Israel Must Choose the Right Friends in Asia

In the past few decades, the Jewish state has vastly expanded its diplomatic, economic, and sometimes military ties with South and East Asia, while doing its best to stay away from the conflicts that divide the countries in the region. Daniel Samet surveys the potential for these relationships, urging Jerusalem to avoid deepening cooperation with China and instead to focus on cultivating further its alliances-in-the-making with China’s competitors:

The main contenders here are India, Japan, and South Korea. Despite their many differences, these three countries are democracies with dynamic economies, and they, too, would benefit from deeper ties with the Jewish state. What’s more, they are three of the most important players in the world’s most important region. Casting its lot with these nations, as opposed to China, is a far better bet for Israel, and one that Israelis can make and still sleep soundly.

There is surely the will on both sides to keep expanding ties.

Both Israel and India are democracies threatened by radical Islamic terrorism. Beyond weapons sales, intelligence-sharing has proliferated among the two countries in recent years. . . . The same is true of economic relations. Bilateral trade between the two nations reached nearly $3.4 billion in 2020, the most recent year for which such data are available. India has become Israel’s third-largest trading partner in Asia and its seventh-largest worldwide. Gems and chemicals make up the lion’s share of bilateral trade, augmented by a surge in the exchange of consumer goods such as high-tech wares and communications systems.

Skeptics of this alliance have pointed to the problems with the government of India’s President Narendra Modi, who has cracked down on civil society and is broadly accused of encouraging ethnic and religious violence. To these arguments, Samet replies:

The questions are fair and worth wrestling with. But let’s dispel any sort of moral equivalence between totalitarian China and democratic India. No one in the former has the right to vote. The latter has universal suffrage. China represses ethnic and religious minorities on a massive scale. India is home to more than 2,000 ethnic groups that—despite democratic backsliding under the [ruling party], BJP—enjoy a degree of pluralism unthinkable in China. Doing business with New Delhi is not the same as doing business with Beijing. And for all Modi’s faults, he won’t be around forever. . . . For the time being, India’s record of illiberalism isn’t enough to warrant torpedoing the relationship.

Read more at Commentary

More about: India, Israel diplomacy, Israel-China relations

Saudi Arabia Should Open Its Doors to Israeli—and Palestinian—Pilgrims

On the evening of June 26 the annual period of the Hajj begins, during which Muslims from all over the world visit Mecca and perform prescribed religious rituals. Because of the de-jure state of war between Saudi Arabia and the Jewish state, Israeli Muslim pilgrims—who usually number about 6,000—must take a circuitous (and often costly) route via a third country. The same is true for Palestinians. Mark Dubowitz and Tzvi Kahn, writing in the Saudi paper Arab News, urge Riyadh to reconsider its policy:

[I]f the kingdom now withholds consent for direct flights from Israel to Saudi Arabia, it would be a setback for those normalization efforts, not merely a continuation of the status quo. It is hard to see what the Saudis would gain from that.

One way to support the arrangement would be to include Palestinians in the deal. Israel might also consider earmarking its southern Ramon Airport for the flights. After all, Ramon is significantly closer to the kingdom than Ben-Gurion Airport, making for cheaper routes. Its seclusion from Israeli population centers would also help Israeli efforts to monitor outgoing passengers and incoming flights for security purposes.

A pilot program that ran between August and October proved promising, with dozens of Palestinians from the West Bank traveling back and forth from Ramon to Cyprus and Turkey. This program proceeded over the objections of the Palestinian Authority, which fears being sidelined by such accommodations. Jordan, too, has reason to be concerned about the loss of Palestinian passenger dinars at Amman’s airports.

But Palestinians deserve easier travel. Since Israel is willing to be magnanimous in this regard, Saudi Arabia can certainly follow suit by allowing Ramon to be the springboard for direct Hajj flights for Palestinian and Israeli Muslims alike. And that would be a net positive for efforts to normalize ties between [Jerusalem] and Riyadh.

Read more at Arab News

More about: Israel-Arab relations, Israeli Arabs, Palestinians, Saudi Arabia