It may be difficult to admit, but Israel is a player on the global stage economically, militarily, and politically. It certainly has enemies — and many countries barely tolerate its presence — but Israel is an actor. It is, after all, not the only country with complicated relationships. Venezuela does not like the United States; Ireland and many former colonies still despise the British; there is no love lost between Russia and many of her former satellites. Despite its conflict with Arab nations and their allies, Israel remains a global player, as seen in a pair of remarkable diplomatic sequences between Israel and Russia, and between Israel and China.
Israel has grown increasingly concerned about the tragic turmoil in Syria as well as the intensifying radical character of many of the anti-government forces. A few weeks ago, Israel was credited with attacks on Russian or Iranian missiles in Syria which it was believed were being readied for transport to Assad’s Hizbullah allies in Lebanon. Much like its 2007 attack on a nuclear facility then being constructed in Syria, the recent attacks evoked only minimum negative condemnations from the international community.
It is believed that at least some of these weapons had been provided to Syria by Russia, which also announced its intention to deliver S-330 sophisticated missiles as well as sea-based missiles to Assad’s forces. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu informed the Russians that he wanted to discuss Israel’s concern over a growing border escalation between it and Syria (and her Hizbullah surrogates) and the Russian-supplied weaponry.
In the wake of Netanyahu’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Russians announced that they would continue to provide missiles as a “deterrent against foreign intervention” in Syria and endorsed a Russian-U.S. peace conference in Geneva in June. Israel indicated it would take any steps necessary to protect its people, and hoped that a radical Islamic state or states would not emerge should Assad leave. The Syrians declared that they would not tolerate any further attacks by Israel against targets in Syria, and that they would consider attending the June conference. Following a “decent” interval, Russia then announced it was considering not delivering the missiles to Syria at this time, as long as Israel would refrain from any further attacks against Damascus.
Whether the Geneva conference comes off remains to be seen. It is unclear who will represent the anti-government interests in Syria, or how Iran, Hizbullah, and the radical Shi’ite groups will respond to such a meeting. What was clear was Israel’s role on the international stage. Despite lukewarm — albeit full — diplomatic relations with Russia, Israel has established its bona fides in the international community. Despite the best efforts of its neighbors, and their allies in the United Nations, to turn Israel into a pariah, Israel demonstrated that it can speak for itself on the international stage.
Similarly, in a less dramatic or crisis environment Netanyahu went to China for a five-day visit immediately following the attack in Syria. These long-planned, bilateral conversations with the Chinese were reported to have included Chinese purchases of upgraded Israeli drone equipment. “Coincidently,” Netanyahu’s visit occurred while Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was also visiting China.
Regardless of whether there were any substantive conversations between the Israelis and the Palestinians — and one must assume they occurred at some level — Israel achieved two immediate positive, diplomatic results from this “coincidence.”
First, Israel affirmed that it considered the Chinese not only a trading partner, but a full and legitimate interlocutor in any possible peace process conversations with the Palestinians.
Second, it affirmed the newly elected Netanyahu government’s willingness to re-open talks with the Palestinians — reiterated in conversations with Secretary of State John Kerry — and challenging Abbas’ tendency to set preconditions and other roadblocks every time the conversations appear about to be set.
There was a time when Israel was seen as a ward of the United States and needed to be protected in the world arena. Today, while Israel still needs friends and support, it has become a nation able to address most of its global problems itself.