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

Why Hizballah Is Threatening Cyprus

In a speech last Wednesday, Hizballah’s secretary general Hassan Nasrallah not only declared that “nowhere will be safe” in Israel in the event of an all-out war, but also that his forces would attack the island nation of Cyprus. Hanin Ghaddar, Farzin Nadimi, and David Schenker observe that this is no idle threat, but one the Iran-backed terrorist group has “a range of options” for carrying out. They explain: 

Nasrallah’s threat to Cyprus was not random—the republic has long maintained close ties with Israel, much to Hizballah’s irritation. In recent years, the island has hosted multiple joint air-defense drills and annual special-forces exercises with Israel focused on potential threats from Hizballah and Iran.

Nasrallah’s threat should also be viewed in the context of wartime statements by Iran and its proxies about disrupting vital shipping lanes to Israel through the East Mediterranean.

This scenario should be particularly troubling to Washington given the large allied military presence in Cyprus, which includes a few thousand British troops, more than a hundred U.S. Air Force personnel, and a detachment of U-2 surveillance aircraft from the 1st Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron.

Yoni Ben Menachem suggests there is an additional aspect to Nasrallah’s designs on Cyprus, involving a plan

to neutralize the Israeli air force through two primary actions: a surprise attack with precision missiles and UAVs on Israeli air-force bases and against radar and air-defense facilities, including paralyzing Ben-Gurion Airport.

Nasrallah’s goal is to ground Israeli aircraft to prevent them from conducting missions in Lebanon against mid- and long-range missile launchers. Nasrallah fears that Israel might preempt his planned attack by deploying its air force to Cypriot bases, a scenario the Israeli air force practiced with Cyprus during military exercises over the past year.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Cyprus, Hizballah, U.S. Security