It’s easy to be misled by elements of Western media and academia that seem to prefer terrorists and radical Islamists to Israel. A diplomatic balance sheet from Israel’s standpoint is quite good, pretty remarkably good, better than it has been for a very long time.
Of course, I have to add quickly that there are real problems, disagreements, and specific frictions. I’ll come to that in a moment. But first the good news:
Countries with which Israel has great relations: Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, South Korea, the United States, and also the European Union and NATO. Moreover, there are a long list of ex-Soviet bloc states which understand the difference between a democratic state defending itself and a bunch of ideologically driven, dictatorship-worshipping terrorists. They include the new EU chair, the Czech Republic, and a dozen others, of which Azerbaijan, Georgia, Lithuania, Poland, can stand as examples. And last but not least most of sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
Countries with which Israel has good relations: China, Russia, and Turkey. See details below.
Non-Muslim, countries with which Israel has bad relations: Venezuela, North Korea, Norway, Spain, and Sweden. Perhaps you can come up with a few others. Nominations are open.
Of course, friendly countries have criticisms over settlements, for example, or defining "peace" as Israel not responding to Hamas attacks. Yet in practice, much of this talk is to show these countries have influence and "balanced" policies. Regarding what is important–things like normal relations, trade including military-related equipment, basic support, sanctions against extremist enemies–these relationships deliver.
In some cases, as in France or Italy, current good links depend on the specific leader in power there. Obviously, Israel was not an important issue in their elections but the result shows large elements of policymaking elites are friendly and public opinion isn’t demanding leaders hostile to Jerusalem.
In France, Nicholas Sarkozy replaced the notably less friendly Jacque Chirac. While Sarkozy’s soft policy toward Syria is disappointing for me, it doesn’t conflict with Israeli policy. His recent foray into pushing a poorly conceived ceasefire in Gaza shows impulsive interventionism (France must act as a great power), but unquestionably his is the French government most friendly to Israel in fifty years.
With China, Israel has a good bilateral relationship despite that country’s arms’ sales (reportedly Chinese-made rockets sold to Iran and then given to Hamas have been shot at Israel) and reluctance to support sanctions against Iran. China is motivated by a search for money, a desperate need for oil, and fear that sanctions might be turned against itself some day.
At the same time, though, China, like other countries mentioned above, has broken with the myth that it’s impossible to have good relations with both Israel and the Arab world. This was always untrue but changes in the last 20 years–the Cold War’s end, the peace process–made the truth especially obvious. Israel’s technological wealth, impressive military performance, influence with the United States, and other factors have made it an attractive friend to have.
In addition, growing radical Islamist forces have scared many countries. They might have been able to romanticize falsely the PLO as a progressive national liberation movement. Iran, Hamas, and Hizballah are a harder sell.
Two other important Israeli relationships are the most complex. Turkey has an Islamist-rooted government which portrays itself as a center-right party. Its instinct may be anti-Israel but its behavior isn’t. There are four reasons for this: friendship with Israel is used to prove the party isn’t Islamist, the party has taken in pro-Israel politicians, mutually beneficial economic links, and Turkey’s military wants a strong alliance. Like other countries, Turkey also knows that cooperation with Israel is necessary for it to play an important diplomatic role in the region. Turkey’s brokering of Israel-Syria negotiations proves it.
Finally, Russia benefits from a balanced policy which allows good relations with Israel, Syria, and Iran simultaneously. Of course, that is a big problem for Israel. Moscow sells weapons to Syria, paid for by Iran, which are given to Hizballah. Still, constrained by its own wish to maintain good relations with Israel, Russia limits friction by not making certain sales–nuclear and anti-aircraft missiles to Iran–and limiting contacts with Hamas and Hizballah. The key question is whether Moscow will go too far in tilting toward Tehran and Damascus or maintain the present balance.
What is the main limitation in these relationships? It isn’t pressing Israel for concessions to the Palestinian Authority but rather in not sufficiently backing Israel’s security regarding Hizballah and Hamas. In Lebanon, the UN-led effort broke its promises to Israel to keep Hizballah from rebuilding arsenals and returning to the south. This isn’t an immediate problem since Hizballah is currently too busy taking power in Lebanon to attack Israel.
Regarding Gaza, there has been much real support, which counts, coupled with scattered verbal criticism, which doesn’t matter. Israel knows these countries won’t support a long war or reconquest of the Gaza Strip. But those aren’t its objectives. The question is how helpful these countries will be in creating new security arrangements that actually prevent Hamas from attacking Israel even under a declared "ceasefire."
Nevertheless, the fact remains that Israel’s diplomatic relationships are far better than is generally realized and the importance of this fact should never be underestimated.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley).