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The Cold War Exchange, Part 2: On the Weakening of Israel’s Regional Alliances

by Shmuel Rosner

December 19, 2013 | 8:16 am

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Turkish PM
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Photos by Reuters

Dr. Howard Patten is a teaching fellow in Middle East & Mediterranean Studies at King's College in London. Howard is a graduate of UCL, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he was awarded the Golda Meir Fellowship, Cambridge University and King's College London. His fields of interest are Israeli history, politics and society and US and British Policy in the Middle East. His PhD examined Israel's peripheral policy at the UN.

 This exchange focuses on his book Israel and the Cold War: Diplomacy, Strategy and the Policy of the Periphery at the United Nations (Tauris, 2013).

(Part one of the exchange can be found right here.)

 Dear Howard,

In your first response - as well as in your book - you focused on the policies based on the Realpolitik of the countries involved with Israel during the years of the "policy of the periphery" (Israel's attempt to create alliances with non-Arab states and minorities in the region). Yet as we all know, this policy did not last very long. Is it not because the policy was founded on pragmatic governmental calculations without ever having the backing of the public?

As we look at the new Middle East of recent years it is easy to see how the leaders can no longer ignore public sentiments and have to always take into account the possibility of public outcry against their policies. So I guess I would like to ask you- as my second round question- to compare and explain if and why the atmosphere of the Cold War years was more hospitable to a policy of the periphery than the atmosphere today.

Thank you for your enlightening comments,

Shmuel.

***

Dear Shmuel

You state that the Policy of the Periphery “did not last very long,” but as we know, in the world of international relations, not long is relative indeed. I should like to point out that the Ethiopian and Iranian pillars of the Policy of the Periphery lasted some thirty years, whilst the Turkish facet lasted considerably longer and is not irretrievable, even today. In fact, as we saw in the press, earlier this month an Israeli minister visited Turkey for the first time since the Marmara incident in 2010. Rather than exaggerate the significance of the visit, however, I see it as a potential positive harbinger.

I would not say that recent events in the Middle East necessitate that leaders fear public outcry over polices, as such. I think that, although avoiding public outcry should be a factor in political thinking, transposing some of the causes behind the upheaval of the ‘Arab Spring’ on to other countries would be unwise. The recent political changes in the Middle East stemmed from, amongst other things, the animosity that many harboured towards those governments they felt to be undemocratic, corrupt, and unaccountable. I would posit that the unrest in those societies towards the ruling elites ran deeper than whether a certain policy was agreeable to the public, or not. At stake was the future direction and dynamic of the successor regimes and their relationships with their peoples. It is clear that no government would canvass the feasibility of a secret relationship with another country, or organisation, amongst its people, nor would it make sense for a government to discuss openly the details of an ongoing clandestine relationship, ‘wiki leaks’ notwithstanding.

It is true that the Cold War served to create a specific political framework, highlighting the significance of both the proxy and ‘the other’. Within this framework, ‘the other’ was the Soviet Union, and Communism, and it is here that I wish to highlight two events, both of which I find illuminating:

1.      The Shah of Iran countering the revolutionary Arab states, led by Egypt, through his positive nationalism and rejection of Mossadeq. This move by the Shah created an Iranian-Arab Cold War within the pre-existing Cold War in the Arab world

2.      In the early 1950s, Turkey turning to the Jewish lobby in the United States and particularly to pro-Israel sentiment in Congress, in the belief that such support could counter the Greek and Armenian lobbies. At this time, Turkey was looking for alternative support bases due to its concern over both the precise location of the West’s line of defence against Soviet aggression, and Turkey’s significance in NATO contingency plans.

You ask whether the Cold War atmosphere was more hospitable to the Policy of the Periphery than the atmosphere today. I believe the ideological combat that was inherent within the Cold War system, and the resultant hot war by proxy, helped create a political context of Realpolitik, pragmatism, and secrecy, which helped the formation and development of the policy. However, I see no reason to believe that the very same concepts would be of lesser importance and relevance in contemporary international relations. As I alluded to in my first answer, we might expect impromptu relationships and make-shift alliances to be created in the Middle East, at any point, but particularly at times of heightened anxiety and upon the advent of potential game-changing events. We may also see further development of pre-existing relationships; Israel and Jordan may be of particular interest, for example. But though there is potential for secrecy to be compromised in today’s media and social networking arenas, a significant departure from the Cold War framework, essential government policy will continue to be guarded from prying eyes by those who keep the gates, this in spite of the whistleblowers. 

Thank you

Howard

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