A Love Affair Between Sunni Arab States and Israel? Not So Fast.

Suddenly the only democracy in the Middle East is boasting that the region's despots are willing to embrace it, and perhaps some day even to be seen on the street with it.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
PM Netanyahu, right, with Defense Minister Ya'alon, on Dec. 10, 2014.
PM Netanyahu, right, with Defense Minister Ya'alon, on Dec. 10, 2014.Credit: AFP
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

It was hard to believe our ears, or, to be more precise, to believe what we were reading: Israel has channels for talks with the neighboring Sunni countries, not only Egypt and Jordan, but the Gulf states and North Africa as well. This was reported by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon at the Munich Security Conference. According to the story by Barak Ravid in Haaretz this week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went even further in his speech in Jerusalem before members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, saying that most of the Sunni countries consider Israel an ally rather than an enemy.

Ostensibly you need considerable courage to publicize such a story; after all, in our region there is a very serious punishment for secret love affairs, to the point of murdering the “slut” in order to preserve the family honor. But the fact is that in this instance there is no need to be such a big hero. Israel has already had similar love affairs: Shortly after the signing of the Oslo Accords and the peace treaty with Jordan, relations with many other Arab countries flourished. Not only did they demonstrate their desire for peaceful relations with Israel, they even allowed it to establish official delegations on their soil.

Morocco and Tunisia, Qatar, Oman and Mauritania openly held hands with the Zionist state, and even the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain didn’t turn their backs at the sight of an Israeli delegate. And even before anyone even dreamt of peace agreements between Israel and the Palestinians, it was actually Saddam Hussein’s Iraq that “examined possibilities” of informal relations with Israel. But all those good friends dropped out one after the other from the ranks of Israel’s cheerleaders, after they realized that the prom queen only wanted to exploit them without granting them political profit, primarily a solution to the Palestinian problem.

Ya’alon can growl from morning to night that there is no connection between the present crises in the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and he’s right, but there is a close connection between the conflict and the absence of proper relations with Arab states, and mainly with the Arab peoples. There is a strong connection between the conflict and the rejection by “Sunni” regimes of what they see as deliberate Israeli harm to the places sacred to Islam on the Temple Mount. But the Israeli leadership finds it convenient to err and mislead with unfounded statements to the effect that if the Egyptian army floods Hamas’ tunnels, if Jordan is afraid of Islamic State (ISIS) and if Saudi Arabia describes Iran as an enemy, that means that Israel is their preferred ally.

Like Israel, Arab countries, whether Sunni or not, can have more than one enemy. After all, the Saudis’ “Sunni affection” for Israel, which was revealed by Ya’alon, doesn’t means that it sees Sunni Palestine as a friend of Israel. Syria’s Alawite President Bashar Assad is apparently a better guarantee of security for Israel than the takeover of Syria by Sunni organizations, and the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood in Yemen is a partner of Saudi Arabia, as opposed to the assertions of Ya’alon and Netanyahu.

But why let the facts blur the tremendous “diplomatic achievement” of shaking hands with the Saudi prince, Turki al Faisal, who was the chief of intelligence and has been conducting talks with Israelis for a long time?

Why should this “incredible” achievement have aroused amazement? What exactly are Ya’alon and Netanyahu bragging about? About the fact that the managers of the villa are talking to representatives of the jungle? Shouldn’t the opposite have been the case? Shouldn’t the “wild beasts” be the ones to boast of their relations with the wise and enlightened rulers?

Suddenly the only democracy in the Middle East is boasting that the despots of the Middle East are willing to embrace it, and perhaps some day even to be seen on the street with it. Could it be that the “jungle beasts” have finally identified one of their own?

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