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From Israel: “The Shift is Radical!!”

October 29, 2020

The US election is less than a week away, and, as I track the news, I have a growing conviction that Donald Trump will be in the White House for four more years.  As Caroline Glick tweeted: “Spit three times, then say, ‘No evil eye, things look hopeful, things look good.’  Then repeat the process over and over, until you need a glass of water.”

https://twitter.com/CarolineGlick/status/1320752958720647168?cn=ZmxleGlibGVfcmVjcw%3D%3D&refsrc=email

This is definitely not Caroline’s normal style, nor mine. But the times call for it, a bit tongue-in-cheek.

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It is my intention to focus on Israel in this posting. But I want to take one moment to share a brief video clip of an interview with a simpering Kamala Harris.  It exposes her in all her duplicity and reminds us of exactly how bad it would be if Biden did win.  Remember that Kamala was heard to refer to the “Harris-Biden administration.”  (Scroll down for the video.)

https://townhall.com/tipsheet/bronsonstocking/2020/10/25/60-minutes-n2578765?amp=true

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All right. Let us look now, before the US election, at some major happenings here in Israel.  

My title ‒ which speaks of a “radical shift” ‒ is with reference to our relationship with certain Arab and Muslim states. Gone is the hostility on the part of these nations, which once set the establishment of a “two state solution” based on the 1949 armistice lines as the immutable prerequisite for diplomatic ties.

This change impacts the dynamics in the region in a manner that is both profound and far-reaching.

As Dr. Mordecai Kedar explains:

“The Arab states are no longer a single bloc opposing Israel but are divided into two coalitions. One is on Iran’s side; the other is against it. Israel, which in the past was perceived as the problem, has become part of the solution.”

For many years it was commonly accepted that there was an “Arab world.” The Arab League was its unifying institution, and its main agenda centered on “the desire to see Israel disappear and a Palestinian state take its place.”

The peace and normalization between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain, writes Kedar, signify the collapse of the old approach.

The Jewish state, rather than being an enemy, is now accepted as a member of an anti-Iran coalition that includes Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Sudan, supported from the outside by the US.  Standing with Iran are Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Qatar and Gaza, backed from the outside by Turkey, Russia and China.  

https://besacenter.org/perspectives-papers/israel-new-arab-

There are other Arab/Muslim states on the sidelines that may be moving into the anti-Iran camp soon.

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When the Abraham Accords were first announced, I was not negative.  But even as I recognized the benefits, I was cautious and uneasy – and I was hardly the only one who felt this way.  Questions were raised as to whether we were unduly hasty in signing on to the Accords without having sufficiently examined all potential ramifications and ensuring that we had protected ourselves with regard to our rights and our security.

My unease has very significantly diminished now, and I am eager to explore the reasons why.  Two concerns were paramount:

One had to do with the UAE request that it be permitted to purchase US F-35 stealth fighter jets and some other military equipment.  

Credit: Globes

The readiness of the US to consider the UAE request was not directly tied to the Abraham Accords (i.e., it was not written into the agreement); but clearly the Americans were more predisposed to responding favorably because of the Accords.  That request by the UAE had been pending for years.

There is no reason, even remotely, to think that the UAE desires these weapons to use against Israel. The UAE has never been at war with Israel: The Emirati concern is defense against Iran.  And yet, there was a legitimate worry that with this sale Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge (QME) would be diminished or erased. And the QME must be sustained without exception.  

Decisions on sale of weapons to nations in the Mid-East are made by the US with Pentagon input.  If Israel objects, the US might consider Israel’s position, yet retains the option to move ahead. But now the US has provided reassurances that greatly minimize concerns about this, certainly for the present and reasonable future.

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Last Wednesday, October 21, for the second time in weeks, Defense Minister Benny Gantz went to Washington to meet with officials, most notably Secretary of Defense Mark Esper (to the left in the picture below).  

The two signed an agreement that safeguards Israel’s military superiority in the region. Gantz later declared that “the security of Israel has made a major leap forward.”

What Gantz and Esper had signed was a “joint declaration confirming the United States’ strategic commitment to maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge in the Middle East for years to come.”  The obligation to honor Israel’s QME is written in US law, but this vigorously confirmed it.

What is critical is that Gantz indicated there were also “practical measures” within the document.  Said one Israeli defense official: “This is not the end of the story.” Specifics of “what we are getting and what we aren’t getting and what they’ll sell us later” will be determined in future discussions. 

The “practical measures” – allowing Israel to secure more high-end military equipment – are what provide the QME.

Credit: Shmulik Almani/Defense Ministry

https://www.timesofisrael.com/gantz-touts-major-leap-for-israeli-security-as-us-re-ups-military-edge-promise/

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As Israel establishes diplomatic ties with a growing number of Arab/Muslim states, undoubtedly many of them will also seek to buy the F-35.  There is no indication that Bahrain, which now has formal ties with Israel, is looking to possess F-35s.  It is a miniscule state. However, Saudi Arabia – by far the largest and most powerful of the Sunni Gulf states – is moving in the direction of establishing ties with Israel, and is expected to seek the F-35 as part of its bulwark against Iran.

This is arguably not bad:  Saudi strength against Iran is a good thing and works in Israel’s favor. This is so as long as Israel does not make concessions that compromise our rights in return for Saudi ties.  

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The one truly unsettling possibility is with regard to Qatar’s acquisition of the F-35.  In Iran’s camp, Qatar has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, and Hamas.  In 2017 Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt broke diplomatic ties with that country and imposed a sea, land and air blockade because it embraces terrorist groups that destabilize the region.  

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There is no indication that Qatar (current Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani below) is looking for diplomatic ties with Israel. None the less, it has already let it be known that it is seeking the F-35.  We do not know that the US would agree to such a sale by a nation that does not have ties to Israel. But should the US consider this (note: the US utilizes the Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar for its Air Force Command), it would be important for Israel to move as strongly as possible to block acquisition of the F-35 by Qatar.

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Credit: Facebook

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My other concern was that Netanyahu had committed to refraining indefinitely from applying sovereignty in Judea & Samaria.  Certainly a commitment to postpone sovereignty for some years was made at the time of the signing of the Abraham Accords. Additionally, comments were made by representatives of the UAE and Bahrain that were unsettling.

Fear was expressed by nationalists here in Israel and by Zionist groups abroad that we had ended up sacrificing too much: A formal relationship with the UAE and Bahrain is great, but never at the expense of sacrificing our right to the land.

When the Knesset passed on the formal agreement with the UAE, it was understood that certain classified details of the agreement would not be shared with the Security Cabinet until after that vote.  The prime minister said there were no secret annexes, but worry persisted even as the normalization was praised.  

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But my concern on this score, as well, has been significantly alleviated because of what I have been observing.  What is happening in Judea & Samaria, de facto, carries considerable weight, and in many regards what we see is encouraging:

I am convinced that were Prime Minister Netanyahu anxious that declarations of intent to do new building in Judea & Samaria would threaten Israel’s new relationship with the UAE and Bahrain, he would refrain from such declarations.  But this has not been the case.

[] In mid-October it was announced that the Higher Planning Council for Judea & Samaria was about to approve and advance new homes in some 25 communities in Judea & Samaria. Until this announcement, there had been an eight month de facto freeze on such building.

https://www.jpost.com/israel-news/de-facto-freeze-broken-idf-to-approve-new-west-bank-settler-homes-644554

I am reluctant to provide precise numbers as different sources have given different counts, but we are looking at something between 3,000 and 5,000 units, at least in planning stages.  What is more, it is my understanding that some of the units would be in areas that are not within the 30% of Trump’s plan, which is on hold at present.

[] In late October it was announced that Israel would be approving permits for 31 homes in Jewish Hebron.  A larger project had been in planning but was blocked by the forever obstructionist Peace Now, with the issue not yet resolved by the courts.  But an effort is being made.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/israel-to-okay-permits-for-31-settler-homes-in-hebron-watchdog/

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[] And now, this most significant announcement: Just yesterday, October 28, the US officially dropped its opposition to funding joint research projects conducted in Judea, Samaria or the Golan Heights.

“Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman met at Ariel University in Samaria Wednesday to sign an agreement on scientific cooperation Wednesday, paving the way for US funding of Israeli projects regardless of their location.

“The new agreement nullifies limitations imposed in the 1970s on US-Israeli research cooperation which included a territorial clause, barring the US from providing funding for projects which went beyond Israel’s pre-1967 borders.”

Three research agreements were amended so that three scientific foundations would be able to receive funding without restrictions as to locale, and Friedman noted that “more Israeli partners will be eligible to receive funding for scientific collaboration in a wide variety of fields.”

This is actually huge.  A US policy in place for almost 50 years has been reversed.

http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/290019

Minister for higher education Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) tweeted that the change constitutes a “big achievement for Israel’s sovereignty” and he is absolutely correct. “We are righting an old wrong,” said Friedman. 

Credit: Matty Stern/US Embassy

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Readers will note that there is not a word of protest from the UAE or Bahrain on these actions.  In fact, the UAE has just signed a deal to sell wine from the Golan Heights!

https://www.jewishpress.com/news/israel/uae-signs-deal-to-purchase-golan-heights-wine/2020/10/28/

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There was a suspicion in some quarters when the Abraham Accords were signed, that the true motivation of the UAE and Bahrain was to maneuver a deal for the PA, by restricting Israeli action.  I believe the above makes it clear that this is not the case.

The response of the Palestinian Arab leadership to the Accords has been one of derision and hostility.  They feel they have been betrayed. In August, Palestinian Arabs set fire to a picture of a UAE leader, on the Temple Mount. And when an unofficial economic delegation from the UAE went up on the Mount in October, they met shouts of “Trash! Trash! Leave, get out!”   

Already, much of the Arab world was weary of the Palestinian Arab narrative with its perpetual failures and constant laments.  I believe that as the UAE and Bahrain benefit in a host of ways from the Accords, their patience with the PA will be further diminished.

Facing down Iran is what matters, not a Palestinian state. And benefits of the warm peace with Israel will yield multiple rewards.

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With regard to Israeli sovereignty on the Temple Mount, there is still cause for concern, but also a hint of promise.  The situation has long been unjust, and now the involvement of Gulf States may further complicate matters, but alternatively, might open up the situation. I note this here and will return for a deeper analysis.

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Lastly, I want to mention Israel’s connection with another Muslim nation: On October 23, Israel and Sudan announced the establishment of bilateral ties, in the course of a three-way phone call between President Trump, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, Chairman of the Sovereignty Council of Sudan (below). Details have yet to be arranged.

Credit: Military Wiki

This is a very different situation from that of the Abraham Accords, when there was much enthusiasm and warmth – and a history of unofficial cooperation. There is considerable opposition within Sudan (and its Shite majority) to this deal.  

But it has huge symbolic significance: As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in his initial statement following the announcement: “In Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, in 1967, the Arab League adopted its three ‘No’s’: ‘No to peace with Israel, no to recognition of Israel and no to negotiations with Israel.’”

“However,” Netanyahu added, “today Khartoum has said, ‘Yes to peace with Israel, yes to recognition of Israel and yes to normalization with Israel.’”

https://www.jpost.com/middle-east/yes-to-israel-from-khartoum-is-only-a-side-plot-in-sudan-drama-analysis-646822

Dictator Omar al-Bashir ‒ who controlled the country for 30 years and was indicted in connection with the genocide in Darfur ‒ was deposed in 2019.  Al-Burhan has been struggling to bring the country to a better place.  One of his major problems was an inability to effect economic recovery because Sudan was on a US list of state sponsors of terrorism.  The US offered to remove Sudan from the list if it paid $355 million to victims of terrorism.  Sudan under the transitional government of Al-Burhan had already distanced itself from terrorism. (Until recently it had been a way-station for Iranian arms headed for Hezbollah.) Sudan was removed from the US list, and will receive a good deal of American assistance.

Along the way, President Trump encouraged Sudan to forge ties with Israel.  While it was not a condition for removal from the US terrorism list, pressure was brought to bear.  Al-Burhan had already met Netanyahu and had agreed to allow Israeli planes to cross Sudanese airspace.  He was predisposed to the idea of normalization. But the process will have to move slowly, and he is even reluctant to use the term “normalization,” preferring “reconciliation.”

Never the less, it is possible that good things for both parties will come from this.

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© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.

 

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