Bibi plants Israel at core of a new grand alliance
NEXT WEDNESDAY, nine days after meeting Theresa May in London, Benjamin Netanyahu will land in Washington for his crucial first meeting with Donald Trump.
The meetings are important in themselves. But they are also part of a new diplomatic offensive which Mr Netanyahu believes may cement a new bloc of support for Israel — as well as transforming prospects for unravelling the Iran deal.
Once back in Jerusalem after his trip to the US, the Israeli Prime Minister will have a weekend to rest before a long-planned (and much-postponed) trip to Australia, with a stop in Singapore.
By the end of his global tour, he will have met a series of like-minded, right-wing, conserva- tive leaders, all fundamentally pro-Israel and relatively new in office, all respectful of Mr Netanyahu and his 11 years in power. But these meetings are about far more than solidifying contacts with ready-made allies. Since Mr Trump’s surprise victory last November, Mr Netanyahu and his closest aides have not made any effort to hide his primary — and relaunched — mission: to foil Iran’s efforts to secure hegemony in the Middle East. The signs from Washington, where new sanctions were announced following Tehran’s missile tests last week, are encouraging. Below the radar, there have been positive noises from London as well. Australia is much less involved in the Iranian issue but is significant in being another major ally of both the US and the UK in defence and intelligence. On the basis of this strategic common ground, Mr Netanyahu has another crucial objective in mind. As Britain begins to gear up for a post-Brexit era and Mr Trump tears up the established
nations may be returning to the fore — and Mr Netanyahu wants Israel on board.
Of course, Israel is not exactly a natural member of this family but Mr Netanyahu believes it should at least be an honorary one. With this in mind, he is pushing for an early trade deal with Britain as soon as it exits the European Union.
In the last months of Barack Obama’s presidency, the then Secretary of State, John Kerry, privately asked the British government to urge the City of London’s main financial institutions to reopen Iran’s international banking arrangements. The response was less than obliging. In essence, the government politely refrained from reassuring the banks that renewing trading with Iran was risk-free.
That does not mean Britain wants the nuclear agreement to be torn up but it is open to cooperating with the Trump administration in enforcing the inspection clauses of the deal much more rigorously.
The most overlooked destination in this month’s travels, Singapore, provides a hint for the nature of relations Israel is seeking. Of the four nations Mr Netanyahu is visiting, its close defence ties with Singapore are the longest-lasting, going back to the mid-1960s when an Israeli military delegation arrived shortly after the island received independence to help build its army.
Relations have remained close ever since, with Singapore being a major customer of Israeli weapons-systems.
It was unthinkable back in the 1960s, when Britain was hesitant to sell tanks to Israel, that 50 years later, the situation would be reversed and that it would be Her Majesty’s armed forces purchasing Israeli hardware.
A senior British official said this month that the level of defence and intelligence ties between the two countries has never been higher.
It is impossible to predict at this point, with the combustible Mr Trump smashing up the White House’s china shop and multiple indictments hanging over Mr Netanyahu, how these international alliances will fare.
But as the prime minister takes off from Ben-Gurion Airport, and the lights on the ground recede and disappear in the Boeing’s windows, he can dream for a few moments of being at the centre of a brave new world order.
A new bloc: Trump, May and Netanyahu