From its birth in 1948, Israel has had the reputation of a warrior nation. This is probably because it has always had to fight for its very survival. And who were the ones seeking to bring it down? All of its neighbors. But the frosty relations are beginning to thaw in the Middle East heat. Rather than being seen as the Jewish pariah amongst the Arabic nations, Israel has begun to be courted by a number of their former enemies. Yoel Guzansky, senior research fellow at Israel’s Institute for Security Studies, said, “Israel is getting legitimacy, a kosher stamp if you like, from the Gulf…. Israel is now in the Gulf. It does not have to hide like it used to.”i
Last week a fascinating article was posted online by Foreign Policy magazine entitled “Israel is the Arab World’s New Soft Power”.ii The political term “soft power” originated in the 1980s and refers to a country having the ability through attraction and mutual benefit to persuade other nations to do its bidding. This is in contrast to “hard power” which uses force or coercion. In other words, this is diplomacy through the batting of eyelashes rather than the twisting of arms. For decades, Israel had no eyelashes to bat. Now, though, the ugly duckling has turned into a beautiful swan, and many of the surrounding nations are lining up to get close to her. What is it that Israel has to offer that is so attractive?
First is the strength of its military. Ranked eighth most powerful in the world and first in the Middle East, it is two spots ahead of Saudi Arabia and three in front of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).iii It is also the only nation in the Middle East to hold nuclear weapons.iv Having powerful friends is becoming more and more important as the chief Shiite country, Iran, continues to grow in its belligerence toward its Sunni neighbors. Much of their violent actions are carried out through their terrorist proxy militias, which they are able to fund to a much greater extent following the nuclear deal signed by President Obama. Saudi Arabia is feeling the brunt of these attacks through the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels from Yemen. The nations that are looking through the wrong end of the sights of Iranian weapons are beginning to band together, particularly as there is a growing feeling of abandonment by Washington. “Tense relations between Washington and Riyadh are leading to a new quartet–Israel, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Bahrain,” said Guzansky. “We might see them get closer whilst Biden runs the White House.”v
The second appealing characteristic that is drawing nations in is Israel’s booming economy. Now that the Gulf States are open to buying what Israel is selling, goods are flowing. Back-and-forth trade between the UAE and Israel has skyrocketed from $300,000/year to an astounding $500 million/year.vi Another huge attraction is the Leviathan gas field and its 22 trillion cu ft of recoverable natural gas.vii Suitors from the Middle East, Africa, and Europe have all come calling for a piece of that enormous pie. Even Israel’s one-time greatest enemy, Egypt, has signed a deal for a pipeline that will reach to Israel’s gas reserves. For so long, the Palestinian issue was what kept many Arab countries from dealing with the Jewish nation. However, exhaustion has set in over the Palestinian Authority (PA). Arab nations are finally seeing the stubbornness and irrationality of the PA. It’s tiring to keep trying to help someone who will not help themselves.
A final draw for new relationships is Israel’s tech wizardry. Last week we posted an article about Israel being known as the Silicon Wadi – the technology and startup capital of the Middle East. Tech is the future of many of the desert OPEC nations. As the world gradually moves away from fossil fuels, these arid countries need to find a new way to bring in revenue. Technology allows mass amounts of GDP to flow into the oases that have developed in the sandy wastelands. While these nations can certainly profit from the behemoth multi-nationals, if they want to learn how to develop their own startup culture with a Middle Eastern flair then Israel is the place to look.
The Middle East continues to be a volatile region, and, as is true in any friendship, a little betrayal and some treachery are all it takes to blow a relationship apart. But for now, the soft power of Israel continues to have a strong enough draw to make alliances with former enemies and bring a greater peace to the region.
i Vohra, Anchal. “Israel Is the Arab World’s New Soft Power.” Foreign Policy, 8 Mar. 2021, foreignpolicy.com/2021/03/08/israel-is-the-arab-worlds-new-great-power/.
iii “The Most Powerful Countries in the World.” U.S. News & World Report, U.S. News & World Report, www.usnews.com/news/best-countries/power-rankings.
iv “Fact Sheets & Briefs.” Nuclear Weapons: Who Has What at a Glance | Arms Control Association, www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/Nuclearweaponswhohaswhat.
v Anchal Vohra.
vii “Leviathan – History in the Making.” Home, www.nblenergy.com/operations/leviathan-progress-update.