Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced last Monday that some Arab countries consider Israel "an indispensable ally" in the fight against Iran and Daesh. During a visit to Rio de Janeiro, he told Globo television that, "Evaluation has caused a revolution in relations with the Arab world."
The alleged Arab-Israeli normalisation and openness that Netanyahu is gloating about reflect his opportunistic exploitation of links with Arab countries, specifically the Gulf States. His comment was made in the context of his attempts to convince South and Latin American countries to move their embassies to Jerusalem. The Israeli leader's tour included meetings with officials from Honduras and Brazil to achieve his colonialist goals.
Netanyahu's investment in the clamour of the Arab countries' wishes to normalise relations with Israel is becoming clearer when considering the regional situation. The return on normalisation is almost non-existent, especially for the Gulf States which will foot the bill but not get any real benefits from it. Instead, they face threats and extra burdens that will hinder their ability to expand their margin for manoeuvrability and increase involvement in conflicts with rising and rival regional powers.
The Gulf: between normalisation and dismemberment
The nominally Gulf State axis, led by Abu Dhabi, Riyadh and Cairo, is leaning towards a face-off with Turkey in Syria after the US troop withdrawal, making this more of a priority than facing Iran, especially after the Khashoggi crisis. Netanyahu is likely to react positively to this position as it poses a new horizon for cooperation, not least because Israel's Debkafile site revealed that the UAE, which recently reopened its embassy in Damascus, along with Egypt sent a military delegation to the city of Manbij in order to explore the possibility of deploying Arab forces to hinder Turkey and fill the vacuum left by the US withdrawal. The race to Manbij is not limited to Turkey and the Syrian regime; Israel also seeks to utilise its cooperation with the Arabs to serve its interests and projects.
The investment in cooperation and normalisation is not just limited to countries in the international arena (Latin and South America) and regionally (Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Turkey, Iran), but also includes Israel's domestic scene, where it is regarded as an important achievement for the government to break the barriers with the Arab world, especially the oil-rich states. Thus, Netanyahu hopes to maintain his electoral worth and present himself as a leader able to make major gains in the wider Middle East.
The problem of normalisation and cooperation that Netanyahu has talked about is not limited to the opportunistic investment of this relationship and openness. It includes interesting differences and contradictions reflected by the Arab enthusiasm for normalisation and regional confrontation. Although the Arab states are at the forefront of confrontation, whether in the Gulf or Syria, Iraq and Yemen, along with Turkey and Iran, their resources are being used in a war from which Israel will reap the rewards without much effort. Arabs in this sense are fighting Netanyahu's battles for him. This is the most tragic thing as he heads for a General Election. Meanwhile, his future Arab allies bear all of the cost.
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Netanyahu's ambition, opportunism and skill in managing normalisation and the Arab collaborators are all interesting. He will not stop Tehran and Moscow from cooperating to face the collusion between Arab normalisers and Israel, because his policies and ambitions contradict with the political objectives of Iran, Russia and, indeed, Turkey. The results will ultimately have the opposite effect and will be costly for the alliance with the Arabs that Netanyahu has pounced upon so opportunistically.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Arabi21 on 3 January 2019
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.