Archive for ‘Europe’

April 25, 2012

Israel’s Navy Could Be Fighting off Africa

by Gedalyah Reback

Despite the fact India lacks what might be becoming a standard element of modern navies, its services have been in high demand from other countries seeks its help in the Indian Ocean. The European Union wants to protect shipping along the African coast, for example against Somali pirates. European countries are trying to build the naval abilities of “Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea, Kenya and Tanzania.” Where Israel is in this project is a question for market researchers as much as it is for Israel’s political leaders. The project is trying to hand over responsibilities to local actors, and India is the natural choice. But Israeli private contractors have operated in the region for years, even preventing one pirate attack on an Italian ship.

Israel has strong relations with Kenya & Tanzania, so she’s perfectly placed to make an impact with its own thriving defense industry. Even Russia & China are part of international efforts to patrol the area, joining NATO’s (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) Operation Ocean Shield.

Where’s Israel’s leadership comes in is here, with NATO. Recently, Turkey refused to allow Israeli reps at a NATO conference in Chicago. Every country in the alliance has a veto on policy decisions, and Turkey has used its power several times in the past. Other Mediterranean countries who are not part of the alliance were also in attendance. Until the fallout with Turkey, Israel’s relationship had been growing with NATO, virtually to the point of being an unofficial member. As Israel’s naval powers grow, it will want to extend its reach further, especially off the coast of countries where Israeli diplomats have been attacked and Islamist militant organizations are operating, i.e. Somalia. Israel will get that chance this summer, when Turkey’s other rival and Israel’s new energy business partner Cyprus becomes the President nation of the European Union. That will put Israel’s navy in an optimal position to be more directly involved with the European Union in both the Mediterranean & the Indian Ocean defense project.

The European Union is the backdoor for the IDF to cooperate with European armies when Turkey is blocking its access to NATO. The two organizations, despite being headquartered in the same city and actually having 21 members in common, do not coordinate policy, projects or operations well at all. The main reason is actually the Turkish dispute with Cyprus, making the second half of 2012 one of the more interesting times for European politics in recent history. With disputes about the Euro, possibly a new French president and the relationships in the eastern Mediterranean deteriorating, diplomats will be busy trying to patch up Turkey’s faltering diplomatic relationships before they infect European initiatives in both the EU & NATO.

Israel's been aiming to expand its diplomatic footprint in Africa itself for years.

But Cyprus will be in command, and the Cypriots have used their political position against Turkey before. In 2005, Cyprus vetoed another idea, to invite Turkey to join the so-called “European Defense Agency.” That agency is more a loose accord to get armies from the EU and outside the EU to talk to each other. The contracts Cypriots have been signing with Israelis over joint exploration for gas & oil make it a real opportunity for Israel to get into the economic and security projects of the European Union.

Personally, while I’d like Israel and Turkey to patch things up, Israel needs more leverage in future negotiations over the two countries’ relationship in order to make getting back together worth it. This is an opportunity for Israel to do that.

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April 16, 2012

Liberal Protests just aren’t the IDF’s Bag

by Gedalyah Reback

Another incident with liberal, pro-Palestinian activists has hit the IDF squarely in the face, metaphorically speaking. This picture is a screenshot from the latest incident, when Shalom Eisner suddenly smashed his rifle into Danish activist Andreas Ayas’ punim. Despite whatever other articles have been published that try to emphasize the excuse provided, the video doesn’t show this particular man doing anything. In fact, he looks confused and oblivious to Eisner’s shouting.

It’s just the latest incident that didn’t have to happen. Activists have been coming to the West Bank and before 2005 Gaza for quite a long time. The sudden concern about publicity stunts like the flotillas on boats and “flytillas” on planes are a worrisome stain on the country’s reputation. The Israeli media delivers more attention to activists than any other country’s private and public coverage. It was unusual that such a minor publicity stunt, like May 2010’s flotilla, attracted such a massive amount of reporting. It put pressure on the Israeli navy that shouldn’t have been there.

Now the Israeli government is dealing with a dragged out media shouting match between Eisner and Ayas. The Danish ambassador has had to demand answers from Jerusalem. The attention given to Eisner’s broken hand, no matter how he got it, seems to be justifying some sort of rage coming from Eisner, which is inexcusable as well.

In retrospect, this isn’t the big incident that even this blog post might lead you to think it is. Accidents happen in crowd control, or someone does something stupid. This is nowhere near the uncalled-for pepper spray incident at UC Irvine last year.

This isn’t the flotilla debacle from two years ago, either. No matter how selective or unfair the editing is, Israeli commanders have to add media to their perspective on how to deal with things like this.

April 2, 2012

Israeli-French Relations are Already Shaky

by Gedalyah Reback

Cross-posted in The Beacon: Israeli-French Relations are Already Shaky

The two countries have had a complicated relationship for decades. In the 1960s, French President Charles de Gaulle abruptly severed his country’s alliance with Israel in favor of ties with Arab countries. The French were suffering after the Algerian War of Independence, so Israel was hung out to dry.

But France is extremely important for Israel internationally on the one hand as a central player in world politics and secondly as the third largest Jewish country in the world (population, 500-600,000). It is essentially the capital of Jewish affairs in Europe like New York is for North America. But because of strong French nationalism and skepticism of religious communities, it also hosts a strongly Zionist-oriented Jewish population. It has been a major source for new olim the last few years.

But nothing characterizes the relationship more than the Gilad Shalit crisis. Shalit’s family is one of those immigrant families. He has dual citizenship between France and Israel, and he got several honorable mentions from the French president during his captivity. France also lent some diplomatic muscle to the negotiations for his release. It went well with what Israelis considered the best option for a French president. The Socialist Party isn’t considered as friendly or lenient to Israeli concerns or policies.

Sarkozy has tried improving the two countries’ relationship in other ways. But French politics make the relationship shaky. The European Union’s policies in the Middle East conflict also make a warmer relationship tough. Just last year, both Sarkozy and Obama were overheard talking about how much they distrust Benjamin Netanyahu. Things haven’t been easy.

But for traditional Jews in France, Sarkozy is a mixed bag. This year’s election has him saying just about anything to get himself votes, mirroring the flops Republican candidates have been making in the primaries. Not even two weeks ago, his Prime Minister very publicly said Jews and Muslims should give up their dietary laws and assimilate fully in “modern” France. This is a country where French nationalists have held public protests demanding true Frenchmen eat pork in recognition of pig’s place as a staple of a patriotic French diet.

The idea that anti-immigrant and anti-minority feelings are mixing with anti-Israeli politics is nothing new, and it worries Israel’s advocates that see it all exacerbating European policy against Israel. Since the Second Intifida started 12 years ago, attacks against Jews grew tremendously. The Anti-Defamation League is not missing this opportunity to again talk about the rise in anti-Semitism on the continent. That includes another high-profile Jewish murder, victim Ilan Halimi, in 2005. In France, Synagogue arson has occurred often. Attacks have becoming increasingly aggressive over the years.

Cross-posted in The Beacon: Israeli-French Relations are Already Shaky

April 2, 2012

Quick Thought: Israel Should Join the European Union

by Gedalyah Reback

It’s a topic that isn’t broached so often. The reasons aren’t clear. It might have to do with Israeli hesitation toward Europe because of historical baggage. But considering the idea Israel might join NATO comes up every so often, it isn’t so much of a leap. So what keeps this off the radar? Shouldn’t Israel want to join the group?

There are negatives that I can think of, but as a personal exercise I’d like to cover the positives. There are immediate benefits and potential in all of them.

1. Movement

The benefit to Israelis would be the ability to move about Europe more freely and for longer periods of time. It would give Israelis more opportunities to study abroad and build relationships with future business and political partners in important countries from the UK to Germany to Poland. The reverse would also be a benefit. European Jews would more often visit Israel, probably with a heavy level of extended stays by students and retirees. This is something Israel has coveted for decades, a way of channeling more European Jews to the Holy Land to become permanent residents and citizens. It would probably launch at the least a small rekindle of European Zionism in the Jewish community there.

2. Money and Energy

Really these two topics are linked. Since 1992, Europe has added 2.5 million jobs. The opening of borders has let new import/export relationships develop, plus there is a higher-level, professional exchange of knowledge and business that would be incredibly valuable to Israel’s high-tech sector. Israel’s joining the Union would serve as free publicity for Israel’s start-up industry, plus even work in the reverse. With so many foreign interests investing in Israeli companies, the time is coming for Israeli entrepreneurs to buy up foreign assets for themselves.

The opening to tourists is the obvious and most easy-to-understand benefit of the whole project. With easier access to Israel for travelers, that means more cash for the tourist industry, taxes for the government and eventually government investment in various sectors that would in turn sell to continental Europe. Even if Israeli prices were to be equal to Western European prices, there would be extra cash flow.

A major sector that would benefit would be Israel’s growing energy market. Israel has always needed oil, but soon it will be producing natural gas. Depending on how large the exports can be, an internal EU market for fuel would be a major boon for Europe to welcome Israel into the Union and for Israel’s economy. Plus, a massive amount of research & development for alternative energy is happening in Israel. There are infinite possibilities for exporting an untapped and extremely interested market like the one that exists in Europe. It goes hand and hand with Israel’s other R&D, in high-tech.

Other benefits would be in certain import/export markets like cars. The potential for more cars on the road here could mean lower taxes for Israelis and more infrastructure development also. It could even make negotiating building highways in Palestinian territory easier if European automakers and the EU’s political power are behind the push. It would open up access across the country.

3. Customs and Security

The major benefit would probably be in customs, not even the probably infinitely better relationship with NATO. On the customs front, Israel would have more ready access to European travelers and cooperation with other countries’ enforcement agencies and border patrols. It would make monitoring any threats from militant Muslims in Europe easier, particularly from France or Germany.

As mentioned before, entering the European Union would be more reason to join NATO. NATO’s major benefit is its collective defense protocols. First implemented after September 11th, the attack on the United States was defined as an attack on the entire alliance, making the invasion of Afghanistan, overthrow of the Taliban and crushing of Al-Qaeda all NATO priorities and missions, not merely those of the US. Thus, an attack by a foreign power, whether directly or via an affiliated terrorist organization, could be designated an attack on all of NATO, and automatically trigger a cooperative counterattack against an aggressive country like Pakistan, Iran or potentially a future hostile Egypt.

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This is a very blanket list of positives to the idea. Ideologically, economically and defensively, the move makes a lot of sense. It’s worth exploring for Israel’s future in terms of infrastructure, external security and even the potential to attract more Jews to become citizens of Israel.

February 6, 2010

Israeli Sanctions against China and Stronger Ties with Japan

by Gedalyah Reback

Recently, the Chinese government expressed interest in investing in a new Israeli consortium developing the offshore oil fields near Haifa. With production slated to begin in 2012, it will be a new option for countries starving for energy. China is one of those countries, and clearly finds value in developing its defense and economic ties with Israel. This would add to the growing presence of China in Israel’s economy, which included the Carmel Tunnel and the Tel Aviv Light-Rail Project. China’s Yifang recently acquired Israel’s Pegasus Technologies. China is definitely interested in increasing its ties with Israel.

And that is precisely why they should be withheld.

More and more, the Chinese government has publicly come out against renewed sanctions against Iran. Further, Beijing has tried to frustrate the US by demonizing “cyber warfare” Washington is waging against Tehran. Neither of these positions serve Jerusalem’s interests. Compound these facts with Chinese support for North Korea and we are presented with an intolerable link with the Syria’s destroyed nuclear installation, attacked with a swift air strike in September 2007. All of this should be grounds for Israeli sanctions against Beijing.

Though the US has frustrated Israel itself by pressuring it to end its military trade with China, it is a move that is by far in Israel’s benefit even at a time where Israel’s government is resolved to challenge US pressure on Israeli policy. China has benefited from the military trade with Israel, roughly totaling $1.5 billion during the 1990s. Overall, Chinese exports to Israel represent about $3.5 billion, and even the mere threat that it could be cut off would be a sure sign that China cannot reap benefits from both Israel and Iran simultaneously.

China itself recognizes the need to wean itself off short-term investments in Iran, something it ought to be willing to make diplomatic concessions on in order to do so.

As part of a greater effort to either persuade or pressure the Chinese into supporting a stronger sanctions regime against Tehran, Israel should show signs it will strengthen its relationship with Japan at China’s expense. It is alsno not outside Israel’s periphery to cooperate with American-Taiwanese arms deals, like the clandestine Israeli transfer of American missiles to Taiwan in the 1980s.

According to Tel Aviv University’s Aron Shai there is much that Israel still has to offer China in terms of agriculture and energy. Those facts point directly to Israel’s leading desalinization technology and solar power markets. Limited access to oil’s alternatives would certainly limit China’s long-term development.

IT SHOULD be part of a larger strategy to increase Israel’s diplomatic presence globally. Currently, Israel’s relationship with developing powers like India, Brazil, Japan and Germany are limited to a single embassy and a handful of “honorary counsels.” If Israel is to be an eminent regional power, namely economic and technological, there should be an increased, professional consular presence in those countries’ major cities.


Former Prime Minister Olmert meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao

Besides China, the aforementioned states represent the future distributed centers of global power. Israel needs greater diplomatic leverage, especially in actually being able to sit in preeminent positions like the UN Security Council (something it has never done). An exemplar of new relationships would be to support UNSC reform to grant these countries their own vetos on the council.

Even without downgrading relations with China, there is reason to consider creating a consular presence in Japan and Taiwan. While total trade volume with China is about $4.5 billion, the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs only reports a $2.11 billion relationship with Israel.

Israel and Japan have major common interests in terms of missile defense and particularly security concerns relating to North Korea. Yaacov Cohen of the Jewish Center for Public Affairs notes Japanese interest in virtually all major economic sectors active in Israel, including the same areas the Chinese would be.

Israeli security will not be served by rewarding a country that impedes it. Simultaneously, Israeli ties with Japan should be upgraded independent of whatever problems Israel and China have together.


Members of a Japanese Christian group known as Makuya wave Japanese and Israeli flags

Other sources not hyper-linked in the blog:

China and antiterrorism, Chapter: China and Israel – Strange Bedfellows 1948-2006, by Aron Shai

Strategic interests in the Middle East: opposition and support for US, Chapter 6: Japan between the United States and Middle East by George Ehrhardt

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