Israel’s Isolation in the Middle East Has Definitively Ended

Positive changes are again visible in relations between Israel and other countries in the Middle East

By Yochanan Visser | | Topics: Turkey, Egypt, UAE, Bahrain, Abraham Accords
Israeli and Emirati government officials warmly discuss regional matters at the Knesset in Jerusalem. 
Israeli and Emirati government officials warmly discuss regional matters at the Knesset in Jerusalem.  Photo: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90

The so-called Abraham Accords apparently are affecting countries other than the Gulf countries and have even brought about a change in the deteriorating relationship between Israel and Turkey. However, attention in Israel this week has mainly been focused on Bahrain, where a historic meeting took place between King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, his son Crown Prince Salman and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett of Israel.

Bennett’s visit to Bahrain was marked by a friendly tone and a red carpet reception for the Israeli leader.

After Bennett inspected an honor guard, a military band even played Israel’s national anthem HaTikva. That was a visibly moving moment for the Prime Minister, who sang the lyrics of Israel’s national anthem.


Shared concerns about Iran

While Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa spoke in veiled terms about the shared concerns over Iran’s advances in the Middle East, Bennett spoke openly about this threat.

Salman spoke of “responsible nations that must make an effort to achieve peace” in the region, while Bennett spoke of “major security challenges that all have the same source, which is the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

The Prime Minister, as usual, was candid and clear about the attempts to negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran, calling it “a strategic mistake.”

“This deal will allow Iran to maintain its nuclear capabilities and obtain hundreds of millions of dollars that will strengthen the terrorist machine,” Bennett said, warning again that this “strategic mistake” would eventually affect the entire world.

Bennett decided this week to send a team of Israeli experts to Vienna in an effort to stop the negotiating world powers from reaching an agreement with the Islamic Republic.

Among others, the team spoke with Russian negotiator Mikhail Ulyanov who later expressed his appreciation for the discussion with the Israelis on Twitter.

The Israeli Prime Minister further praised the cooperation between the Israeli Army (IDF), the US military, and “Israel’s friends in the region” and said this cooperation is intensifying.

This cooperation is also apparent from the defense agreements that Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz recently concluded with Morocco and Bahrain.

The Israeli Navy even now has an officer permanently stationed in Bahrain, while Israeli submarines are reportedly patrolling the Persian Gulf. These German-made submarines can carry cruise missiles and warheads.


A rapprochement between Israel and Turkey?

Then, there is the cautious rapprochement between Turkey and Israel.

This unexpected development started with a series of phone calls between Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Israeli President Isaac Herzog and followed overtures made by Erdogan late last year.

Erdogan called Herzog, for example, to offer his condolences on the loss of his mother, who passed away in January.

Herzog was later invited to make an official visit to Turkey, while Bennett made it clear that the President is coordinating all actions towards Turkey with him.

However, the Prime Minister has also indicated that he is cautious when it comes to Erdogan since the Turkish leader has a long history of conflicts with Israel.

These conflicts began during and after the First Gaza War (Operation Cast Lead) in December 2008 and January 2009.

Erdogan then accused Israel of “murdering innocent Palestinian children” and angrily stormed out of a heated argument with then-President Shimon Peres during the World Economic Forum in Davos in March 2009.

Years later in 2018, Erdogan again recalled his ambassador to Israel and expelled the Israeli ambassador and consul from Turkey after the IDF used live-fire against Hamas terrorists who tried to infiltrate Israel during the so-called ‘Great March of Return’ along the Israeli border in Gaza

After that, there were frequent incidents where the Turkish dictator angrily ranted against Israel or took actions that undermined Israel’s interests, such as closing a deal with Libya regarding nautical economic zones that stretched from Tripoli to Turkey.

Herzog’s office this week confirmed that the president is expected to travel to Istanbul for an official visit in early March.

However, the Israeli President will first fly to Cyprus and Greece for talks with leaders there.

Those short visits are intended to assure Cyprus and Greece that any new diplomatic relationship with Turkey will not be at the expense of the newfound alliance between Israel, Cyprus and Greece.


What’s behind Erdogan’s change of course

There is now much speculation in Israel about the reason behind Erdogan’s sudden change of course towards the Jewish state.

Among other things, reference is made to the recent rapprochement between Turkey and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

See: Why Turkish Strongman Erdogan is Making Overtures to Israel

Erdogan this week, for the first time in a decade, paid a two-day visit to the UAE, Israel’s newfound Arab ally.

The UAE is important to Erdogan for two reasons. First, after the repair of relations with Turkey, the UAE can play an important role in saving Turkey’s economy, which is on the brink of collapse.

A second reason why Erdogan wants good relations with the UAE after ten years of disputes is that it can help break Turkey’s isolation.

Turkey has been isolated from most of the world by Erdogan’s aggressive policies, which are based on imperialist aspirations and the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The UAE and other Arab countries, foremost Egypt, are strongly opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood ideology that Erdogan adheres to.

In recent years, the Turkish president emerged as the leader of the Islamic bloc that promotes this ideology, and this caused a conflict not only with Israel but also with the UAE, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Professor Eli Podeh of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, furthermore, thinks that improved relations between Turkey, the UAE and Israel could help warm up the chilled relationship between Ankara and the United States.

The administration of President Joe Biden has turned against Turkey over Erdogan’s human rights record and to distance itself from the politics of former President Donald J. Trump.

Trump turned a blind eye to Erdogan’s violations of press freedom and human rights and looked only at the economic and strategic relationship with Turkey.

Biden, however, is pursuing a human rights policy in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world.

It is for this reason that relations between the US and Egypt have also cooled since the Biden administration took office.


Between social issues and realpolitik

The policies of the Bennett-Lapid government in Jerusalem, however, are more focused on security issues in the Middle East. Bennett and Lapid realize that they cannot bring democracy and the Western view on society to the Middle East and conduct a so-called ‘realpolitik.’

It is for this reason that Bennett is working to form a strong Israel-Arab bloc that includes Egypt and that is working together to reverse Iran’s rise in the Middle East.

The new Israeli Prime Minister recently met Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi in the Egyptian resort of Sharm El Sheikh and was received with great honors a sign that the cold peace between Israel and Egypt is warming up.

This week, new evidence emerged that Egypt under el-Sisi wants to strengthen ties with Israel under the influence of the Abraham Accords.

At the start of a large conference about energy issues in Cairo, el-Sisi made the very unusual gesture of personally welcoming Israeli Energy Minister Karine Elharrar.

See: Israel ‘Touched’ by Egyptian President’s Gesture to Visiting Energy Minister

After he entered the conference room and took his place, the Egyptian President spotted Elharrar, who is wheelchair-bound. El-Sisi then got up again walked across the conference hall to tell Elharrar how happy he was to see her.

It was new evidence that Israel’s isolation in the Middle East has finally been broken, while nations hostile to Israel have become more isolated.

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