The photos of the IDF meeting with its counterparts from Arab nations are important

Well, well, here’s a picture that you don’t see every day, or at least didn’t used to see every day: Israel Air Force Commander Mag.-Gen. Amikam Norkin at the Dubai Air Show in conversation with the Commander of the Major General of the United Arab Emirate Air Force on Sunday. Ibrahim Nasser Mohammed al-Alawi and Jordanian Air Force Senior Officer General Mohammad Fathi Hiyasat.

Put that photo in context for a moment.

Here is the chief of Israel’s Air Force, loathed across wide swaths of the Middle East for his forays into Syria and Gaza and his vaunted ability to project Israeli power, meeting outdoors in an Arab country with his counterparts from the Arab Emirates. States and Jordan. The chief of the German air force, Lieutenant General. Ingo Gerhartz, he was also in the picture, but there is nothing extraordinary about that.

Now, one can argue, what is the problem: Alawi himself was in Israel at the end of October participating in the Blue Flag military exercise. It is true, and this in itself testifies to the remarkable changes that are taking place in the region.

But a meeting with the Jordanian general in broad daylight? When was the last time the public saw that?

IDF officials meet their Egyptian counterparts on Sunday, November 7, 2021 (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON UNIT)

The Israeli military is not exactly a crowd favorite in Jordan. Nor, by the way, is he loved by the Egyptian street.

However, a week before the German Air Force circulated the photo of Norkin, the IDF spokesman’s unit released a photo of senior IDF officers meeting with their Egyptian counterparts in Sharm e-Sheikh to sign an agreement that allow more Egyptian troops to enter North Sinai.

The IDF would not have released that photo, despite the fact that both the Israelis and the Egyptians were out of uniform, without the consent of the Egyptians; and the Egyptians would never have consented in the recent past.

Although security cooperation between Egypt and Israel is strong, and IDF officials meet frequently with their Egyptian counterparts, Cairo was always willing to keep this out of the public eye. Why emphasize this cooperation when Israel in general, and the IDF in particular, are not too popular with Egyptians?

Yet surprisingly, these two photos will pale in comparison to what the public is expected to see next week, when Defense Minister Benny Gantz, a former IDF chief of staff, pays an official visit to Morocco to discuss the defense cooperation.

Gantz has ministerial authority over the Israel Defense Forces, which on television screens in homes in Morocco and throughout the Muslim world are often referred to as the “Israel Occupation Forces.” However, he will be welcomed in a country that continues to pledge allegiance to the Palestinian cause.

It was one thing for Egypt and Jordan, as well as other countries in the Arab world that had no diplomatic ties to Israel, to hold discreet talks for decades with IDF officers and officials in hindquarters. This they would do quite easily. But it was quite another to do it outdoors, with the cameras clicking.

The Abrahamic Accords in 2019 changed that dynamic. What these agreements brought was the willingness on the part of the Arab countries with which Israel now had diplomatic relations to expose these ties, including military and intelligence ties.

Suddenly, the meeting of the commander of the Israeli Air Force with his counterparts from the Arab world is not rare, but it is part of the architecture of the Middle East. Suddenly, the Israeli Defense Minister’s visit to an Arab state is routine.

The importance of these meetings being documented by the chamber is twofold.

First, it sends a deterrent message to common enemies, like Iran. And secondly, it signals to the Arab public that this kind of cooperation is good and there is nothing to be ashamed of or hide from. It removes the stigma of cooperation with Israel, makes it normal, and accustoms the public to the idea.

One of the problems with Israel’s peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan has been that, despite close cooperation at the top, Cairo and Amman wanted to keep it in the dark. As a result, peace did not leak to the public and remained in the rarefied air of discreet inter-military consultations. Making these meetings public, enlightening them, is one way that peace begins to seep from above.

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