Recently the persistent rumors of informal talks between Israeli and Saudi officials were confirmed. Such meetings have been taking place for a long time and continue. Israel and Saudi Arabia, as well as some of the Gulf states, notably Kuwait, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) share fundamental foreign policy goals, namely opposition to Iran's pretensions to nuclear weapons and its persistent efforts to expand its sphere of influence in the Middle East on the one hand, and fear of the growing menace of Islamic State (IS) and other terrorist organizations on the other. These are powerful incentives for cooperation in the areas of intelligence, defense and security.
On the other side of the world, China is on a rampage in the East and South China seas, claiming sovereignty over vast areas of open ocean and building artificial islands complete with airstrips and docking areas. Air and naval confrontations with other countries that occupy this geographic space, as well as with the United States, are increasing steadily, and the likelihood of a violent incident is rising accordingly. In addition, China has expanded its cyber-attacks against foreign targets, most recently penetrating American government databases and corralling the records of millions of current and past US government employees. In the past, such activities would have been considered acts of war.
The government of Israel may in the not distant future be faced with one or two significant dilemmas. Suppose the Saudi government were to approach Israel and offer to sign a peace treaty and establish diplomatic relations, a la Jordan and Egypt, soon to be followed by some of the Gulf States and with no or acceptable conditions? Suppose the almost-inevitable incident occurs in the western Pacific followed by the declaration of sanctions against China by the US and other countries in the region?
The temptation to accept such an approach by the Saudis would be enormous. Peace with the Kingdom that is the spiritual center of Sunni Islam would be a great triumph, right? Well, yes, except that such a peace would be signed with one of the most repressive and tyrannical governments in the world. Israel would, of course, join in sanctioning China for open aggression in the Far East, right? Sure, except that Israeli trade, investment and educational ties with the Asian giant are expanding enormously, and this with a country which is devoid of anti-Semitism and has no BDS movement.
In either or both of these cases, what would the government of Israel do? Uphold human rights and international law, or pursue its political, diplomatic, military, security and economic interests? Dilemmas indeed.
Norman A. Bailey, Ph.D., is Adjunct Professor of Economic Statecraft at The Institute of World Politics, Washington, DC, and teaches at the Center for National Security Studies and Geostrategy, University of Haifa.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on June 11, 2015
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