Israel’s grand diplomatic opportunities and escalating dangers must outweigh partisan political considerations

There is a broad and urgent diplomatic and defense agenda at hand for Israel that cannot tolerate punishing political instability and acute social schism. All sides in the current fierce controversies rocking Israeli politics must pull back and allow Prime Minister Netanyahu to maximize the diplomatic and defense moment. Self-restraint and maturity are required from the Israeli left and right alike, to allow wise navigation through the next tantalizing and threatening year. Now is the time to cash-in on grand diplomatic opportunities and tackle the many escalating dangers, not flounder in a hateful cacophony of radical identity battles.

Published in The Jerusalem Post, September 1, 2023; and Israel Hayom, September 5, 2023. Print-friendly copy

Biderman in Haaretz

Israel stands at the brink of grand diplomatic breakthrough, and howling internal explosion; of splendid strategic advance, and shattering domestic discord; of long-dreamt-of triumph, and long-feared disintegration.

Add-in the usual mix of security challenges – from Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran to escalating Arab gun violence in Israel and the territories – and you reach an extraordinary tipping point. A point where Israelis must make a choice whether to grab the opportunities and collectively confront the challenges, or wallow in strife.

What I am saying here is that all sides in the current fierce controversies rocking Israeli politics and leading to the unprecedented mass weekly demonstrations have to pull back and allow Prime Minister Netanyahu to maximize the diplomatic and defense moment. This requires self-restraint and maturity from left and right alike.

Of course, the hard left which seeks to “swiftly destroy the fascist, dictatorial, corrupt” Netanyahu government and all-together bring down what they call an “illegitimate government of liars and criminals” will not easily swallow this drawdown.

The coalition of Marxist, anti-religious, anti-occupation, pro-LGBT radicals which is at the core of anti-government protests (backed by a well-oiled and funded organizational machine) has worked itself into a tizzy of clenched fists, violent rhetoric, and anarchic parades that will be hard to temper.

(Clarification: This is not to say that the anti-government protests are illegitimate, or that many centrist Israelis who have participated in the protests are wrong to be concerned. Only that the protests are no longer really about judicial reform of any type and that they won’t quietly go away even if the government drops all judicial reform.)

Nor will the hard right straightforwardly desist from the far-reaching domestic, religious, and legal reforms it seeks to legislate. The coalition of narrow-religious-nationalist, extreme and insular Ultra-Orthodox, and anti-democratic radicals which is at the core of some government initiatives is proudly primed for rapid move towards constitutional crisis.

For them, this is their golden moment, the “full, full, right-wing” nirvana they have been waiting for and must capitalize on, even if it brings about cataclysmic religious-social rupture.

The Armageddon threatened by the opposition (including mutiny threatened by air force pilots and willful economic meltdown driven by hi-tech barons) only defiantly eggs-on the radicals within government.

And thus, neither side is going to jump with joy and hearken-in-a-flash to my call for moderation.

Nevertheless, there is no choice – because diplomatic opportunity beckons, and security vulnerability is at the doorstep. The sane majority in this country, led by, yes, Prime Minister Netanyahu (and hopefully some responsible opposition figures too), must overpower the radicals and insist on navigating Israel through the next tantalizing and threatening year.

I DON’T KNOW exactly how consensual decision-making in foreign and defense policy can be politically reconstructed, but I know that it is a necessity, and it is worth detailing why.

First and foremost, peace with Saudi Arabia, and by extension an effective end to 100 years of Arab-Israeli conflict, is at hand. This is a near-messianic advance that would cement Israel’s permanence in the region and its standing in the world.

It would gut 120 years of Arab world ideological warfare against the Jewish return to Zion and deal a death blow to the progressive-woke assault on the legitimacy of Israel (especially if the peace is brokered by a Democratic US president).

This rapidly evolving diplomatic gambit brings to the fore a series of critical defense issues that require delicate decisions with long-term impact.

One such issue is the possibility of a US-Israel Defense Treaty, which the administration is seeking to accompany a likely US-Saudi Defense Treaty. (The administration understands that without a matching treaty with Israel it will have difficulty in getting a treaty with Riyadh through the Senate in a two-thirds majority vote.)

But does Israel need or want such a formal defense treaty with the US? Might this not degrade Israel’s standing in the eyes of the US public (as a ‘dependent’ on the US), or tie Israel’s hands behind its back (especially and pointedly in a looming confrontation with Iran)? And if Israel is nevertheless going to go forward with such a treaty, what exactly can Israel ask for and gain from such an accord?

This brings me to second, related matter, which is guarantee of very long-term US military aid to Israel, including some of the weapon systems that the US thus far has refrained from supplying to Israel (like long-range refueling tankers, heavy-lift bomber aircraft, and bunker-buster bombs).

The current ten-year US-Israel military aid package (or FMS, foreign military sales, giving Israel billions of dollars is credit for the purchase of US platforms like the F-35 jet fighter) expires in less than three years. Perhaps now is the time to lock-in a new package for many decades forward.

A third issue at hand is nuclearization of the Middle East. For two decades, Israel has sought to block the Iranian nuclear program because it is clearly aimed at producing multiple nuclear weapons aimed at Israel. Now Saudi Arabia is asking for US support for a Saudi civilian nuclear program that includes uranium enrichment.

Can Israel swallow this in the context of regional peace (or some sort of US-Saudi-Israeli accord), or is the danger of a Saudi nuclear program going military down the road too high? Wouldn’t Israeli acquiescence in a Saudi program undercut the effort against Iran, or legitimize sure-to-follow Turkish and Egyptian nuclear programs?

A fourth issue is the “land bridge” proposal. This is a much-ballyhooed ground transportation route (trains and trucks) from the Arabian Gulf, across the Arabian Peninsula (through Saudi Arabia and Jordan) and through Israel to the Mediterranean Sea. This could be the economic bonanza for all parties involved that makes diplomatic sacrifices worthwhile. But it cannot be negotiated without stable political leadership that has long-term interests as its uppermost concerns.

Then there is Jerusalem (and stability in the Palestinian Authority) which inevitably will be connected to discussions of the above issues. Jerusalem is an issue not because anybody has realistic expectations of peace with the corrupt and rejectionist Palestinian national movement, but because the Saudis want a role on the Temple Mount and because Israel wants a better deal on the Temple Mount.

(Replacing the Jordanians and Palestinians with the Saudis as co-custodians of the site alongside Israel, including an end to Arab violence and incitement from the Mount, and the securing of appropriate Jewish prayer rights on the Mount, may be a way forward).

Surrounding all this is the apparent-to-all need for Israel to push back much harder against Hezbollah provocations in the north (and this probably requires some harder-than-ever strikes at Iran); the need for Israel to rout-out Hamas’s deepening penetration in the West Bank; and the need for an all-out sustained campaign by the IDF and GSS to confiscate the vast amounts of weaponry (guns, and even high-military-grade missiles and mines supplied by Iran) that have flooded into Israeli Arab and Palestinian communities, leading to both terrorist and intra-Arab political killings at frightening levels.

There is indeed a broad and urgent diplomatic and defense agenda at hand for Israel that cannot tolerate punishing political instability and acute social schism. Now is the time to cash-in on grand diplomatic opportunities and tackle the many escalating dangers, not flounder in a hateful cacophony of radical identity battles.

David M. Weinberg is a think tank director, columnist and lobbyist who is a sharp critic of Israel’s detractors and of post-Zionist trends in Israel. Read more »
A passionate speaker, David M. Weinberg lectures widely in Israel, the U.S. and Canada to Jewish and non-Jewish audiences. He speaks on international politics and Middle East strategic affairs, Israeli diplomacy and defense strategy, intelligence matters and more. Click here to book David Weinberg as a speaker

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