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Bennett’s Israel is as diplomatically important as Netanyahu’s – analysis

CM 02/11/2021

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“In a League of his own” is how Likud strategists marketed former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the four elections and seemingly endless campaign loop of 2019-2021.
Netanyahu, in this telling, strode the world stage like a diplomatic giant, developed close relationships with the leaders of the United States, Russia, India, China and Brazil, and through those relationships brought Israel’s international stature to new heights.
To illustrate the “in a league of his own” theme, a montage of pictures of Netanyahu with a parade of world leaders adorned his Facebook page during the election campaigns, and pictures of him shaking hands with former US president Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin draped massive billboards across the land.

The message was clear: Netanyahu is the Israeli version of Winston Churchill; lose him and the country’s standing in the world will sink like a rock in water.
But it hasn’t.

 PM Naftali Bennett with Indian PM Narendra Modi at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow (credit: CHAIM TZACH/GPO) PM Naftali Bennett with Indian PM Narendra Modi at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow (credit: CHAIM TZACH/GPO)

US President Joe Biden opened the White House for a visit by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in August. Putin showed him his private residence in Sochi and spent five hours with him in October. United Arab Emirates Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed invited him to Abu Dhabi. And now, in Glasgow at the UN Climate Change Conference, Bennett is meeting a slew of world leaders – Britain’s Boris Johnson, France’s Emmanuel Macron, Australia’s Scott Morrison, India’s Narendra Modi, Canada’s Justin Trudeau and more.
Bennett is no less in demand in the side rooms of the conference hall in Glasgow than Netanyahu was when he attended the last UN climate change conference in Paris in 2015.
And that says something that should cheer Israelis: It’s not the man; it’s the country.
Modi, Putin, China’s Xi Jinping, Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta and other leaders around the world did not roll out the red carpet for Netanyahu because he was Netanyahu, but rather because of the country he represented or, more precisely, what they could get by forging closer ties with that country. It was about Israel, not Netanyahu.
Personal relationships are important, and Netanyahu – partly because of the sheer time he spent in office – was able to forge them with many world leaders. But who is to say that Bennett or Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, or anyone else for that matter, cannot do the same.
What Netanyahu was able to do that was unmatched by any of his predecessors was to leverage Israel’s advantages – its added value – in a way that significantly elevated its stature on the world stage. He did this very adroitly, and for this he deserves credit.
Netanyahu recognized better than anyone before him that Israel had certain things that the world needed – military intelligence, security expertise, cyber protection, agricultural know-how, technology, innovation – and that this could be used to make inroads with countries that Israel largely overlooked in the past.
He was able to forge relations in Africa, Latin America, the Eastern Mediterranean, Eastern Europe and Asia not because of sentiments leaders in those countries had for the Jewish state or the Zionist idea, but rather because of the interests of their own countries: how could they better guard their ports, protect the computers that run their infrastructure, irrigate their fields and track terrorists in their midst.
Netanyahu realized that Israel had more to offer the world than Jaffa oranges and electric hair-removal devices, and he used that to forge strong interest-based ties around the world. In the process, he managed to decouple relations with those countries from progress on the Palestinian track.
Netanyahu got the ball moving, but Bennett’s meetings in Glasgow – as well as his previous meetings in Sochi and Washington – show that it is possible for others to carry the ball. Why? Because it was never about Netanyahu; it was about leveraging Israel’s potential.
Mark Regev, Israel’s former ambassador to the UK and a former spokesman for Netanyahu, put it well. During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Israel’s supporters were frustrated that the Arab world had control of a commodity, oil, that the entire planet needed, and which they used to galvanize support for them and against Israel, he said in a Jerusalem Post Zoomcast that will go online on Thursday.
“Today, the situation has changed dramatically,” he said. “Not only are those Arab countries who once turned off their spigots now our friends and talking to us, but maybe in the 21st century Israel has the oil. Not the black stuff coming out of the ground; the Arabs still have that.
“But if oil was the commodity in the 1970s and 1980s that the entire planet needed, and if you had it, you had power, maybe in the 21st century – where it is all about technology and innovation, where it is all about start-ups – maybe Israel has the metaphoric oil. Maybe today we have the ability to use Israel’s economic and technological advantage to galvanize a lot of international support because of it.”
If that is indeed the case, then it is less about who is sitting in the Prime Minister’s Office and more about others wanting to tap into that “metaphoric oil.”
Bennett surely realizes this. As such, he exaggerated slightly at the start of his meeting with India’s Modi in Glasgow on Tuesday.
“I want to thank you,” Bennett said to Modi. “You’re the person who restarted the relationship between India and Israel, which is a deep relationship between two unique civilizations – the Indian civilization, the Jewish civilization – and I know it comes from your heart. It’s not about interests; it’s about a deep conviction that you harbor, and we feel it.”
Yes, Israel and India may be the cradles of two ancient civilizations, but the romance between the two countries over the last few years is not about that. It is about interests: about what Israel can provide India, and what it can get back from India in return.
If India does not feel that a close military, intelligence and business relationship serves its interests, then it will look elsewhere. Modi undoubtedly has a warm spot in his heart for Israel, but that spot is probably kept warm because of an appreciation of how Israel can help his country. And what will keep the two countries close in the post-Modi era is not that warm spot in Modi’s heart, but interests.
Israelis understandably often look for an emotional connection toward the Jewish state in various world leaders. But that is not what catapults Israel’s position globally to the next level. What does that are interests – not emotions, not one particular Israeli prime minister or another – but interests.
And this is not something Israel should be ashamed of. On the contrary, that the country has reached a point where a good slice of the world needs and wants what it has to offer is something that should be celebrated.

Source: Jerusalem Post

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