Ehud Yaari: Israel’s government“paralysed”, but Abraham Accords expansion likely soon

June 8, 2022 by Ahron Shapiro
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Israel’s leading commentator and regional analyst Ehud Yaari briefed AIJAC supporters in Melbourne last week on some of the top issues currently facing Israel and the Middle East.

Ehud Yaari

Yaari began his discussion with a look at Israeli politics, in particular the state of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s fragile governing coalition, which is holding on by a thread. Yaari said that while the coalition has control of half the Knesset on paper, it is effectively “paralysed” since around five coalition MKs are wavering and can’t be trusted to vote with the government consistently. Commenting on reports this week that New Hope party leader Gideon Saar was in negotiations with the Likud about the possibility of forming a new government, Yaari said it was unclear whether anything will come of this, but it opens the door to secret negotiations to bring down the government or trigger new elections.

Reflecting on the years of instability affecting Israeli politics, Yaari said that the Israeli left was fragmented after taking the blame for the failed Oslo Accords, while the centre was fragmented after taking the blame for the failed Gaza disengagement, but now the right is also fragmented between those loyal to Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu and those who refuse to join a government led by him. Yaari welcomed the United Arab List (Ra’am) party leader Mansour Abbas’ pragmatic approach to joining Israeli governments for the benefit of the Arab community and hopes that this community will continue to engage.

Looking at the regional picture, Yaari spoke about Saudi Arabia’s growing cooperation with the Abraham Accords and other regional peace moves in which Israel is a full participant. Saudi Arabia, he said, is taking possession from Egypt key islands in the Strait of Tiran – a decision that required and received the permission of Israel as maintaining a multinational force there was part of Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt. Israeli businessmen are also being accepted in Saudi Arabia more openly, on Israeli passports, and a deal to allow El Al planes to overfly Saudi Arabia to Asian destinations is imminent. However, he stressed, it is unlikely the Saudis will join the Abraham Accords officially anytime soon.

However, Yaari noted that even Qatar is making overtures to Israel, and will allow Israelis to attend the World Cup in Dubai as spectators. More gestures of a softening of Qatar’s attitude to Israel is also possible, he added.

Yaari said the Abraham Accords have the potential of finding more partners among Muslim countries in Africa as well, and there could be movement on that front soon.

Speaking about Iran, Yaari reiterated his long-held belief that Teheran wants to be a nuclear threshold state without building a bomb right now.

“I don’t believe the Iranians are going to assemble a bomb anytime soon,” Yaari said. They want to be in a position to do it, once they make a decision. They are closer now to achieving this ability. And then there is a question of decision. Why [are they apprehensive about making a decision to actually build nuclear weapons?] Because there is a threat on the table by Egypt, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia: You go for the bomb, we go for the bomb.”

Yaari told the gathering that the rivalry between the two non-Arab powers of the Middle East, Turkey and Iran, is growing in areas such as northern Syria, northeastern and northwestern Iraq, and Lebanon.

Finally, turning to the war in Ukraine, Yaari said that Russia, which has been using the Syrian war as a training ground for its pilots and no fewer than 320 different weapons systems since 2015, overestimated the battle-readiness of its military. As a result of its losses in Ukraine, Russia is withdrawing forces from Syria, and Iran is moving in and taking possession of bases Russia has vacated. Yaari added that Russia has drawn down its forces in Syria to such an extent that the chances of Israeli and Russian planes finding themselves engaging one another – once a significant worry – is almost non-existent today.

“There will not be a change of policy” by the Russians on Israeli raids in Syria, Yaari predicted. “They [the Russians] don’t mind us hitting the Iranians. Why should they? They are competing with the Iranians.”

Asked about the apparent erosion of support for Israel among the left flank of the US Democratic Party, Yaari said it was important for Israel to keep making offers to the Palestinians, even if expectations for peacemaking are low, lest Israel is blamed for the impasse.

“We need to come forward with an honest, generous offer even if we know that Mr Abbas is going to say, as usual, no,” Yaari said.

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