It would never have seemed possible that anyone could bully Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, but he has found his match or even matches. He is being pushed around from two sources one of which is much more traditional for Israeli politics and one which is–at least to some observers—surprising, although it should not be. Within Israel as the Jewish Holiday season approaches, the charedi community is making demands to travel and hold services in ways and under conditions which are in clear violation of Covid restrictions and limits. Meanwhile, the President Trump has pushed Bibi to attend a celebratory signing ceremony at the White House three days before Rosh Hashanah.
Foreign travel for a public ceremony in the midst of a pandemic that has reached the highest proportion world-wide in Israel of cases per size of population seems like a dubious decision for the Prime Minister, absent a serious national security issue. Normalization of relations with the UAE is a significant diplomatic move but from Israel’s perspective hardly time sensitive. Furthermore, this normalization deal is beginning to have many more glitches attached to it than appeared at the outset. Something else is at work here when suddenly, the UAE, followed by a string of other Sunni Arab states including it seems maybe even Saudi Arabia, wants to establish relations with Israel. This is too good to be true, especially as de facto relations have existed with many of these countries and Israel for some years.
From the Arab perspective it is an effort to establish a strong anti-Iran front with the U.S. as the mouthpiece and Israel as the battering ram. It they are united to make this breakthrough, these Arab states similarly could collectively break this agreement. It appears that the UAE has convinced the Trump Administration—with Netanyahu’s agreement–to permit the Arab States to purchase F-35 fighter jets as well as a large package of other cutting-edge weapons systems from the U.S. aircraft industry, for cash.
Those Arab States, as well as the Palestinians, who dislike the deal will push back in public and some of the more radical groups might well generate terrorist attacks against Israel or even the U.S. At the end of the day, however, everyone in the Arab world believes that all those states befriending Israel today, can walk away any time that they feel their Arab brethren are suffering too much from this new diplomatic arrangement.
Israeli Prime Binyamin Netanyahu knows that when you deal with President Donald Trump everything is transactional. For everything he does, Trump gets something in return—eventually. The President is now looking for his pay-off from Bibi for the Jerusalem embassy move as well as for the other gestures of public support and favors he has extended to Israel throughout his term; including the “Greatest Deal of the Century.” The timing also is important for Trump. If American manufactures make huge weapons sales now Trump will expect to be paid off in increased support for his re-election campaign. Even more devious, Trump wants to guarantee that he and Jared Kushner will have private business deals and understandings already in place in the Gulf regardless of the November election results.
For Israel, however, there is a very serious national security issue lingering. It remains unclear whether Netanyahu received appropriate security cabinet approval for the arms deal with the UAE, et.al.; whether the Israeli military and the Mossad approved the deal; whether there were inside upgrades and additional weapons sales for Israel to gain Israel’s acquiescence to the deal; and whether the entire deal will still insure that the IDF maintains its qualitative military edge in the region.
In addition, Netanyahu needs to assure a skeptical Israeli public that when it comes to a health emergency he is not again caving in for political reasons to the charedi community. As if President Trump is not a bully enough, the leaders of the ultra-orthodox community are demanding no restrictions on their right to pray together on the forthcoming holiday. In addition, the Breslov Chassidic sect, is demanding that the Prime Minister permit several thousand of their numbers to travel to Uman in the Ukraine to celebrate the Rosh Hashanah holiday in the city of their founder Rabbi Nachman of Breslov. The charedim are so adamant in their demands that they have informed Bibi that if he does not submit to their requests, they will withdraw from the governmental coalition.
Netanyahu faces demands from all sides. He also has an angry country which is becoming more adamant that he address the Covid rise more vigorously. Bibi faces his corruption trial resuming in December/January and the specter of another election looming as well. The bullying from Washington and from the Chasidim may well only be the tip of the iceberg.