ANALYSIS: Israel's changing position in the world

The list of countries interested in establishing or improving relations with Israel in a variety of ways is increasing rapidly.

Yochanan Visser ,

Trump presents the Abraham Accords
Trump presents the Abraham Accords
Joyce N. Boghosian/Pool / Latin America News Agency/REUTERS
Barely a week after an Israeli delegation accompanied by an American one embarked on a first official visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the context of a historic peace deal between the Jewish state and the Arab country, it appears that a breakthrough in relations is taking place between Israel and other countries as well.

It was again US President Donald J. Trump who announced, after a meeting at the White House, that the predominantly European Muslim country of Kosovo would establish relations with Israel and open an embassy in Jerusalem.

At the same time, Trump announced that Serbia would also transfer its embassy to Jerusalem.

Kosovo had previously expressed interest in relations with Israel, but the Israeli government feared at the time that it would encourage Palestinian Arabs to take unilateral steps towards the declaration of an independent state as well, much as Kosovo did in February 2008.

Israel, furthermore, took into account that not all countries, including Spain, have recognized Kosovo as an independent state and did not want to damage relations with these countries which have their own separatist movements that want independency.

But now, after the United States has taken new steps to strengthen Israel's position in the Arab world, in particular, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could not say no to Trump's new surprise deal that would further strengthen Israel's position in the world.

Serbia has had good relations with Israel for a long time but is not a member of the European Union (EU).

The decision to move the country's embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem could, however, be followed by other European countries that have divergent positions on Israel within the EU.

Among them are the Czech Republic and Austria. Both countries are already protecting Israel from biased and pro-Palestinian positions towards the Jewish state within the EU.

Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel responded with joy to Serbia's decision, thanking his "friend President Aleksander Vucic” for the decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and for the decision to move the Serbian embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

Netanyahu also thanked President Trump, and vowed he would continue to try to convince other European countries to move their embassies to Israel's capital as well.

The surprising developments in Israel's relations with countries in Europe came at the same time as reports came in of new developments in relations between Israel and moderate Sunni Arab states in the Middle East.

Last Friday, Abdul Rahman al-Sudais, the leading Imam of the Great Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, delivered a sermon saying that the Prophet Muhammad had good relations with a Jewish neighbor. So good, that the Jewish man decided to become a Muslim, according to al-Sudais.

The Imam is known for his position of promoting good interfaith relations with other religions, including Judaism.

The words of al-Sudais were not appreciated by everyone in the Arab world, with the Egyptian Islamic expert Mohammed al-Sagheer accusing the Saudi Imam of hypocrisy and charging him with “treason to Islam”.

Other Muslim scholars accused al-Sudais of promoting relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel, something that is increasingly the talk-of-the-town in Israel after the Kingdom opened its airspace to Israeli civilian jets from El-Al and Israir at the beginning of September.

El-Al currently only operates cargo flights at Abu Dhabi airport, but Israir is negotiating with the UAE about civilian flights.

The opening of Saudi airspace to Israeli civilian planes shortens routes to Asian countries significantly and is expected to cause a significant drop in ticket prices to countries such as Thailand and the Philippines.

While Israeli media reported on Tuesday that King Salman of Saudi Arabia had poured cold water on the idea of normalizing relations with Israel when he spoke with President Trump earlier this week, sticking to the old position that the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 should be implemented, his son Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) has different ideas about relations with the Jewish state.

MBS has developed very good relations with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and has repeatedly met with Jewish leaders in the United States and Riyadh the Saudi capital, where he expressed some positive views about Israel.

Meanwhile, Israeli retail chains are already preparing to open branches in the UAE, including the Scoop chain, which sells shoes, and plans to open five branches in the Emirates.

UAE entrepreneurs are also already in talks about opening hotels and other businesses in Israel and have also expressed interest in the real estate market in Israel, which is already experiencing massive growth.

The next Arab country likely to establish relations with Israel is Bahrain.

On September 3, a senior Israeli official told the Israeli TV station KAN 11 that the US government was in talks with Bahraini leaders about establishing relations with Israel.

Talks with Bahrain are mainly conducted between Mossad head Yossi Cohen and Bahrain's Foreign Minister Khalifa Bin Salman al-Khalifa.

Al-Khalifa made headlines last year when he said that Israel is historically part of the heritage of this whole region" adding that “the Jewish people have a place among us."

Cohen made many trips to the Gulf States to discuss formalizing relations with Israel and his undercover agency, the Mossad, is reportedly sharing intelligence on Iran’s belligerent activities in the Middle East with these countries.

Chad, a predominantly Muslim country in northern Africa, is now also considering opening an embassy or another diplomatic mission in Jerusalem as well. A delegation from the government of Chad paid a visit to the Israeli capital on Tuesday and discussed the opening of embassies in Jerusalem and Chad.

Chad is battling the Islamist terror group Boko Haram and is interested in purchasing Israeli weapons, water-use technology, agricultural know-how, and wants cooperation with Israel in the field of intelligence sharing.

The renewal of relations between Chad and Israel took place in 2018 after they were cut off after the Yom Kippur War in 1973.


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