Israel's Elections and Its Foreign Policy Towards the Persian Gulf: plus ça change plus c'est la même chose

By Joshua Teitelbaum
Submitted to Session P3250 (Israeli Domestic and Foreign Policy after the Israeli Election of January 2013, 2013 Annual Meeting
Israel's January 2013 elections focussed on internal issues of the economy and on the burden-sharing of military service. Yet Israel's strategic regional environment has not changed. Israeli concerns about Syria's chemical weapons, its Islamic insurgency, and the reignition of the Golan Heights border continue. Israel views with trepidation the threats to the neighboring Hashemite monarchy in Jordan, with which it has a peace treaty. Finally, as Iran heads speedily towards a nuclear weapon, Jerusalem prepares for the worse. All of these concerns are shared by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, particularly the most important of them, Saudi Arabia. The Saudis want to see the end of Syrian President Hafez al-Assad's regime as soon as possible, yet seem as concerned as everyone else about the implications of an Islamist regime in Damascus. Jordan is a fellow monarchy and has even been discussed as a future member of the GCC, which is essentially an Arab monarchies club. The Saudis are fearful of an "Arab Spring" demonstration effect on the Hashemite regime. As for the prospect of a nuclear armed Tehran across the Gulf -- Riyadh is apoplectic with worry. This confluence of interests has Israel and the GCC countries cooperation at unprecedented - albeit necessarily mostly secret - levels. Recent visits by US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry to Jerusalem and the Gulf have underscored the common interests of all three countries. The April 2013 announcement of a $10 billion joint arms sales to Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates -- Israel made no protest -- only confirms that Israel and the GCC are cooperating despite past differences. Secretary Kerry's half-heated attempt to revive the moribund Saudi-sponsored Arab Peace Initiative seems like a sop to Saudi pride, but it hardly appears necessary. Mutual interests -- Syria, Jordan, and Iran -- are what drives cooperation between Israel and the GCC. This a constant, no matter who hold a majority in the Knesset.