Bennett’s Israel is as diplomatically important as Netanyahu’s

“In a league of its own” is how Likud strategists promoted former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the four elections and the seemingly endless campaign cycle of 2019-2021.

Netanyahu, in this narrative, toured the world stage as a diplomatic giant, developed close relationships with the leaders of the United States, Russia, India, China, and Brazil, and through those relationships took Israel’s international stature to new heights.

To illustrate the theme “in a league of their own,” a montage of photos of Netanyahu with a parade of world leaders graced his Facebook page during election campaigns, and photos of him shaking hands with former US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir . Putin put up huge billboards across the country.

The message was clear: Netanyahu is the Israeli version of Winston Churchill; lose it and the country’s position in the world will sink like a rock in water.

But it hasn’t.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow (Credit: CHAIM TZACH / GPO)

US President Joe Biden opened the White House for Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s visit in August. Putin showed him his private residence in Sochi and spent five hours with him in October. The Crown Prince of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, invited him to Abu Dhabi. And now, in Glasgow, at the UN Climate Change conference, Bennett will meet with a host of world leaders: the British Boris Johnson, the French Emmanuel Macron, the Australian Scott Morrison, the Indian Narendra Modi, the Canadian Justin Trudeau and more.

Bennett is no less in demand in the side rooms of the conference room in Glasgow than Netanyahu did when he attended the last UN conference on climate change in Paris in 2015.

And that says something that should make Israelis happy: it’s not the man, it’s the country.

Modi, Putin, Xi Jinping of China, Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, and other leaders around the world did not roll out the red carpet for Netanyahu because he was Netanyahu, but rather because of the country he represented or, more precisely, because of what they could achieve. forge closer ties with that country. It was about Israel, not Netanyahu.

Personal relationships are important and Netanyahu, in part because of his time in office, was able to forge personal relationships with many world leaders. But who can say that Bennett, or Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, or anyone else for that matter, can’t do the same?

What Netanyahu was able to do that was unmatched by any of his predecessors was to harness Israel’s advantages, its added value, in a way that significantly raised its stature on the world stage. He did it very cleverly, and for that he deserves credit.

Netanyahu recognized better than anyone before him that Israel had certain things the world needed: military intelligence, security expertise, cyber protection, agricultural know-how, technology, innovation, and that this could be used to make progress with countries that Israel largely overlooked. in the past.

He was able to forge relationships in Africa, Latin America, the Eastern Mediterranean, Eastern Europe and Asia, not because of the feelings that the leaders of those countries had for the Jewish state or the Zionist idea, but rather because of the interests of their own countries: how Could they better protect their ports, protect the computers that run their infrastructure, irrigate their fields, and track terrorists among themselves?

Netanyahu realized that Israel had more to offer the world than Jaffa oranges and electric hair removal devices, and he used it to forge strong interest-based ties around the world. In the process, he succeeded in decoupling relations with those countries from progress on the Palestinian track.

Netanyahu put the ball in motion, but Bennett’s meetings in Glasgow, as well as his previous meetings in Sochi and Washington, show that it is possible for others to carry the ball. Why? Since it was never about Netanyahu, it was about harnessing Israel’s potential.

Mark Regev, a former Israeli ambassador to the UK and a former spokesman for Netanyahu, put it well. During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Israel’s supporters were frustrated that the Arab world had control of a commodity, oil, that the entire planet needed and that they used to galvanize support for themselves and against Israel. he said in a Jerusalem Post Zoomcast. which will be online on Thursday.

“Today the situation has changed dramatically,” he said. “Not only are those Arab countries that once turned off the tap are now our friends and they speak to us, but perhaps in the 21st century Israel will have the oil. Not the black stuff that comes out of the ground, the Arabs still have it.

“But if oil was the commodity in the 1970s and 1980s that the entire planet needed, and if it had it, it had power, perhaps in the 21st century, where it’s all about technology and innovation, where it’s all about to start. ups – maybe Israel has the metaphorical oil. Perhaps today we will have the ability to use Israel’s economic and technological advantage to galvanize a lot of international support because of it. “

If that’s really the case, then it’s less about who’s sitting in the Prime Minister’s Office and more about others wanting to tap into that “metaphorical oil.”

Bennett surely realizes this. As such, he slightly exaggerated at the beginning of his meeting with Modi from India in Glasgow on Tuesday.

“I want to thank you,” Bennett told Modi. “You are the person who restarted the relationship between India and Israel, which is a deep relationship between two unique civilizations: the Indian civilization, the Jewish civilization, and I know it comes from your heart. It is not about interests; it is a deep conviction that you harbor and we feel it ”.

Yes, Israel and India may be the cradle of two ancient civilizations, but the romance between the two countries in recent years is not about that. It’s about interests: what Israel can provide India and what it can receive from India in return.

If India does not feel that a close military, intelligence and trade relationship serves its interests, it will look elsewhere. Modi undoubtedly has a warm place in his heart for Israel, but that place probably remains warm due to an appreciation of how Israel can help his country. And what will keep the two countries close in the post-Modi era, is not that hot spot in Modi’s heart, but his interests.

Understandably, Israelis often look to various world leaders for an emotional connection to the Jewish state. But that’s not what catapults Israel’s position globally to the next level. What that means are interests, not emotions, not a particular Israeli prime minister or another, but interests. And this is not something Israel should be ashamed of. On the contrary, that the country has reached a point where much of the world needs and wants what it has to offer is something to be celebrated.

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