Bibi plants Is­rael at core of a new grand al­liance

The Jewish Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - BY ANSHEL PF­EF­FER

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

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