Israel Pulse

How the Saudis help Netanyahu in his pre-election campaign

Article Summary
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believes that by boasting about ties with Saudi Arabia, President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, he can distance the conflict with the Palestinians from the election agenda.

“Something very, very big is happening here,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told 41 congressional Democrats who visited Israel on Aug. 7, his laser pointer sweeping across a map from Azerbaijan to Brazil, from Africa to Australia. “There is an exceptional revolution taking place in Israel's position in the world,” Netanyahu declared, complaining that the media were hardly reporting on these “revolutionary times.”

King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, cautioned against such boasting: “May a stranger praise you and not your mouth” (Proverbs 27:2). But he probably was not referring to Netanyahu’s “besties” Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, Chad’s President Idriss Deby and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

Netanyahu has already crowned Israel a “world power.” His minions, such as journalist Akiva Bigman from the freebie Israel Hayom, are even taking this modest title a step further. “How Netanyahu Turned Israel into an Empire” is the title of a new book (in Hebrew) Bigman published in late July. Bigman was the editor of a website called Mida, founded by Dan Baratz, formerly a Netanyahu spokesperson. Promoting his book on Facebook, Bigman complained that the media has ignored Netanyahu’s foreign policy achievements in recent years — “some of them of truly historic proportion.”

The timing of the chronicle detailing the empire leader’s feats — at the height of an election campaign — is presumably not a coincidence. Giant billboards showing Netanyahu posing next to warmonger President Donald Trump and Russian dictator President Vladimir Putin are part of Netanyahu’s effort to mobilize a foreign legion for his campaign.

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On Aug. 18, Netanyahu will take time out from his affairs of state for a photo-op with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and a visit to the memorial of the World War II Babi Yar massacre. Unable to bear his separation from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi any longer, Israel’s caretaker leader will jet off to New Delhi in September. The government of South Korea declined to join Netanyahu’s campaign and canceled his planned visit there. With the Seoul visit shelved, it was decided that the urgent matters requiring an imperial visit to Japan could be put on hold until Israel has a permanent government. The Arabic-language al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper reported on Aug. 3 that Jordan’s King Abdullah also refused to host the Likud party’s candidate for prime minister.

Heading this foreign legion that assists Netanyahu to market himself to Israeli voters is Iran — that horrible monster that Netanyahu is busy defending Israel from. Iran is also responsible for the emerging alliance between the Israeli ruler and Arab states. Netanyahu’s policy, Bigman writes, “turned Iran from the White House’s best friend (under President Barack Obama) into an isolated state verging on collapse.” Just last month on July 21, Netanyahu associate and security Cabinet member Tzachi Hanegbi boasted of Israel’s prowess. “For two years now, Israel has been the only country in the world killing Iranians,” he said in an interview, to which Iran’s Press TV responded, “This is how Israelis are freely and proudly talking about killing Iranians; just imagine what would happen if it was the other way around!”

Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz, who aspires to be prime minister, was not to be outdone. In a closed-door Aug. 7 session, he reportedly disclosed to the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee — a forum not known for its discretion — that Israel was taking part in a US-led coalition to protect shipping through the Strait of Hormuz. Katz told lawmakers it was a clear Israeli interest in the Netanyahu-led strategy to block Iran and strengthen ties with the Gulf States. It is unclear what interest Israel has in drawing Shiite fire. Indeed, the commander of the IRGC, Hossein Salami, threatened in response: “Any new war will endanger the survival of the Zionist regime and bring them irreversible collapse.”

Salah al-Arouri, deputy head of the Hamas political bureau, visited Iran in July and met with senior officials of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and al-Quds force. Israeli security officials reportedly believe that Iran and Hamas agreed to open a southern front with Israel from Gaza in case war breaks out with Hezbollah and other Iranian-led forces on Israel’s northern border.

Faced with this threatening front, Israel presents delightful ties with other Arab countries, headed by the Gulf States. Last month, Saudi blogger Mohammed Saud paid a widely covered visit to Israel, together with other Arab journalists from Jordan and Iraq. The delegation was even accorded a meeting with Netanyahu. In an Aug. 7 interview with Channel 13 News after returning home, Saud had an emotional message for Netanyahu, “Thank you, I love you.” We can assume that Saud would not have continued walking freely in Riyadh had he visited Israel and praised its leader without prior approval by the Saudi rulers.

An election campaign is also the best time for Netanyahu to call in a Saudi favor. In November 2018, The Washington Post reported that Netanyahu had called Trump to lobby for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after his role in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was revealed.

In a July 30 opinion piece on the Fox News website, US Envoy to the Middle East Jason Greenblatt and US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook wrote that the Iranian regime funnels $100 million annually to Palestinian terror groups, including Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The two senior Trump administration officials agreed that a successful comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement “would be Iran’s worst nightmare” given that “Iran is deeply invested in seeing this conflict continue.” An Israeli-Palestinian agreement, they added, “is among the important tools we have to help bring regional stability and prevent Iranian terror.”

Let us set aside the question of how much serious effort the world’s strongest power is investing in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in order to increase stability in the Middle East and prevent Iranian terrorism. It is hard to understand how a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians — the most important tool for Israel’s future as the democratic state of the Jews — is so absent from the political and moral discourse in the country. Someone should remind Israelis of the fate of empires that ruled the Middle East by brute force.

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Found in: Israeli elections

Akiva Eldar is a columnist for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse. He was formerly a senior columnist and editorial writer for Haaretz and also served as the Hebrew daily’s US bureau chief and diplomatic correspondent. His most recent book (with Idith Zertal), Lords of the Land, on the Jewish settlements, was on the best-seller list in Israel and has been translated into English, French, German and Arabic.

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