Global balancing acts

July 15, 2020

Chaim Azriel Weizmann, the first president of Israel, and other founding members of the Zionist state could go to any extent to serve the interest of their community – hobnobbing with Germans,...

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Chaim Azriel Weizmann, the first president of Israel, and other founding members of the Zionist state could go to any extent to serve the interest of their community – hobnobbing with Germans, holding secret meetings with the Turks and then finally banking on the British Empire for the establishment of the Zionist state. Once they realized that the Sun of the British Empire would soon set, they started cultivating close ties with the rising power – the US.

Although Israel was primarily created to serve the British interests, through its sheer dedication it proved to be more useful for Washington that had replaced London as the global player after the Second World War. While their ties with America remained very cordial, they also ensured good relations with other Western countries and to the utter surprise of many with the Soviet Union as well that was supporting the Arab states and the Palestinians. The US and the USSR were sworn enemies but the most trusted friend of Washington never infuriated Moscow, dealing with the red power in a very diplomatic way.

Israelis seem to be adroit at sensing changes in the global power equation. They realize that the US may have been militarily a global power with immense economic potential but there are other centers of power emerging on the global political horizon and that Tel Aviv must maintain good ties with them as well. It is perhaps this logic that has prompted them to hobnob with Beijing, ignoring US warnings in a diplomatic way and allaying its fears in a very gentle manner. Tel Aviv and Washington have had common strategic goals for decades but now the Zionist state seems to have a different approach over the issue of the Chinese ascendancy on the global stage.

It is really interesting to note that Washington considers the rise of Beijing as a great threat to its global hegemony but Israel finds it difficult to keep itself away from the rising power’s bounties that it is showering on other states. A strong economic power, China is also trying to match the military might of America by raising its defence expenditure. This has created consternation in the power corridors of Washington but in Tel Aviv business is as usual. It seems that Israel is determined to benefit from Chinese technology and its expertise on infrastructure development.

The Shanghai International Port Group is building a new container port in Haifa, which some US officials believe could be used to conduct surveillance on the US 6th Fleet whenever it ports at a nearby naval base. Chinese companies are building another Israeli port in Ashdod and a light rail project through the greater Tel Aviv area, which will run a few hundred yards from the Israeli military headquarters. Meanwhile, Chinese companies invested some $400 million in Israeli start-ups in 2018 and $243 million in 2019.

Washington seems to be furious over these intentions of its close ally. This May, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Israeli against getting too close to China. “We don’t want the Chinese Communist Party to have access to Israeli infrastructure, Israeli communication networks". He believes such things could endanger the Israeli people and the ability of the US to cooperate with Israel. But Israel does not seem to be buying Pompeo’s arguments. Its policymakers believe that their national interests are served well by cooperating with a rising power. Michael Oren, a former Israeli ambassador to Washington, asserts that Tel Aviv stands to gain with such cooperation saying, “Israel sees China as an opportunity.”

Israeli threat perception seems to be entirely different from the one held by Washington. For the Zionist state, it is Tehran and the rising Shia power across the Middle East that pose a national security threat. It is because of this reason that the radical elements want stern action against Iran which is believed to have been bankrolling Bashar Al Asad, pampering Hezbollah and arming the Houthi rebels. Tel Aviv seems to be on a mission to destabilize Iran. A string of bomb explosions and mysterious sabotage activities inside Iran seem to have a hallmark of Israeli intelligence. It is interesting to note that Tel Aviv is not interested in casting doubts on Beijing. It seems that Tel Aviv is working on a strategy to counter Iran in the region and does not believe that extra regional powers could harm its security. Shira Efron, a fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, thinks China has never been in Israeli threat assessments like Iran is because the communist country is not in the neighbourhood.

Israeli has always been hungry for technology which many believe is crucial for its existence, surrounded by hostile Arab neighbours. It was the technological advancement of the Zionist state that handed it a stunning victory during the 1967 war. Its policymakers seem to have a dogged determination to maintain this technological superiority and they would not mind acquiring it from Moscow, Beijing or Washington.

But with the rising tension between the US and China, it seems that Israel will have to pick a side. Tel Aviv has received billions of dollars over the decades from America. The US has been its biggest ally. The Jewish diaspora in America is one of the biggest sources of Israel's prosperity. Western countries in general also backed Israel because of its proximity with Washington. So, this will be a litmus test when it finally comes to picking a side.

And it seems that this time is not very far. From the Covid-19 pandemic to Hong Kong, Washington does not miss any China-bashing opportunity. It is likely to throw support behind any country that creates problems for the communist state. The recent hard-hitting statements of American officials during the standoff between India and China clearly indicates the intensity of grudge that the US harbours against Beijing. Though Israel expressed reluctance in awarding some commercial contracts to China in a bid to appease Washington, it still would want to strike a balance between its relationship with the sole superpower and the rising global economic force. But will the US, which has bankrolled the Zionist state since its inception – turning a blind eye to its illegal activities and earning the ire of its allies – tolerate such an ambivalent position? Such a situation will definitely put Israeli policymakers in a bind.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

Email: egalitarianism444 gmail.com



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