Following the election of Likud leader Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu as Israel’s prime minister and the new conservative coalition in the Knesset, Arab leaders from Bahrain, Jordan, Sudan, United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Egypt congratulated the incoming administration. Despite the mixed reactions in the United States and Israel over Netanyahu’s win and the proclamations that the new Israeli government will undermine the progress made between Israel and its Arab allies, many forget that Netanyahu’s economic and military policies are why they have allied with Israel.
Following the Islamic Revolution of 1979 in Iran, many Arab states started changing their opposition towards Israel, realizing that the Jewish state would be a necessary ally to fight Islamic terrorism in the region. Many hoped that a leader in Israel would rise and stand up to the Islamic Republic of Iran and its terrorist proxies and do whatever was necessary to prevent their regimes from being toppled by the Ayatollahs in Tehran and other Sunni or Shiite terrorist organizations. Enter Bibi Netanyahu who happened to address these concerns while facing mounting opposition at home and abroad.
From his first time as Israel’s Prime Minister in 1996, Netanyahu was one of the few Israeli politicians who spoke out against Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, calling on the international community to pay attention and prevent the Ayatollahs from reaching the capabilities necessary to produce a nuclear weapon. Following his election again in 1999 and then in 2009, Netanyahu’s administration enacted a series of covert campaigns against Tehran and its terrorist proxies, hacking into the regime’s nuclear facilities, assassinating nuclear scientists and members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IGRC). Overseas, Netanyahu and his government pushed the European Union and the United States to enact harsh economic sanctions against Iran, crippling the regime’s revenue resources and tools needed to acquire a nuclear weapon.
When the Obama administration announced its intentions to negotiate with Iran over its nuclear program, Netanyahu led the charge to oppose negotiations, citing the untrustworthiness of the mullahs and the ability of Iran to acquire an atomic weapon thanks to sanctions relief offered by the administration. Many of the Gulf Arab leaders viewed Netanyahu’s 2015 address to Congress as a good speech, given that the then-Israeli Prime Minister was standing up to an administration that had ignored the concerns of Gulf Arab allies.
When President Obama called on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to resign following the 2011 Arab spring, and the Muslim Brotherhood took over, Netanyahu and his government immediately criticized the United States for its disastrous decision to kick a longstanding ally to the curb. Many of the Arab states, like Jordan, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia, took notice of Israel’s reactions, agreeing with Netanyahu that Mubarak’s overthrow would not only lead to chaos in Egypt and the Middle East but allow the Islamic Republic to have a presence in Cairo.
In October 2020, Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) personally called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to obtain the Pegasus spyware tool made by an Israeli NSO Group for governments to spy on the electronic devices of terrorists and criminals. Netanyahu’s decision to not only opened up cooperation between Israel and the Kingdom but made MBS and his government too rely on and appreciate Netanyahu and his leadership.
As Netanyahu and his government have strengthened the Israeli Army for a potential strike against Iran and its nuclear program, Arab states have been attracted to such efforts and understand that the Israeli leader has his priorities correct. Additionally, the economic reforms made under Netanyahu’s tenure are another aspect that the Arab states notice, given that many want to turn the Middle East into the next Europe and need an ally who can help make that dream a reality.
Netanyahu also helped create and sign the Abraham Accords, which normalized ties between Israel, the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco, recognizing Israel’s right to exist and strengthening economic and military cooperation against Iran and its terrorist proxies. Netanyahu also had close relations with the now-deceased Sultan Qaboos of Oman, who would have most likely announced normalization with Israel, bringing another Gulf state into the Arab alliance with the Jewish state and securing a strategic location against Iran.
While it’s true that Netanyahu and his government have differences with the Arab states over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they are hesitant to voice support for Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic groups like Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. As Iran continues the steady stream of weaponry and funding to Hezbollah, the Houthis, Hamas, and other Islamic terrorist groups in the region, the Gulf Arab states realize that they don’t stand a chance unless Netanyahu is working to deter the exportation of the Islamic revolution.
Given this, it’s time to stop with the declarations that normalization between Israel and its Arab allies is in jeopardy. Instead, look to the future to see how Arab states like Saudi Arabia and others will work with Netanyahu, a Prime Minister they have come to respect and rely on.
“The views expressed in this post reflect the views of the author(s) and not UCLA or ASUCLA Communications Board.”