With a New Gov’t, Israel’s Internal Dynamics Are Changing but Its Foreign Policy Remains the Same (with VIDEO)
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson to TML: “After signing the Abraham Accords, we thought the path to Ramallah goes through Abu Dhabi … but they are two separate paths.”
To hear an in-depth discussion in Spanish on the foreign policy of the new Israeli government, listen to The Media Line’s Spanish-language podcast, Medio Oriente 123, hosted by Debbie Mohnblatt. In the seventh episode, Mohnblatt is joined by Lior Hayat, the spokesperson for the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
After five rounds of elections in less than three years, Israel chose a new government in November under the premiership of Binyamin Netanyahu. The new government’s domestic policies have been highly controversial, and significant changes are expected to take place regarding the country’s judiciary, supervision of religious sites, gun laws, and other critical areas. Despite these significant changes to Israel’s domestic policy, Israel’s foreign policy is expected to remain much the same, as nearly all Israelis regardless of political preference approve of Israel’s current foreign policy strategy.
According to Lior Hayat, the spokesperson for the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the major aspects of Israel’s foreign policy include the Abraham Accords, Israel’s strategic relationship with the United States, the fight against the Iranian threat, and Israel’s ties with Jewish communities in the diaspora.
“Those are the main pillars of Israeli foreign policy. They continue to be a consensus today among Israeli society, and I don’t think that there will be a dramatic change,” Hayat said.
Hayat told The Media Line that he predicts more Muslim and Arab nations to normalize relations with Israel in the coming years, adding that recent peace treaties have brought benefits to the entire region. “We are now seeing how the Abraham Accords change not only the bilateral ties but also the international perspective toward the Middle East, as they see the enormous potential of cooperation,” he said.
As an example, Hayat cited the Negev Forum, an annual gathering first held in 2022 wherein representatives from Israel, the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, Egypt, and the US, meet to discuss their countries’ common challenges and seek solutions. Similarly, the I2U2 group acts as a forum for India, Israel, the US, and the UAE. “Between those four countries, there are about 2 billion citizens. It includes the world’s largest economy, the world’s greatest democracy, and two tiny countries in the Middle East,” Hayat said.
Since the bilateral ties between Israel and the UAE have the potential to bring together the East and the West, India, and the US are highly incentivized to be involved in the alliance, Hayat pointed out.
The idea of Arab countries normalizing ties with Israel once seemed contingent on a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, for many nations in the Arab world, that condition has changed.
For many years, Hayat said, “we thought that the path to Abu Dhabi goes through Ramallah, meaning that to get to Abu Dhabi we have to solve the conflict with our neighbors, the Palestinians.” After the signing of the Abraham Accords in 2020, Hayat said, the question was raised whether, in fact, it may be the other way around: increased ties between Israel and the Arab world could improve the situation of the Palestinians and decrease the severity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the final analysis, though, Hayat concluded that solving the conflict and improving Israel’s relations with the countries of the Middle East “are two separate paths.”
The latest developments of the Abraham Accords involve the African countries of Sudan and Chad. During a visit to Israel earlier this month, Chadian President Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno opened an embassy in Israel for the first time. “It is excellent news because having an embassy here will make the ties deeper and wider,” Hayat said.
Sudan’s process of normalizing ties with Israel is an even bigger achievement for Israel’s foreign policy. For years, Hayat said, Sudan has been a symbol of Arab opposition to the state of Israel. In 1968, Sudan hosted the Arab League summit at which Arab countries decided on a policy known as “the three noes”: No negotiations with Israel, no recognition of the State of Israel, and no peace with Israel. “Today, Sudan can be the symbol of the three yeses,” Hayat said.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Lior Hayat speaks to TML about Chad, Sudan, and Iran
Israel, Chad, and Sudan face similar challenges, Hayat said, adding that increased ties can lead to cooperation in the areas of water management, agriculture, and desert climates.
Even as Israel’s ties with many countries in the Middle East are improving, Hayat noted that Iran’s nuclear program poses a serious threat to Israel. He sharply criticized the United Nations’ 2015 Iran Deal, which, he said, does not do enough to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Israel’s strategy, says Hayat, is “to keep up with the political, diplomatic, and economic pressure on Iran, knowing that if that does not work, there are other options on the table at any given moment.”
The conflict between Israel and Iran expands beyond the Middle East. Israel also faces Iran’s proxies in Latin America.
John Marulanda, author of the Spanish-language book Yihad en Latinoamérica (Jihad in Latin America), told The Media Line that the influence of Hizbullah, the armed group that serves as a proxy for Iran in the region, is on the rise. Hizbullah has at least one cell in every Latin American country and participates in various illicit activities to raise funds, Marulanda says.
“Israel is in coordination with some Latin American countries regarding the fight against terrorism, including the fight against Hizbullah,” Hayat said.
Latin America has already seen the consequences of Iranian proxies in the region. In the early 1990s, Argentina faced a terror attack on the Israeli embassy and on a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, respectively. The attacks are thought to have been carried out by Hizbullah in association with Iran.
In the past few years, several Latin American countries have shifted to the left politically, in some cases adopting anti-Israel policies. According to Hayat, though, Israel does not expect its ties with Latin America to decline.
“Part of the existence of the modern State of Israel is due to the vote in favor of many Latin American countries in 1947 in the general assembly of the United Nations. We will always remember that,” Hayat said.
The anti-Israel policies adopted by some Latin American countries may end up hurting those countries, Hayat said, which in many cases benefit from cooperation with Israel, especially in the areas of technology, science, and economics.
Israel is a member of a free trade agreement with Mercosur, a South American trade bloc representing Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, and Suriname, and plans to further develop trade relations with Latin America. “The potential of the relations is enormous, and we are seeing how cooperation with Israel changes realities in these Latin American countries,” he said.
Nearly a year after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Israel’s aid to Ukraine is another important aspect of the country’s foreign policy. According to Hayat, Israel’s support for the people of Ukraine was clear from the war’s beginning. “We are now in the same place; we stand with the people of Ukraine politically and with humanitarian aid.” Last year, Israel transferred more than 100 million shekels (about $28 million) to Ukraine, which is almost three times as much as Israel’s regular foreign aid budget.
Asked about the lack of female representation in the current Israeli government, particularly in light of the Foreign Ministry’s recent celebration of the Women in Diplomacy Initiative’s 10th anniversary, Hayat said that Israel, like many other countries, was going through a process of increasing women’s representation. But, he argued, this was not a linear process: “I think that all in all, Israel is changing rapidly, and there are more women in decision-making positions than a decade ago. … This change is already happening, and the fact that there are not enough women in this government is a temporary thing that I think will be changed with time,” he said.