinian terror group dedicated to the destruction of Israel, by flooding Hamas’ smuggling tunnels between Gaza and the Sinai in Egypt.
According to a Bloomberg News report, Israel and Egypt have reached “unprecedented” levels of security cooperation. The report claimed that Egypt has even allowed Israel to launch drone strikes on militants in the Sinai. Israel has also given Egypt permission to expand its troop presence in the Sinai; both measures would previously have been unthinkable.
Finally, Israel reached an agreement with Turkey to exchange ambassadors. The likely basis for cooperation is that both Israel and Turkey fear Iranian domination of Syria and Iraq. Prime Minister Netanyahu has also speculated that relations with Turkey, which has long sought to reduce its energy dependence on Russia, may present big economic opportunities for Israel, which recently discovered large natural gas deposits. As Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan summarized the situation in January, “Israel needs a country like Turkey in this region. We, too, should admit that we need a country like Israel.”
This is a radical change for a man who called Israel a “terror state” on CNN in 2014.
Israel is far from isolated. In addition to being a crucial American ally, Israel is also engaging other global powers. Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin have met four times in the last year, as Russia begins to play a larger role in the Middle East. India, the main customer for Israeli arms, has begun to abstain on several anti-Israel resolutions at the UN, reversing a longstanding policy of voting against Israel.
Israel and India will also engage in their first ever joint military exercise this month. Netanyahu was also greeted warmly on a four-day trip to East Africa in July, whereupon the Kenyan Prime Minister called Israel a “critical partner, friend and ally.” Noting that Israel now has better relations with its Arab neighbours than ever before, he said, “Why should we on the African continent say we know better than those in the region?”
While the media continues to repeat the narrative of an isolated Israel every time an anti-Israel detractor proposes a boycott, the facts on the ground suggest the exact opposite. The important story that the media is missing is that for the first time in decades, Israel’s neighbours have been able to move past historical animosities to recognize their shared interests with the Jewish State.
Foreign policy scholars used to debate whether supporting Israel, which would inevitably anger Arab nations, was worth it. Today, those same Arab nations need Israel — and their leaders know it.
Elliot Kaufman is a Research Analyst at HonestReporting Canada, which ensures fair and accurate Canadian media coverage of Israel.