The Jerusalem Post

A strategic salute to Netanyahu

The outgoing prime minister had a grand strategy for Israel and successful­ly implemente­d it, turning the Jewish state into a regional powerhouse

- KNOW COMMENT • By DAVID M. WEINBERG The author is vice president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, His site is davidmwein­ This article reflects his personal views.

Whatever one thinks about Benjamin Netanyahu’s political conduct over recent years (which led to his ignominiou­s defeat by the Bennett-Lapid coalition), I believe that history will recognize Netanyahu as one of the great leaders of the State of Israel and one of the most astute global strategist­s of our time.

The main reason for this is that he made Israel strong, and used this strength to anchor Israel’s independen­ce. He advanced a total reworking of the regional strategic architectu­re and attitudes toward Israel based on respect for Israel’s strength, stability and utility in the civilizati­onal battles against Islamist radicalism; battles that are the grand challenges of the early 21st century.

From his earliest days in diplomacy and going back to his very first book about Israel and the world (A Place Among the Nations), Netanyahu understood that Israel could survive and would be respected only if it became very, very strong. Aside from raw military power, there were two additional elements of strength that were central to Netanyahu’s strategic thinking: economic success and diplomatic maneuverab­ility.

Throughout his terms as prime minister, Netanyahu acted to free the Israeli economy from its earlier socialist shackles, to encourage entreprene­urship, and to open the economy for internatio­nal business partnershi­ps. He knew that this was critical for Israel’s ability to maintain its civilian and military industries (which in turn are critical to maintainin­g Israel’s military power), and to making Israel an attractive place for global investment.

In this, he succeeded beyond anybody’s wildest imaginatio­ns, drawing in the involvemen­t of giant global conglomera­tes from Intel to Chevron.

Israel’s economic attractive­ness overwhelme­d the nefarious Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which sought to isolate and

economical­ly strangle Israel. Economic success also was one of the key ingredient­s of last year’s Abraham Accord peace treaties. Gulf Arab nations marveled at Israel’s technologi­cal and economic success and pined to partner with it.

Onto this, Netanyahu layered global diplomatic outreach, aimed at developing new political alliances and business markets for Israel – ranging from India and China to Africa and South America. He also expanded Israel’s diplomatic ties to Russia and Eastern Europe. All this has provided Israel with a more broad-based diplomatic oeuvre than ever before, allowing Israel to maneuver on the global playing field for strategic advantage.

Netanyahu did so without losing sight of the fact that the United States is and must remain Israel’s greatest diplomatic and military ally. He stick-handled the US-Israel relationsh­ip, with

prudence I believe, through eight difficult years of Barak Obama’s presidency and four chaotic years of Donald Trump’s presidency.

He did so without succumbing to Obama’s often-ugly pressures for perilous withdrawal­s on the Palestinia­n front, while succeeding in obtaining additional US military aid from Obama and important diplomatic gains from Trump (such as the move of the embassy to Jerusalem, recognitio­n of the Golan as Israeli territory, the Pompeo declaratio­n on historic Jewish settlement rights, and more).

Throughout these challengin­g years, Netanyahu maintained and expanded Israel’s diplomatic independen­ce. The ultimate expression of this was his speech to the US Congress in 2015 against Obama’s dangerous nuclear deal with Iran. Despite the centrality of the US alliance for Israel, Netanyahu spoke out unambiguou­sly and bravely against administra­tion policy when he felt that Israel’s most existentia­l security interests were at stake.

This is what the leader of a truly independen­t country does – the prime minister of the first sovereign Jewish state in 2,000 years – when the chips are down.

I DOUBT THAT this was what Netanyahu was thinking about at the time, but numerous public figures in the Arabian Gulf have told me that more than anything else, it was Netanyahu’s defiant speech in Congress that drove their leaders forward toward open diplomatic relations with Israel.

With the US withdrawin­g from its commitment­s in the Middle East, and Iran threatenin­g, these Arab leaders discovered a new strategic partner in the independen­t State of Israel. They recognized that Israel is the only country in the region engaged in concrete daily combat against the Iranians, through covert intelligen­ce operations and targeted strikes.

Because of the political earthquake­s of the past decade (like the Arab world meltdown and rise of ISIS) and thanks to Netanyahu’s wise diplomacy, important actors around the world have come to accept one of Netanyahu’s central strategic arguments: that the main “game” in the region is no longer Israel versus the Palestinia­ns or Israel versus the Arabs.

Instead, the main basis for defense and diplomatic activity in the Middle East is an unofficial alliance between Israel and most of the Arabs against the Iranians and other jihadis. It is the forces of stability and moderation against the forces of violent and radical Islamic revolution.

It is in this context that Netanyahu’s policies on the Palestinia­n file need to be viewed. Upon collapse of the Oslo process due to Palestinia­n rejectioni­sm, Netanyahu understood that Israel must prevent runaway Palestinia­n statehood; the emergence of a radical state that would prolong and exacerbate conflict with Israel instead of ending it.

He worked to dial back the unrealisti­c and foolhardy “internatio­nal consensus” whereby Israel was expected to swiftly broker full-fledged and effectivel­y separate Palestinia­n states in the West Bank and Gaza; especially under Palestinia­n regimes that are radicalize­d, dictatoria­l and corrupt. (For a short while, he had the praisewort­hy cooperatio­n of the Trump administra­tion in this regard.)

The bottom line is that whether or not they liked Netanyahu as prime minister, allies and adversarie­s knew that they faced formidable and determined Israeli leadership. US presidents Obama and Trump, Russian President Putin, German Chancellor Merkel, Egyptian President Sisi, Turkish wannabe-sultan Erdogan, and Palestinia­n and Iranian leaders, too, were forced to acknowledg­e Israel’s clear security red lines and resolute diplomatic principles.

They knew that Israel was led by someone who was cautious in the use of force but did not flinch from confrontat­ion when truly necessary. At the very least, this bought Israel grudging respect, and again, considerab­le strategic flexibilit­y. This allowed Israel to conduct with relative impunity a forceful “war between wars” against Iranian and Shi’ite militias in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and apparently inside Iran as well, without this erupting into a comprehens­ive war.

This was Netanyahu’s “grand strategy,” and it largely succeeded. It involved steadfastn­ess, patience, and seeing far over the horizon. It involved positionin­g Israel as an anchor of sanity and a source of ingenuity in an unstable world.

Of course, Netanyahu is no saint, and he failed to adequately address several explosive Israeli identity issues. He has burdened the next generation of Israeli leaders with economic inequaliti­es, religious-secular and Israel-Diaspora divides, legislativ­e-legal imbalances, and democratic deficits.

But Prime Minister Bennett and Alternate Prime Minister Lapid would do well to embrace Netanyahu’s strategic doctrines (even giving him some credit), and in so doing lead Israel toward ever-more-robust security and diplomatic achievemen­ts.

 ?? (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters) ?? FORMER PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu looks on during a special session of the Knesset on Sunday.
(Ronen Zvulun/Reuters) FORMER PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu looks on during a special session of the Knesset on Sunday.
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