Like the Arab world, Israel has increased its relations with Asia
After dramatic diplomatic achievement in Middle East and Arab world, Israel is gradually moving to build a shared future between Israel and Asian nations, and successfully preparing Israel for a secure and prosperous future in the 'Asian Century'.
For more than 20 years, Israel’s ties with countries in Asia have gradually increased, enough to warrant talk of Israel’s own pivot to the region. But it is not just a pivot. Instead, it is a major realignment of Israel’s foreign policy on a broad scale, supported by geopolitical developments and motivated by Israel’s slowly eroding political relations with Europe and the United States. According to World Polities Review Israel deepens Asia ties in gradual realignment of Foreign Policy.
Two years ago, on 13 August 2020, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Israel and the US released a joint statement publicly announcing the normalisation of diplomatic relations between the two Middle Eastern countries. On 15 September 2020 the Emirati Foreign Minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, and the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, signed the peace agreement known as the 'Abraham Accords' at an official ceremony chaired by the former US President Donald Trump at the White House.
The formalisation of the UAE-Israel entente has brought about a major reconfiguration of the political and security makeup of the Middle East by broadening the scope of Israel’s allies in the Arabian Peninsula. The Emirati and Israeli leaderships welcomed the 'Abraham Accords' and presented the diplomatic achievement to their citizens as a powerful political construct that would allow the two countries to better deliver on their national priorities.
The UAE and Bahrain’s mutual recognition deal with Israel broke 50 years’ policy. Following Sudan, Saudi Arabia became the next Arab state to normalise relations. Israel’s longest-serving prime minister pops up on Saudi state-run television from Tel Aviv. An Israeli-American declares himself the “chief rabbi of Saudi Arabia” after arriving on a tourist visa. A prominent Saudi family invests in two Israeli companies and doesn’t bother to hide it. According to media reports Israel and Saudi Arabia: No Longer Enemies But Not Quite Friends Previously clandestine links are increasingly visible as rivalries cautiously give way to pragmatic economic and security ties.
Meanwhile, Israel is also willing to work towards establishing ties with Southeast Asia's Muslim majority nations, its ambassador to Singapore said media frequently.
All these recent events would have been unthinkable not long ago. But previously clandestine links between Saudi Arabia and Israel are increasingly visible as some of the Middle East’s deep-seated rivalries cautiously give way to pragmatic economic and security ties. Saudi crown prince and de facto leader Mohammed bin Salman is seeking to accelerate his plans to overhaul an oil-reliant economy, while Israel is keen to build on 2020’s diplomatic breakthroughs with smaller Gulf nations.
“We do not view Israel as an enemy, but rather as a potential ally,” Prince Mohammed said in a striking reassessment of one of the region’s most consequential fault-lines.
On the other hand, in the case of Indonesia, despite the lack of diplomatic ties with Israel, there is currently about $500 million of direct and indirect annual bilateral trade between the two countries (not including defense). But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Tremendous untapped potential exists between Israel and Indonesia in sectors such as education, healthcare, agtech, foodtech, water technology, fintech, cybersecurity and mobility, to name just a few.
Ms. Rebecca Zeffert, the founder and executive director of the 'Israel-Asia Center', an Israeli not-for-profit organization dedicated to informing, empowering and connecting the Israel-Asia leaders of tomorrow toward building a more sustainable future in the 'Asian Century' wrote, "I was in Indonesia to lead a unique delegation of Israelis in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country: alumni and advisers of our Israel-Indonesia Futures program. This was the second year that we had run this program with this Southeast Asian giant – despite the lack of diplomatic ties with Israel. The program had been borne out of COVID, when all of the Israel-Asia Center’s leadership programs had to be put on hold."
Currently, the 2022 host of the G20, Indonesia is projected to become the world’s fifth largest economy by 2030. This growth is not surprising when you look at the figures. With a population of 275 million spread across 17,500 islands, Indonesia ranks as the fourth-largest country in the world – and the world’s third-largest democracy, she mentioned in her article published in a leading Israeli newspaper adding "Indonesia has 202 million Internet users and an Internet economy growth rate of 49% per year – projected to reach $330 billion by 2030. The country also has the world’s fastest-growing smartphone adoption rate, estimated to reach 239 million users by 2026."
However, Rebecca further pointed out that this economic giant is still being largely overlooked by Israelis. In all of our meetings that week, responses from our Indonesian counterparts were warm, welcoming, overwhelmingly positive and inspiring – and opened our eyes to the future we can build between our two nations. What’s more, they are eager to visit Israel and take these relationships to the next level.
Diplomatic ties, if and when they eventually happen, won’t take place overnight and shouldn’t necessarily be viewed as the only option for Israel. Unlike the UAE and Bahrain, Indonesia is the world’s third-largest democracy. Any normalization with Israel would likely follow formal ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia. However, in the case of Indonesia, it would be a gradual process. Israel should be open to other arrangements that could look similar to what we have with Taiwan: an economic and cultural representative office in each country, rather than high-profile diplomatic ties. Whatever that future looks like, so much is possible in the interim. And as ties do warm up gradually, existing barriers will be removed. Israel has a unique opportunity to start preparing for that moment.
Ultimately, this is all about people-to-people relationship-building. The Israel-Asia Center is paving the way for that, and we are seeking partners who wish to work with us in growing these relationships and investing in the human capital that is bringing these two countries together in a way that’s making the world better for everyone.
Apart from specific observations on Indonesia, Rebecca Zeffert focused on Israel-Asia Relations that according to her 'balancing economic And National Security of the region'. In an interview with Mercy A. Kuo that published on May 21, 2018 in a prestigious journal named 'The Diplomat', Rebecca Zeffert identify three key areas of cooperation in Israel–Asia relations: It is hard to speak of cooperation between Israel and Asia as a whole. Asia is a vast continent and each country in the region has unique bilateral relations with Israel, while some don’t have diplomatic relations with Israel at all. What is important to note about these relationships in recent years, is that we see a clear acknowledgment from both the public and private sectors in Israel of the strategic importance that Asia holds, both politically and economically.
This is evident through the numerous visits over recent years by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin to China, India, Japan, Singapore, and Vietnam, and recent visits to Israel by [Indian] Prime Minister Modi, [Japanese] PM Shinzo Abe, [Chinese] Vice Premier Liu Yandong, [Singaporean] PM Lee Hsien Loong and senior members of Vietnam’s politburo.
When we look at Asia’s superpowers, the Israeli government has been very clear about its intention to advance these relations, going as far as to pass a specific resolution obligating different ministries to allocate funds to enhance relations with China, India, and Japan specifically.
We are also seeing increased efforts on the Israeli side to engage with Asia beyond the traditional areas of agritech, defense, and security. These include collaboration across a range of innovation and technology sectors, in education, and even in disaster relief, resilience-building, and sustainable development.
Meanwhile, automotive, telecoms and electronics companies – from China, India, Japan, Korea, and Singapore – are establishing R&D centers in Israel to tap into the country’s tech talent and innovation ecosystem.
Explaining key commercial trends in Israel’s relations with China Rebecca said: as the world’s most populous nation and second largest economy, China’s commercial interests in Israel – the “Start-Up Nation” – are largely focused on Israel as a source of technology and innovation. Israel’s commercial interest in China is clear: Israel’s market is too small for its flourishing tech and innovation ecosystem and Israeli companies tend to think global from the outset. As the world looks east for market opportunities and financial resources, so too does Israel.
The traditional areas of collaboration between the two countries (even before diplomatic relations were established) were agriculture and water technologies, especially measures to combat desertification in the more arid parts of China. As China increasingly seeks solutions to challenges of food security, clean water, an aging population, air quality, and mounting strains on its growing mega-cities, these traditional areas are taking new shape and scale to include not only agritech and water-tech but also biotech, medtech, cleantech, artificial intelligence, smart city technology, waste management, and food security and safety. A clear demonstration of this has been seen in investments in and acquisitions of Israeli homegrown brands by Chinese companies – such as Tnuva dairy products. Other commercial trends beyond tech include China’s interest in Israeli insurance and infrastructure development (including sea ports, tunnels, and railways).
Explaining the focal points of Israel’s relations with Japan and India, Rebecca said: after years of what can only be described as stagnant relations resulting from the from the Arab Boycott and Japan’s dependence on Arab oil, the Japan-Israel relationship has finally started to thaw – and even flourish – with two visits by PM Shinzo Abe to Israel in the past three years. The relationship, which still has a long way to go in fully realizing its potential, is based mainly on trade, technology, and innovation – particularly cybersecurity technology in the run-up to the 2020 Olympics. But there is also potential for growing collaboration in fields such as intelligence and defense. However, two key obstacles from Israel’s perspective, that are preventing advancements in trade and tourism in particular, are the lack of direct flights between the two countries and the travel warning issued by Japan on visiting Israe
It is becoming increasingly clear that we are living in a multipolar world order. As such, Israel’s relations with the United States, China, India, and other nations are not a zero–sum game. Israel has always enjoyed a strong and close relationship with the United States – and will continue to do so. However, there is no reason why this relationship should come at the cost of Israel’s growing relations with China, India, and other countries in the Asia region. My feeling is that these are each bilateral relationships that will only continue to flourish, explained Rebecca'.
It is important to note here that with an important geographic position, Israel is a country in the Middle East and is considered the Holy Land by Jews, Christians, and Muslims. The country’s capital city is Jerusalem, while its financial and technology hub is Tel Aviv. The official languages spoken in Israel are Hebrew and Arabic. Israel has a total land area of 20,770-22,072 square kilometers, 440 square kilometers of which are water. In 2017, the country has an estimated population of 8,760,000, and a population density of 395 people per square kilometer.
Israel is located on the continent of Asia having close connection with other continents of the worls. Israel is, however, geographically located in Asia. The country borders Lebanon to the north, Jordan to east, Syria to the northeast, and Egypt to the southwest. Israel also borders the Palestinian territories of the Gaza Strip and West Bank to the west and east, respectively. The continent of Asia covers regions that range from Turkey in the far west, through Japan and Russia, to the islands of Indonesia in the south. Israel is located on the far left of Asia.
Since Israel's independence in 1948, it has been in conflict with most of its Arab neighbors in the Middle East. Moreover, in spite of Israel being located in Asia, the country has strong cultural, historical, and economic ties with Europe. In fact, since the 1990s, Israel has been competing in European sporting contests. Currently, the country is a member of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA).
Furthermore, Israel borders one of Africa’s largest countries. As such, there is some level of confusion about the continent in which Israel is located. This confusion was further increased by a 2013 article by Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs claiming that Israel “…lies at the location of three continents: Europe, Asia, and Africa.”
Dr. Mahfuz Parvez, Professor, Political Science, University of Chittagong and Associate Editor, barta24.com