Analysis & Opinions - Foreign Policy

Everyone Loves Israel Now

| Mar. 26, 2018

There's much more to the Arab world's newfound friendship with Israel than ganging up on Iran.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the Arab world today is how relatively uncontroversial Israel has become. During 11 days of travel through Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, we heard the Israeli-Palestinian conflict mentioned only once. This is a dramatic shift from decades during which hostility to Israel served as perhaps the most important unifier of often fractious Arab governments.

But if the change is real, it’s also very easily misunderstood. At a conference held at Brandeis University’s Crown Center for Middle East Studies last year, an Arab colleague was asked, “When will Arab states finally accept Israel?” His concise, and accurate, response: “When they realize that they are better off with Israel there than had Israel not been there.”

Israeli government officials and many analysts have been eager to suggest that “better off” pertains primarily to security. Shared threats from Iran and Islamist extremism, they claim, are serving as pillars of a new security agenda that unifies Israel and key Arab states. Israel, through this lens, is part of Arab governments’ solution to pushing back their adversaries and re-establishing a more comfortable regional order.

In reality, however, Arab states have far more expansive reasons for concluding they are better off with Israel in the region.

In particular, two developments over the past decade have been key. First, a regional energy revolution transformed Israel not only into an energy independent state but into an energy exporter. The recent 10-year, $15 billon agreement signed between Israeli and Egyptian companies for the sale of natural gas is a game-changer in Arab-Israeli politics. This agreement will allow Egypt to profit from liquefying and re-exporting the purchased gas to Europe and Africa, boosting its prospects as a regional energy hub and creating economic interdependence between two former enemies.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Feldman, Shai and Tamara Cofman Wittes.“Everyone Loves Israel Now.” Foreign Policy, March 26, 2018.

The Authors