These were some of the pressing questions discussed by Israeli scholars at a webinar organised by India based geopolitics and security affairs think tank, Usanas Foundation which focuses extensively on West Asia, terrorism and radicalisation. Usanas Foundation was one of the first Indian voices to expose Turkey’s expansionist policies in Kashmir.
Emmanuel Navon, International Relations expert and lecturer at Tel Aviv University, began the discussion by contextualizing Israel’s strategy of the periphery in historical perspective. “Israel’s international standing has never been this good,” he said while expanding on Israel’s evolving diplomatic posture and normalization of relations with especially Middle Eastern countries in recent years.
He attributes this to former Israeli Prime Minister Ben Gurion’s “out of the box thinking” and “establishing alliances with countries in the wider Middle East” based on the principle of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
He argues that this idea not only continues to have relevance but has gained momentum as “new alliances(have emerged) around Israel vis-à-vis Iran and Turkey.” He attributed this “complete reshaping of regional alliances”to not only geopolitics but also the energy politics in the region. “If in the 1960’s it was a periphery together with Iran and Turkey against the Arab world, today it is a periphery with the Arab world and other allies such as Azerbiajan, Greece against Iran and Turkey,” he said while commenting on the changes in Israel’s peripheral diplomacy.
Dr. Sarah-Masha Fainberg—also a lecturer at Tel Aviv University and visiting professor at School of Foreign Services, Georgetown University—addressed the thorny question of Israel-US-Russia relationship and the implicationsof Russia’s military presence in Middle East for Israel.
Acknowledging that United States is Israel’s “only one strategic ally which neither Russia or China can replace” she clarified that “Russia is not an enemy.” “At the bilateral level ties between Russia and Israel are thriving…yet from a regional perspective, they grapple with irreversible disagreements on issues that each side see as crucial, critical to its own national security interest and power projection, namely Iran, nuclear ballistic regional, Syria and Palestinian question,” she said while highlighting the “paradox” in Russia-Israel relations. “Russia would be the only power to mitigate and act as a backchannel communication between Hezbollah and Israel” she said which makes ties between the two countries vital.
In this sense she believes “Russia, from an Israeli perspective represents in a way an opportunity” which could have represented a “major challenge” had it limited Israel’s strategy in Syria. “The U.S. is happy to use this (Israel-Russia) relationship as a backchannel communication, when needed,” she added.
Nina Slama—Guest Lecturer, and Teaching Assistant IDC Herzliya—provided a historic overview of the evolution India-Israel ties against the backdrop of the international context of Cold War and Post-Cold War geopolitics. She highlighted how Israel has proved to be a “true friend through thick and thin”—be it providing assistance during the Kargil war of 1999 or supporting India in international space during the 1998 backlash after the Pokhran-II nuclear tests. “When Prime Minister Modi came to power, we could see that the relations not only became better and strategic, but also very close and personal,” she said. New opportunities for India and Israel are abound with the new government in Israel which will “not be limited to military” but “extend into multiple domains such as culture, academic, innovation, water management and so forth.”
Another critical question addressed by the panel was concerning the influence of China in Israel. Abhinav Pandya, Founder and CEO of Usanas Foundation, who moderated the event highlighted how Chinese revisionist agenda is hurting Israel’s “two best friends—India and U.S.A” therefore a global resistance by liberal democracies such as Israel is imperative.
Dr. Fainberg contextualized Israeli relations with China by highlighting how despite strong trade and economic ties with Beijing, Israel too is wary of China’s intentions and its support to Israel’s enemies. According to her, Israel has been dealing with China tactfully by harnessing leverages as was evident when Israel supported Canada and other powers joint statement on the Xinjian province question. “Israel needs to establish leverages for itself which could have influence over China, which it is trying to do at the moment,” she said.