Netanyahu’s diplomatic coup has become political scandal
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Netanyahu’s diplomatic coup has become political scandal

Wednesday, 26 August 2020
This is an opinion article by an external contributor. The views belong to the writer.
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The beleaguered Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was hoping that the historic peace deal with the UAE will give him respite from the problems he is facing on the domestic front.

The public anger against Bibi as he is popularly known, is growing by the day over corruption charges, bad handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and giving up on his election promise of annexing a third of occupied West Bank.

But even before the ink could dry on the peace agreement, the news that US President Donald Trump is reviewing the potential sale of F-35 stealth fighters to the UAE has added to the Bibi’s woes, threatening the survival of his government and normalisation of relations with the UAE.

All hell broke loose, when Israeli daily the Yedioth Ahronoth daily reported, citing American and the UAE sources, that the peace deal included language to supply the Arab Gulf nation with advanced weapons systems, including American F-35s. Earlier, the US under the shared policy of ensuring Israel maintained a qualitative military edge in a region where it has many enemies had rejected the UAE’s request for advanced jet fighters.

Despite Netanyahu’s denial that there were no such conditions in the deal, a UAE official told the Yedioth Ahronoth that the peace agreement included a provision green-lighting a US sale of advanced weaponry to the Gulf nation and claimed that the Israeli prime minister was aware of the multi-billion-dollar arms deal.

Although Netanyahu tweeted calling the story by the Yedioth Ahronoth daily “utter fake news”, the damage was done. Israeli defence minister Benny Gantz, a bitter Netanyahu foe, who has joined his ’emergency government’ to deal with the pandemic, shot a letter to the prime minister and his national security advisor accusing them of keeping him in the dark and “circumventing his authority” by not requesting his permission to discuss the matter with air force chief.

Warning that proliferation of F-35 fighters will not be ‘good for Israel, Gantz lashed out at Netanyahu, who told the Israel Hayom newspaper that Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, both of the coalition Blue and White party, were not informed of the deal in order to prevent them from ‘leaking the information’. Leaks are other people’s games, Gantz added.

Using a tennis term in Haaretz, senior columnist Anshel Pfeffer, says an unforced error by Netanyahu has turned what was considered a mega diplomatic and a career-defining achievement into a political fiasco and potentially explosive scandal, involving the national security concerns.

Gantz said he planned to discuss the matter of the F-35 sale with the UAE defence minister, adding “So long as I’m defence minister, not one thing will move without coordination or in an irresponsible way in terms of security.”

Netanyahu’s woes do not end here. Arab Gulf states and other Muslim countries, which had welcomed the peace deal, seem to be backtracking on the issue of normalising ties with the Jewish state.

Saudi Arabia, reportedly the architect behind the deal, made it very clear that the price for normalising relations with Israel is the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.

Prince Turki al-Faisal, former Saudi ambassador to the US and ex-intelligence chief, wrote in the Arabic daily Asharq al-Awsat: “Any Arab state that is considering following the UAE should demand in return a price, and it should be an expensive price.

“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has set a price for concluding peace between Israel and the Arabs – it is the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state with Jerusalem as capital, as provided for by the initiative of the late King Abdullah.”

Another shock came from Oman, which sacked its longest-serving foreign minister Yusuf bin Alawi a day after he called on his Israeli counterpart. Sudan also fired its foreign ministry spokesman over his remarks about normalising relations with Israel. Bahrain and Qatar have gone into silent mode while Kuwait reacting to the deal made it clear that “it will be the last country on the earth to normalise ties with Israel.”

Netanyahu had been forced into an ‘unholy alliance’ with defence minister Gantz, under which he had to transfer premiership to him in November 2021. Political observers say Netanyahu was hoping to cash in on the peace deal if he goes for the fourth election in two years. But now, Netanyahu can’t even think of going back to the hustings as what looked like a major diplomatic coup has become a politically damaging scandal.

Asif Ullah Khan