By Azriel Bermant, Published in Foreign Policy, March 26, 2021
In 2020, Israel normalized relations with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco—a major diplomatic achievement. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with the help of the Trump administration, claimed much of the credit for the Abraham Accords amid the growth in formal and informal contacts between Israel and the Gulf States over the past five years, driven in large part by shared concerns over the threat posed by Iran. However, Israel’s diplomats have been working quietly behind the scenes for more than 25 years to nurture ties with these states. As Eliav Benjamin, a senior Israeli diplomat, said, “This what people in my profession work for day in and day out.”
This is a far cry from the Israeli experience in the early years following its establishment in 1948, as both Uri Bialer and Emmanuel Navon remind us in two new books evaluating more than 70 years of Israeli diplomatic history. Israel’s policymakers were desperately trying to break the international isolation that was paralyzing the Jewish state in the wake of its traumatic war of independence and the existential threat from the enemies surrounding it.
By Azriel Bermant, Published in The Strategist, 22 March 2021
Israelis will go to the polls on Tuesday for the fourth time in two years, with the future of their prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, hanging in the balance. Public opposition to Netanyahu has only intensified in the past year because of his divisive politics and poor management of the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet his political survival owes much to the public perception that only he can be trusted when it comes to Israel’s security.
By Gallia Lindenstrauss and Azriel Bermant, Published in The Strategist, 20 January 2021
Turkey is feeling the squeeze. How else to explain President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s remarks in late December signalling his interest in closer relations with Israel? Turkey has also reportedly picked a new ambassador to Israel to fill a post that has been left vacant for more than two years. Yet only four months before then, in August, Ankara had warned the United Arab Emirates that it was ready to suspend diplomatic ties and withdraw its ambassador from Abu Dhabi in the wake of the UAE’s proposed normalisation deal with Israel. Turkey described the deal as a betrayal of the Palestinian people.
By Azriel Bermant, published in Foreign Policy, 17 September 2020
The embattled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently found an escape route from his escalating domestic crisis, with the announcement in August of Israel’s peace deal with the United Arab Emirates and in recent days with Bahrain. For decades, the United States has pledged to uphold Israel’s qualitative military edge over neighboring Arab states, and in recent years it has refused the sale of cutting-edge weapons to the UAE, fearing this could compromise Israel’s military advantage. Now that Israel has signed a peace deal with the UAE and Bahrain, however, it will become harder for Israel to oppose the sale of military hardware to its Arab neighbors.
Israel has historically expressed fierce opposition to strengthening the offensive capacity of any Arab state. The United States is pushing to sell Abu Dhabi a package of sophisticated weapons including F-35 fighter jets, widely believed to be the most capable strike aircraft in the world, as well as Reaper drones and electronic warfare planes which jam enemy defenses. Once the UAE receives these arms, other Arab states will expect the same treatment.
Book review by Azriel Bermant, Published in Fathom, April 2020
In a recent interview with Fathom, Tom Segev, the distinguished journalist and historian and author of A State At Any Cost: The Life of David Ben-Gurion, noted that four books had been published in Israel alone on the topic of Ben-Gurion since he first started working on his biography. Although Benjamin Netanyahu made history In July 2019 by becoming Israel’s longest-serving leader, overtaking Ben-Gurion, Segev suggested to Fathom readers that Israel’s renewed fascination with Ben-Gurion illustrates a yearning for vision and statesmanship, qualities they associate with Israel’s founding father and not with the present occupant of the prime minister’s office.
By Azriel Bermant, published in Foreign Policy, 6 February 2020
On Feb. 4, Josep Borrell, the European Union’s foreign-policy chief, caused a stir when he condemned U.S. President Donald Trump’s recently unveiled plan for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He said that future Israeli annexations of West Bank settlements “could not pass unchallenged,” and he reiterated the EU’s commitment to a viable two-state solution.
His statement stood in stark contrast to the way the British government has responded to news of the Trump deal. Speaking in the House of Commons on Jan. 29, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that, while “no peace plan is perfect,” the Trump administration’s plan for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has its “merits.” Meanwhile, the U.K. foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, described the plan as “clearly a serious proposal, reflecting extensive time and effort.”
A close look, of course, shows that Trump’s plan would certainly not help the cause of peace. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned that it could turn Israel into an apartheid state. Even current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has raised concerns in the past about Israel becoming a binational state, a fate that could come to pass if Israel is given a green light to annex the Jordan Valley and all its settlements on the West Bank. A poll by the Israel Democracy Institute think tank found that about half of Jewish Israelis viewed the deal as U.S. interference in the Israeli elections next month. At the same time, supporters of Netanyahu in the Likud party have wasted no time in pocketing Johnson’s support.
By Azriel Bermant, published in Fathom, January 2020
It was with deep sadness and a profound sense of loss that I heard of the passing of Emily. It had been a privilege for me to work with Emily at the Institute for National Security Studies between 2012 and 2015. Her intellectual dynamism and passionate convictions shone through in everything she did, whether it was in her writing on Iran’s nuclear programme or in the various arms control forums that she hosted at INSS. For so many Israelis, discussion on the topic of arms control and nuclear proliferation is limited largely to regional threats: in particular, the nuclear threat from Iran. Emily tried to create greater awareness of the global problems relating to nuclear proliferation. Her expertise and scholarship went well beyond the issue of Iran. She wrote prolifically on a range of other issues, including North Korea’s nuclear programme, US-Russian arms control and the efforts to achieve a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.
1. As leader of the feared Quds force, Soleimani, was arguably the second most powerful man in Iran, after its Supreme Leader. He was responsible for the expansion of Iran's military muscle and influence throughout the Middle East. His elimination deals a huge blow to Iran.
2. And yet Iran is a wounded animal, devastated by economic sanctions and damaged by angry protests both in Iran itself and in Lebanon and Iraq. It is this which makes Iran so dangerous; there are countless ways in which the Iranians can wreak mayhem throughout the region. Of course, the counter argument is that the short-term turmoil is a price worth paying in the long-term.
3. The US president has publicly taken responsibility for the assassination of Qassem Soleimani. A shambolic administration shooting from the hip. How does this tally with Trump's plan to withdraw the US from the region? On the contrary, this will suck the US into the quagmire.
4. Will the assassination of Soleimani deter Iran as the United States and its allies hope? I fear not. The danger is that a weakened Iran will see that the blow to its prestige demands a significant escalation.
5. It is likely that Iran will also target Israel as part of its response against the US and its allies. The threat from Iran has been Netanyahu's obsession from day one, and this is the moment he has been waiting for. The Iran threat will be exploited by Netanyahu as a means to divert attention from his legal predicament and as a rallying cry for the creation of a national unity coalition government. Israel's opposition leader Benny Gantz is in an unenviable position. He runs the risk of looking unstatemanlike if he refuses to join such a government. However, a national unity coalition government would be a trap for Israel's opposition, and a means for Netanyahu to keep himself in power.
6. The Trump administration has a major headache with a wounded Iran that is liable to strike out. But there is another dangerous challenge on the horizon: a nuclear North Korea which is primed for confrontation with the United States. How will Trump cope with both of these challenges? Welcome to 2020!
Book Review: 'The Impact of Zionism and Israel on Anglo-Jewry’s Identity 1948-1982: Caught Somewhere Between Zion and Galut' by Jack Omer-Jackaman
By Azriel Bermant, published in Fathom, November 2019
Jack Omer-Jackaman’s book could not be more timely given the challenge facing Diaspora Jewry today, with heightened concerns over the rise in antisemitism in Europe and Anglo-Jewry’s anxiety over a Labour party led by Jeremy Corbyn which has a serious problem with antisemitism.
By Azriel Bermant, published in Haaretz, 2 December 2019
It's hardly controversial to note that Jeremy Corbyn has been a longstanding supporter of the Palestinian cause, and that he has never sympathized with the right of Jews to national self-determination.
But these well-known facts are, for many Corbyn supporters, proof that accusations of anti-Semitism within the party are really overhyped criticisms of Corbyn’s policy on Israel-Palestine, "framed" in the language of anti-Semitism.
When Britain’s Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, felt compelled to make an unprecedented election-time intervention to criticize Corbyn, because he could no longer ignore the fear and alarm within his community, many of the Labour leader’s supporters pushed the line that the Chief Rabbi’s attack was wholly motivated by Labour’s support for a tough position against Israel’s occupation, recognition of a Palestinian state and an embargo on arms sales to Israel.
Dr Azriel Bermant
Foreign Policy and International Security Analyst, Historian, Lecturer, Author