In the last three weeks, Israel has materially improved its diplomatic relations with Egypt, Turkey and a group of East African countries. Despite some protestations from critics, this diplomatic trifecta will unquestionably help Israel counter attempts to isolate the Jewish state.
And for those who despair because of the strained relationship between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama, Israel’s diplomatic maneuvers are a reminder that a leader of one country doesn’t have to be friends with the leader of another in order to advance important interests of state. Indeed, Netanyahu’s diplomacy has made significant inroads with some pretty nasty leaders in Turkey, Egypt and the African countries.
Recep Tayyip Erdo˘gan, the authoritarian president of Turkey who normalized relations with Israel on June 28, continues to consolidate power, targeting opposition parties and journalists in the wake of an attempted coup. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who in a rare move sent his foreign minister to Israel on July 10, presides with a clenched fist over a country that, according to Amnesty International, “is failing in terms of human rights — on every level.” Similarly, the African countries that Netanyahu visited on a recent four-day trip—Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia—all have serious human rights problems.
But states act out of self-interest. And there is a mutual self-interest of improved relations for all of the players in Israel’s recent diplomatic accomplishments.
Since 2010, when it broke with Israel, Turkey became steadily more isolated. Egypt is seeking to return to its traditional status as leader of the Arab world and has been working closely with Israel on security in the Sinai and Gaza, while seeking to play a role in stalled peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Meanwhile, the African countries, which are all facing hostile Muslim insurgents, want Israeli weaponry and security technology.
What does Israel get in return? Stable relations with Egypt increase Israel’s prestige and security in the region; Israeli cooperation with Turkey decreases the chances for a war with Hamas in Gaza; and with Turkey’s agreement to supply goods to Gaza, economic tensions in the territory will be eased.
Friendly relations with African states will help ease Israel’s isolation in the United Nations, according to Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the U.N. While that may not be a given, it is undeniably in Israel’s interests to have a widening circle of friends who see a sovereign Jewish state as an asset in an unstable region.
None of this replaces Israel’s complex relationships with the United States, Israel’s security guarantor, or its largest trading partner, the European Union. What it does instead, we hope, is further normalize Israel’s place in the complex structure of world affairs by providing an extra layer of security to the Jewish state.
In today’s diplomatic and political environment, having more friends can only help.