Cards falling Israel's way

Paradoxically, the Obama administration's retreat from the region is enhancing Israel's strategic position.

The Obama administration's withdrawal from firm involvement in Middle Eastern affairs has had the paradoxical result of greatly enhancing Israel's strategic position. The "Southern Arc" of countries, stretching from Egypt through Jordan to the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) states of the Arabian peninsula, now includes Israel. Cooperation between Israel and Egypt on security and intelligence is at an all-time high. Hamas in Gaza is isolated and now totally dependent on Israel for simple survival. Feverish diplomatic activity between Israel and the GCC is resulting in an informal strategic alliance to confront Iran, leader of the "Northern Arc" of Shi'a Islam, from Lebanon (and Hezbollah), through Alawite Syria, and Iraq, which is forced to keep a wary eye on the Kurdish regions outflanking it on the north. Truly, a fundamental strategic shift.

Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey has shown that he has learned nothing from the massive demonstrations earlier in the summer, the split with the Alevis and the Gulenists and the retreat of the Muslim Brotherhood throughout the region. With maximum publicity, at a televised press conference (from which the opposition press was excluded), he announced a "democracy package" that turned out to have nothing to do with democracy. Freedom of the press and of assembly were totally ignored, as they in fact are in Erdogan's Turkey. Minor language concessions were made to the Kurds and Caucasian groups that scarcely exist, but the major "reforms" all strengthened the fundamentalist Sunni state that he has been constructing since taking office a decade ago, including minor items like permitting Muslim headscarves in public offices and major ones like turning over mosques, schools and foundations to Muslim Brotherhood organizations. As a result, Turkey's chances of joining the European Union are now zero and Erdogan's dream of reestablishing Turkey's lost influence in the Near East is dead.

China has made its strategic decision vis-à-vis the region. Oil and gas it can get from many sources, and the producers of the Gulf will be ever more dependent on the Chinese and other Asian markets as the amazing recovery of US production of hydrocarbons continues with unexpected speed. But access to scientific and technological knowledge it cannot get anywhere on the Eurasian landmass except in one place--Israel. As a result Chinese billionaire Li Ka-shing has donated $130,000,000 to the Technion to establish a campus in China, and has pledged another $150,000,000 in local infrastructure expenses.

The Chinese are not stupid, and their strategic thinking is currently miles ahead of the Europeans and Americans, not to mention the Russians, who have nothing to offer except the same commodities as the Gulf states.

At this point in the fast-moving and fundamental strategic shifts in the Middle East, Israel's main problems will be first, to keep up with events and second, to avoid becoming over-confident.

Norman A. Bailey, Ph.D., is Adjunct Professor of Economic Statecraft at The Institute of World Politics, Washington, DC, and a researcher at the Center for National Security Studies, University of Haifa.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on October 7, 2013

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2013

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