The Iranian attempt to foment unrest among the region’s Shi’a, and to support a network of proxies and allies – the Houthis in Yemen, the Iran-backed Shi’a militias in Iraq, the Alawite (Shi’a) led army of Assad in Syria, the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon – in order to build a “Shi’a crescent” from the Gulf to the Mediterranean fills the Gulf states with dread. So does Iran’s nuclear project. But now those states, which for years have benefited from Israeli intelligence on Iran, and cooperation on security matters, see the Jewish state as their most valuable ally against the Islamic Republic. They know that Israel has been Iran’s most implacable enemy, repeatedly setting back Iran’s nuclear plans. They received with deep satisfaction the news that Israel’s Stuxnet, a computer worm introduced by Israel into the computers that ran Iranian centrifuges, caused those centrifuges to speed up so fast that they destroyed themselves. They saw how Israeli agents managed to assassinate, in the middle of Tehran, one by one, four of Iran’s most important nuclear scientists. They learned of Israel’s remarkable feat of derring-do, when Israeli agents managed to locate a nondescript building in the middle of the night in the middle of Tehran, and then to blowtorch and blast their way through 32 steel doors, and steal away, before dawn, with Iran’s entire nuclear archive, consisting of 50,000 documents and 134 computer discs, and bring them back to Israel. And the Gulf Arabs were similarly impressed by Israel’s sabotage in July 2020 of an advanced centrifuge and assembly plant in Natanz, destroying so much of the plant that outside observers estimate that it has set back Iran’s nuclear program by two years.
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Egypt, the most populous Arab nation, was once Israel’s most potent military foe. But now, under the dictatorial regime of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, it looks to Israel as an ally against common foes in the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, as well as the Al-Qaeda terrorists operating in Gaza….
Hamas is the Gazan subsidiary of the Muslim Brotherhood, and in fighting Hamas, Israel is also weakening its parent organization. Egyptian President El-Sisi has been cooperating with Israel’s military in the Sinai, where the Jewish state provides actionable intelligence to Egypt, and also aids Egypt with its own attacks on Jihadis in the peninsula, which include regrouped remnants both of Al-Qaeda and of the Islamic State. El-Sisi has been open about this cooperation, even mentioning it in a 60 Minutes interview.
Israel, Greece, Cyprus are all involved in the EastMed project, by which a proposed pipeline bringing natural gas from Israel’s undersea fields – Leviathan, Tamar — will pass by Cyprus, where Cypriot natural gas will be added to the pipeline, and then continue on to Greece, which will similarly add its own share of natural gas, before the pipeline finally delivers it all to its end-point in Italy. Turkey has been scaring off research vessels, including one from Israel, searching for natural gas in Greek and Cypriot waters. Turkey has also attempted to greatly enlarge its own claim to maritime territories far beyond what international law supports. None of this mischief-making by Turkey has, however, given Chevron pause; its $4 billion purchase of Noble Energy, and hence of what Israeli natural gas fields produce, went forward without any apparent anxiety over what the unpredictable President Erdogan might do in the eastern Mediterranean to prevent the EastMed pipeline project from going forward.
Israel’s willingness to cut a deal with Noble Energy would likely not have taken place under a Labor government, which with its socialist mindset would be more concerned with a foreign concern “making too much money” from Israeli natural resources, and try to drive so hard a bargain that Noble would simply have taken its drilling rigs elsewhere. Netanyahu, a free-marketeer who once worked as a consultant for Bain and Co., understood that Israel had to offer the possibility of a significant profit to Noble Energy that, after all, was taking upon itself all the initial difficulties and risks of drilling and of potentially ending up with dry holes.
Chevron’s buying of Noble Energy shows that American oil companies are no longer afraid of retaliation by Arab oil states if they have dealings with Israel. The Arab oil states that in the past might have been expected to have engaged in such retaliation – especially the UAE and Saudi Arabia — in cutting off access to their oil, now see Israel as their most valuable ally in the war of self-defense against an aggressive Iran, and have no intention of trying to weaken that ally economically or in any other way. Instead of boycotts of, and disinvestment in, Israel, businessmen from the Emirates and Bahrain have been tripping over themselves in their rush to make deals with Israeli counterparts. Israel is no longer so isolated in the Middle East; it now has diplomatic relations with four Arab states, Egypt, Jordan, the UAE, and Bahrain, and with the latter two, “normalization” of relations and what promises to be a “warm peace.” Israel is now less isolated from its neighbors in the Middle East than are two Arab states, Syria and Qatar. As for people-to-people exchanges, the Emirates is as eager as Israel to make deals promoting tourism and cultural exchanges between the two countries.
BDS is doing just fine as a campus cause, from Columbia University to the University of San Francisco, where student government resolutions bewail the plight of the “poor Palestinians” and call for retribution – boycotts, divestments, sanctions – against the Jewish state. Resolutions galore, with the expected hysterical denunciations, there have been, but there has only been one clear-cut BDS “triumph” on the ground in Israel, and that one has been positively pyrrhic. That “victory” was the boycott organized by BDS of the Israeli company SodaStream. Until 2015, SodaStream had a plant in the Mishor Adumim industrial park in the West Bank, which created controversy and a boycott campaign. In October 2015, under pressure from BDS activists, SodaStream closed its factory in Ma’ale Adumim and moved to a new facility in Lehavim (in Israel proper) and laid off more than 500 Palestinian workers in the process. That is the sole BDS victory to date, causing hardship not to the company, but to the 500 Palestinian workers who, as a consequence of that boycott of the West Bank factory, lost their jobs. It would be fascinating to hear what those Palestinians think of the BDS Movement.
Meanwhile, Arabs from the Emirates and Bahrain are landing in Tel Aviv to make deals, and Israelis are going to Doha and Manama to do the same. There are rumors, and pundits puzzling, about which Arab states will be next to normalize. Will it be Oman, Sudan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia? Meanwhile, Mahmoud Abbas rages in Ramallah, his spittle-flecked fury aimed first at the UAE for its “betrayal” and “stabbing Palestinians in the back,” and then at Bahrain for following suit, and then at the entire Arab League for not denouncing both countries. And his helplessness, as the normalization caravan moves on, leaving Palestinians in the lurch, fittingly complements the helplessness of the BDS movement, that for all its sound and fury, shouting down Israeli supporters on campuses, and pushing those anti-Israel resolutions that are then passed by the most craven and. pusillanimous of student governments, has had no effect on Israel except to cause 500 Palestinians to lose their West Bank jobs at SodaStream.
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