By Azriel Bermant, published in Haaretz, 14 April 2022
This article is adapted from a paper I have written for the British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies. This will be posted separately in the publications section of the website.
In August 2020, Israel announced that it had reached historic peace deals with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain that would become known as the Abraham Accords. At the end of March, Israel hosted a summit in the Negev desert featuring the foreign ministers of the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt and Morocco. Over recent years, formal and informal ties between Israelis and Saudis have also intensified, amid the shared perception of an acute threat from Iran.
Coverage of the Abraham Accords has tended to focus on the change in the attitudes of the Gulf states, yet there has been surprisingly little scrutiny of the change in Israel’s perception of Saudi Arabia. Indeed, 40 years ago, Israel viewed Riyadh as an implacable enemy of the State of Israel, much as Tehran is today. On the surface, this is extraordinary given that back in August 1981, Saudi Crown Prince Fahd bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud unveiled a peace initiative that appeared to offer recognition of the Jewish state.
Israel responded by launching an inflammatory campaign against the regime in Riyadh and came close to igniting a war with Saudi Arabia in November that year.
By Azriel Bermant, published in The Strategist, 13 April 2022
Amid a heightened fear in Europe of the Russian missile threat, Germany has expressed an interest in buying the Arrow 3 missile-defence system, a joint Israeli–US system designed to confront long-range Iranian missiles. At the end of March, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz didn’t conceal the fact that he was seeking to defend his country from a Russian missile threat: ‘[A missile shield] is certainly among the things we are discussing, for good reason … We must all prepare ourselves for the fact that we have a neighbour presently ready to use force to assert its interests.’
This is an intriguing development for a number of reasons.
By Wyn Rees and Azriel Bermant, published in Foreign Policy, 7 March 2002
Vladimir Putin’s nuclear threats plunge the West into a debate it’s not ready for.
At the beginning of the Ukraine invasion, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his country’s nuclear forces to be placed on high alert and ominously threatened Russia’s adversaries with “consequences you have never seen in history.” By doing so, he added a frightening nuclear dimension to his unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine that has destabilized Europe’s post-1945 security system. Western political and security officials have been left reeling, both from the attack on a neighboring country and the heightened Russian nuclear alert. Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Philip Breedlove has pointed out that that although Putin was known for being a prudent risk-taker, his penchant for taking risks has grown. Some even doubt he is still a rational actor. These doubts have been reinforced with the reckless Russian shelling of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine.
Blog post by Azriel Bermant, published by Institute of International Relations Prague, 4 March 2022
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has put Israel in a particularly awkward position. Israel has sought to avoid taking sides in the war between Russia and Ukraine. It has close ties with both countries but has shown a deep reluctance to take a stand against Russia.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Israel has sent humanitarian supplies to Kyiv but has withheld arms supplies. The media has reported that Israel blocked the transfer of its Iron Dome missile defence system to Ukraine, although Iron Dome would have been of little use in addressing the threat from Russian missiles, as the Ukrainian ambassador in Israel has pointed out. The strongly pro-Israel Republican senator, Lindsey Graham, claimed that Ukraine had called on Israel to send it anti-tank Stinger missiles but it declined. Israel voted against Russia in the UN General Assembly vote on 2 March but pointedly sent its deputy permanent representative to the debate instead of its ambassador Gilad Erdan, possibly to downplay the significance of its action.
Policy Paper by Azriel Bermant, published by Institute of International Relations Prague,
20 July 2021
One of the criticisms that has been leveled at the Iran nuclear agreement officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) reached with the world powers in 2015 is that it failed to address Iran’s ballistic missiles. The ballistic missile programme provides the means for nuclear delivery should Iran decide to acquire nuclear weapons. Iran’s missile proliferation is particularly destabilizing for the region with detrimental knock-on consequences for Europe.
By Wyn Rees and Azriel Bermant, Published in The Strategist, 20 May 2021
In March, the United Kingdom took many nuclear policy experts by surprise with its announcement that it was increasing the cap on its nuclear stockpile from 225 to 260 warheads. This reversal of decades of reductions of the UK’s nuclear stockpile was spelled out in the government’s ‘integrated review’ of security and defence policy.
When Britain obtained the Trident D5 missile from the United States in the early 1980s, the capability exceeded UK military needs and the decision was taken not to deploy the maximum number of warheads on the missile. The Trident submarines could carry more warheads and strike more accurately than the UK believed was necessary.
The size of the UK nuclear force has been guided over the years by considerations of what constitutes a ‘minimum deterrent’. The UK has sought to put a certain number of enemy targets at risk.
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.
Dr Azriel Bermant
Foreign Policy and International Security Analyst, Historian, Lecturer, Author