As many people know, the Israeli government was supposed to be formed after the elections of April 9, 2019, but Netanyahu himself failed to do so and the Knesset was dissolved again to prepare for further elections, which took place on September 17, 2019.
Even after this second election there were not the political and numerical conditions to create a stable and homogeneous government majority and new elections were held on March 2, 2020.
On April 20, 2020, an agreement was reached between Benny Gantz and Bibi Netanyahu, which led to the current government of national unity, which officially began to work on May 17, 2020.
As already said, based on the agreement with Benny Gantz, the Prime Minister is Netanyahu himself, who will be replaced by the current Defence Minister, Benny Gantz, in November 2021.
Gantz was Chief of Staff of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) from 2011 to 2015 and later became Speaker of the Knesset from March 26 to May 17, 2020.
He created his “Israel Resilience” Party in December 2018, based on an alliance with the centre-right group Telem, founded by former Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon, and also with Yesh Atid, (literally “There is a Future”), a party founded in 2012 by YairLapid, thus creating the “Blue and White” alliance.
The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development is Alon Schuster, from the “Blue and White” alliance.
Son of a German and an Argentinean, he was born in Sderot, one of the most famous and oldest Kibbutzin Israel. He was later part of the Nahal Brigade and was wounded at war.
The Nahal Brigade, which became autonomous in 1982, during the Lebanon War,is a particular structure in the IDF: it stems from a regular paratrooper battalion, but it is also formed by volunteers of the Zionist political movement Nahal, which represents a tradition combining social voluntarism, kibbutzlife and the Israeli military tradition, of which the kibbutz is an integral part (just think of the history of Palmach, for example).
Schuster was a traditional member of the Labour Party (Ha Avoda), which is a socialist democratic, but above all a Zionist party – a political group born in 1968 from the merger of Mapai (literally “Workers’ Party of the Land of Israel”),Ahdut Ha Avoda, (literally “Labour Unity”), which is Ben Gurion’s old party, and Rafi (literally “Israeli Workers’ List”) founded by Ben Gurion in 1965.
In 1965 personalities such as Moshe Dayan, Shimon Peres, Chaim Herzog and Teddy Kollek followed the Founder of the State of Israel within Rafi.
Kollek, who was mayor of Jerusalem for several years, was a very important figure for the creation of the Israeli State, both publicly and with its covert operations in Europe and above all in Italy.
Schuster joined the centrist “Blue and White” alliance in April 2019 and was elected to the Knesset.
The Immigration Minister (also known as the Minister of Aliyah, (literally “Ascent”), i.e. the right of all Jews to return from the Diaspora to the Land of Israel), who more exactly defines herself as “Minister of Aliyah and Integration”, is Prima Tamano-Shata.
She is a Jewish lawyer, journalist and political activist born in Ethiopia.
At the end of March 2020, she left the Yesh Atid group to join the centrist “Blue and White” alliance.
Prima Tamano-Shata was born near Gondar, in the region of the Ahmara, the tribe that heroically followed the deeds of Amedeo Guillet, whom they called Kummandant Shaitan, namely the “Devil Commander”.
The family of the future Minister arrived in Israel with “Operation Moses”, when the Ethiopian Jews (known as Beta Israel community or Falas has)were covertly evacuated from Sudan by the IDF during a civil war that caused a famine in 1984.
The newly created Minister for Community Empowerment and Advancement”, i.e. the Ministry that deals with municipal and local administrations, is Orly Levy-Abekasis, who is member of the Gesher movement (literally “Bridge”) belonging to a centre-liberal area.
The party was founded by Orly Levy-Abekasis’ father.
The new Minister joined the Knesset in 2009 with the Israel Beitenu movement and again in 2019 she founded the aforementioned Gesher Party, which initially ran together with the Labour Party.
It should be recalled that her father was the Moroccan Foreign Minister, David Levy, who was also a personal friend of the Moroccan King.
Orly did her national service in the Israeli Air Force and later got a law degree at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya. She now lives in the Mesilot Kibbutz.
The current Minister of Telecommunications, who is essential in a country like Israel, is Yoaz Hendel.
He belongs to Derekh Eretzthat, based on European standards, can be considered a small centre-right movement. It was founded in March 2020 by Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel himself, after their leaving Telem, one of the components of the “Blue and White” alliance.
A military historian by training, he worked as a journalist and was the Chairman of the Institute for Zionist Strategies (ZTS), established in 2005, whose real goal is to draft a real Constitution for Israel.
The Institute deals much with demography, as also the other modern governments should do.
He was born to a father of Romanian Jewish descent and a mother of Romanian and Polish Jewish descent and grew up in the religious settlement of Elkana.
He served in the Shayetet 13naval commando unit, one of the most important elite forces.
He was discharged after six years of service and remained active for several years in the Israeli security system and Prime Minister’s Office.
He holds the rank of a Lieutenant Colonel in the Reserves where he serves each year.
Yaachov Litzman is the current Minister of Housing and Construction. He previously served as Minister of Health.
He was born to two Polish survivors of the Holocaust in a German refugee camp. Later his family immigrated to Brooklyn and, at age 17, he immigrated to Israel with his parents.
He is a Haredi and belongs to the “United Torah Judaism”, an alliance of Agudat Israel, which is traditionally linked to the movement of the same name in Upper Silesia, which is now more Hasidic than Haredi, although it has a long history as a non-Zionist movement of observant Jews.
The Minister of Culture and Sports is Hili Tropper, who belongs to the “Blue and White” alliance.
Son of a Rabbi, he began his political career in the Labour Party. He also has long experience in educational and school matters and an effective personal relationship with Benny Gantz.
David “Dudi” Amsalem, from the Likud Party, was appointed as Minister for Cyber and National Digital Matters.
His parents were immigrants from Morocco and he previously held the post of Minister of Telecommunications. During his IDF national service he was a tank commander in the Armoured Corps and later obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics and Business Administration from Bar-Ilan University.
He is Chairman of the Likud Party’s Jerusalem branch.
A”Blue and White” alliance member, Michael Biton, was chosen for the key post of Defence Minister.
He was born to parents who had immigrated from Morocco. He got a BA in Behavioural Studies and Hebrew Literature from Ben Gurion University of the Negev, as well as a MA in organizational leadership from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Already elected as a candidate of Kadima – the old centrist and liberal party established in 2005 by Likud and Labour members who supported the unilateral plan of disengagement on the Arab issue, developed by Ariel Sharon -later Michael Biton formed a new political party, called Ahi Israel. Due to a leadership dispute, however, he quickly decided to leave the party and become member of the “Blue and White” alliance.
The current Minister of Diaspora Affairs is Omer Yankelevitch, born Galitsky.
An attorney and civil rights activist, she is a member of the party formed by Benny Gantz and co-founder of the Just Begun Foundation, which sponsors social initiatives to help integrate peripheral and marginal populations in Israel.
Her father was a native of Lithuania and she received a Haredi education. At age 16 shetaught Hebrew and Judaism in Moscow and Ukraine.
The Economy Ministry, which was merged with the Welfare Ministry in 1970, is currently led by Amir Peretz.
A “historical” Labour member currently serving as leader of the Labour Party, he also served as Minister of Defence and Minister of Environmental Protection, as well heading the Histadrut union federation – born at the time of the British Mandate for Palestine – between 1995 and 2006..
After five years as mayor of Sderot, in 1999 he left the Labour Party to establish his own party, One Nation, also known as Am Ehad (literally, and more precisely, “One People”). In 2004 he merged it back into the Labour Party.
Following the 2006 elections, however, Peretz and his partially new Labour Party joined the Kadima-led coalition, which had been established in 2005 to support Ariel Sharon’s unilateral plan for disengagement from the Gaza Strip. Peretz served as Defence Minister in the Kadima-led coalition government.
During his tenure as Defence Minister he greatly supported the 2006 Lebanon War and, above all, approved the Iron Dome defence system. He was later defeated by Ehud Barak in another Labour leadership election and resigned from the Cabinet.
In 2012 he resigned from the Knesset after leaving the Labour Party to join the new party called Hatnua, (literally “the Movement”), belonging to the centrist and liberal-democratic area.
In 2013 he ran with the Greens, who had previously merged with Hatnua, while in 2015 he was elected to the Knesset with a list formed together with the Labour Party, called “the Zionist Union”, which became the second largest parliamentary group at the time.
Hatnua was a party whose demands focused – especially in 2013 – on peace between Israel and the Arabs, social justice, full employment and also full merger between army and citizens, as well as on religious pluralism and secularism.
The current Education Minister is Yoav Galant.
He was former Commander of the Southern Command in the Israel Defence Forces and former Minister of Construction in 2015. In 2018 he joined the Likud Party.
His Polish mother was a Holocaust survivor and his father fought the Nazis, as a partisan of the Jewish brigades, in the forests of Ukraine and Belarus.
.[He served in the 84thGivatiBrigade and he fought the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and other subsequent wars.
The GivatiBrigade was stationed in the Gaza Strip and mainly carried out counter-guerrilla operations until the Sharon Plan. He received a BA in Business and Finance Management from the University of Haifa.
Galiant began his military career in 1977 as a naval commander in the 13th Flotilla. In the 1980s he moved to Alaska and worked as lumberjack. He then returned to the Navy and served as Commander of a ship-based missile launcher. In 1994 he took up the command of the whole 13th Flotilla.
After serving for three years as Commander of the 13th Flotilla he moved up to command the Gaza Division. In 2001 he was appointed as Chief of Staff, while in 2002 he became the Prime Minister’s Military Secretary.
In 2005 he was appointed as Commander of the Southern Command. During his tenure the IDF embarked on Operation Cast Lead against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
In his political career Galant initially accepted to run for the Kulanu Movement created in 2014, while in 2018 he joined the Likud Party and was appointed as Minister of Aliyah and Integration. In 2019, however, he resigned from the Knesset.
The current Minister of Environmental Protection is Gila Gamliel, a female member of the Likud Party born in 1974 to a Jewish Yemeni family.
Her mother was from Libya. She studied at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev where she was awarded a BA in Middle Eastern History and Philosophy. Later she also graduated in Law.
The Finance Ministry is led by Israel Katz from the Likud Party. Katz. previously held the posts of Minister of Agriculture, Minister of Transport, Minister of Intelligence and Minister of Foreign Affairs and was also member of the Security Cabinet of Israel.
His parents were German Holocaust survivors coming from the German-speaking region of Romania, on the border with Germany and Hungary.
He drafted into the IDF in 1973 and volunteered in the Paratroopers Brigade. After his discharge in 1977 he studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He entered the Knesset tin 1998 as a replacement for Ehud Olmert.
In 2003 he was appointed Minister of Agriculture in Ariel Sharon’s government and in January 2004 he announced a plan to increase settlements in the Golan Heights. Along with Netanyahu, Katz was also against Sharon’s Gaza disengagement plan. In the same period, he even lobbied with the World Zionist Organisation to provide incentives and subsidies for settlements in the West Bank.
Former Minister of Transport in Netanyahu’s government in 2009, Gabi Ashkenazi is the current Foreign Minister in the government formed by the Likud Party, the “Blue and White” alliance and other groups.
He was Chief of General Staff from 2007 to 2011. He is a Mizrahi Jew -i.e. an Eastern Jew, often of Maghreb origin – born in the Sharon region of central Israel. His father, a Holocaust survivor, had immigrated to Israel from Bulgaria while his mother had immigrated from Syria.
He attended a renowned high school affiliated with the prestigious Gymnasia Herzliya in Tel Aviv and later studied at the U.S. Marine Corps University.
He served in the Golani Brigade from 1972 to 1988 and he first saw action during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Later he took part in the Operation Thunderbolt, the Operation Entebbe and in the Operation Litani of 1978.
During the 1982 Lebanon War Ashkenazi served as deputy Commander of the Golani Brigade. He was promoted to Commander of said Brigade in 1987.
A year later he was appointed Head of Intelligence for Israeli Northern Command.
He later worked as the Chief of Israel’s civil administration in the occupied Lebanon and in 1994 he was promoted to Chief of the General Staff’s Operations Directorate. In 1998 he was appointed Head of the Israeli Northern Command, a position that would make him responsible for Israel’s withdrawal from its Security Zone in Southern Lebanon. He criticized the withdrawal, believing that it should have been accompanied by negotiations with Syria.
He was appointed IDF Deputy Chief of Staff in 2002, but he had also been in charge of the construction and maintenance of the fence physically separating Israeli and Palestinian communities in the West Bank.
He advocated building the fence very close to the Green Line, i.e. the 1949 “Armistice border”.
In 2006 Ashkenazi was appointed Director-General of the Defence Ministry and served as Chief of the General Staff from 2007 until 2011.
He joined the current government as member of the “Blue and White” alliance.
Yuli Edelstein, from the Likud Party, is the current Minister of Health.
He is of Ukrainian descent and son of a Jewish father and a Christian mother. Later both parents converted to Christianity. Currently the Minister declares he is an Orthodox Christian and he is also a “Russian Orthodox priest”.
He arrived in Israel in 1977, but then went back home and was later “sent” to the Siberian penal colonies by the KGB, after being arrested by the Russian Intelligence Service on fabricated charges: coincidentallyhe was charged with home possession of drugs.
He immigrated definitively to Israel in May 1987,moving to the West Bank settlement of AlonShvut.He did his national military service in the Israel Defence Forces, attaining the rank of Corporal.
In 1996 he founded the Yisrael Ba Aliyah Party, together with the famous Soviet dissident Nathaniel Sharansky.
In 1996 he was elected to the Knesset and became Minister of Immigrant Absorption in a Netanyahu’s Likud-led government.
In 2009 he was appointed Minister of Information and Diaspora.
Following the 2013 elections, he became Speaker of the Knesset.
Another Likud member, Ze’ev Elkin, was appointed to the newly-created posts of Minister of High Education and Minister of Water Resources.
He was born to a secular Jewish family living in Ukraine and, as a young man, he joined Bnei Atikva, the largest Zionist religious movement in the world.
He studied mathematics and physics at Kharkiv University from 1987 to 1990. He later became the General Secretary of the Soviet Union branch of Bnei Atikva, the aforementioned association founded during the British Mandate for Palestine.
After immigrating to Israel, he studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He was elected to the Knesset for Kadimain 2006.
He served as Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2013 to 2014 and then became Chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee.
In 2015 Elkin was also appointed Minister of Immigrant Absorption and Minister of Strategic Affairs, a post he had to surrender after only 11 days when Gilad Erdan was appointed Minister of Public Security, Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy. Elkin asked for Minister of Jerusalem Affairs portfolio as compensation for losing Strategic Affairs and Netanyahu met his demand.
The Ministry of Intelligence is led by Eli Cohen from the Likud Party.He previously held the post of Minister of the Economy and Industry and was a member of the Security Cabinet of Israel.
He has a MBA in Accounting and in ance, as well as specific qualifications and skills in management.
The current Minister of the Development of the Negev and Galilee is Aryeh Deri, from Shas, the Haredi religious political party.
He previously served as Minister of the Economy and in 1999 he was convicted to a three-year jail sentence on bribery and fraud charges.
He was born in Morocco and he is the brother of Rabbi Beer Sheva. In 1998, as Interior Minister, he abolished the censorship of plays in theatres.
TheMinistry of Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage, which is not a permanent Ministry in Israeli politics, is led by Rafi Peretz,who served as the Chief Military Rabbi of the Israel Defence Forces and is currently leader of the “Jewish Home” party.
He was born in Jerusalem to parents of Moroccan Jewish descent and in 2019 he served as Minister of Education.
Avi Nissenkorn is the current Minister of Justice. He is a lawyer and former General Secretary of Histadrut labour union.
He is a member of the “Blue and White” alliance.
His parents immigrated from Poland. In February 2016 he became a member of the Labour Party and later joined the Israel Resilience Party led by Benny Gantz.
The Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Social Services is led by Itzik Shmuli, a Labour Party member and former leader of the National Union of Israeli Students.
His parents are of Iraqi Jewish descent: He was conscripted to the Israel Defence Forces in 1998 and served as tank commander. In 2001 he opened a restaurant and catering company with his father in Tel Aviv where he worked for two years. In 2003 he moved to Argentina. After returning to Israel, he attended the Oranim Academic College and graduated in Special Education and Social Community Action. As stated in various articles, he officially belongs to the LGBT community.
He is a member of the Zionist Union.
A member of the Likud Party, Yuval Steinitz, is the current Minister of National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Resources.
He served as Minister of Finance (2009-2013) and as Minister of Intelligence and Strategic Affairs (2013-2015). He holds a Ph.D in Philosophy and was a senior lecturer at the University of Haifa.
He joined the “Peace Now” movement as a young student.
The Minister of Public Security, who deals with Police Forces, Prison System and Fire Department, is led by Amir Ohana, another member of the LGBT community.
He previously held the post of Minister of Justice. His parents are Sephardic Jewish immigrants from Morocco. He served in the IDF as a road accident investigator in the Military Police. After leaving regular military service, he served in the Shin Bet, the Israel Security Agency.
He is also Chairman of the Likudgay caucus Likud Pride.
Gilad Erdan from the Likud Party is the current Regional Cooperation Minister.
He formerly held the posts of Minister of Public Security, Strategic Affairs, as well as Minister of Information, Minister of Environmental Protection, Minister of Communications, Home Front Defence Minister and Minister of Internal Affairs.
Son of Romanian Jews of Hungarian descent, he studied law at Bar-Ilan University and practices as a lawyer. He is also legal advisor to Benyamin Netanyahu.
He is very close to the U.S. Evangelical Zionist network and was also Israeli Ambassador to the United States from January 2020 to date.
Yaakov Avitan is the current Minister of Religious Affairs. He is the son of the Rabbi of Be’er Tuvla Regional Council. He was ordained as a Rabbi at the age of 19 and is a current member of the Shas party.
The Ministry of Science and Technology is led by Yizar Shai from the “Blue and White” alliance.
He was born to parents from Argentina. In 1981 he started his national service in the Israel Defence Forces, joining the Paratroopers Brigade and serving in the 1982 Lebanon War.
He studied at Technion, the best scientific university in Israel and in the whole Middle East, established in 1912, which is currently 85thin the world’s scientific university ranking.
He established the Business Layers company in 1998.
The Ministry of Settlement Affairs is led by Tzipi Hotovely from the Likud Party.
She already served as Minister of Diaspora Affairs and has a sound legal background.
She practices Orthodox Judaism and was born to parents who immigrated to Israel from Georgia. She is a famous TV journalist, known for her radical anti-assimilation views on Israeli Arabs.
Meirav Cohen is the Minister for Social Equality and was born to parents who immigrated from Morocco.
During her national service in the Israel Defence Forces she worked at Army radio as a presenter and editor. She studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for a BA in Economics and Business Administration. She is a member of the “Blue and White” alliance.
Orit Farkash-Hacohen, from the “Blue and White” alliance, was appointed Minister of Strategic Affairs. She was previously Chairwoman of the Electricity Authority.
She had a career as lawyer and worked for the Anti-Trust Authority. Between 2006 and 2007 she attended Harvard University, earning a Master’s Degree in Public Administration.
Asaf Zamir serves as the new Minister of Tourism for the “Blue and White” alliance. Formerly Deputy Mayor of Tel Aviv, his family lived in the United States for four years during his childhood. During his national service in the Israel Defence Forces he served in the central control unit of the Israel Air Force. After graduating from Tel Aviv University, he started his career as a lawyer.
An old friend of Italy, Miri Regev, was appointed Minister of Transportation for the Likud Party. She also previously served as Minister of Culture and Sports. Her father was from Morocco and her mother from Spain.
She began serving as the IDF spokeperson’s representative in the Israeli Southern Command and in 2003 she was appointed coordinator of the national public relations efforts at the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office in preparation for the IraqWar.
She continued to work in the field of military communication during Israel’s disengagement from Gaza in 2005 and the 2006 Lebanon War.
Finally, Tzachi Hanegbi, a national security expert, is the current Minister without portfolio at the Prime Minister’s Office.
He previously served as Minister of Agriculture and rural Development and Minister of Regional Cooperation, as well as Minister of Justice, Minister of Internal Security, Minister of Intelligence and Nuclear Affairs and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office supervising Israel’s Intelligence Agencies. He was born to a family of founders of the covert and underground organizations that later reported to the Likud Party.
When Mr. Xi comes to town
Pomp and circumstance are important.
So are multiple agreements to be signed during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Saudi Arabia this week, his first venture beyond East and Central Asia in three years.
No doubt, Mr. Xi’s reception will be on par with the welcoming of Donald J. Trump when he headed to Saudi Arabia in 2017 on his first overseas trip as US president. At the same time, it will contrast starkly with the more downbeat response to Joe Biden’s hat-in-hand pilgrimage to the kingdom in July.
Mr. Xi Jinping and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s timing is perfect.
The visit allows Gulf states, with Saudi Arabia in the lead, to further diversify their foreign relationships and hedge their bets as the world moves from a unipolar to a bipolar, if not multipolar, order.
In addition, Mr. Xi’s visit boosts the positioning of Mr. Bin Salman and his kingdom as undisputed leaders of the Muslim world.
Like when Mr. Trump was in town five years ago, Mr. Bin Salman has ensured that Mr. Xi’s visit will involve bilateral talks and multilateral gatherings with Gulf and Arab leaders.
Even though Mr. Xi and Gulf leaders project the Chinese president’s visit as a milestone rather than the latest of regular high-level gatherings, neither seeks to fundamentally alter the region’s security architecture with the United States as its guarantor.
On the contrary.
While eager to strengthen and expand relations with China, Gulf states see Mr. Xi’s visit as a vehicle to pressure the United States to spell out and formalize its security commitment to the region at a time when America has made China and the Indo-Pacific its main strategic concern and has not lived up to the region’s expectations.
Speaking three weeks before the Chinese leader’s visit, Anwar Gargash, the diplomatic adviser of United Arab Emirates President Mohammed bin Zayed, insisted that “our primary strategic security relationship remains unequivocally with the United States… Yet, it is vital that we find a way to ensure that we can rely on this relationship for decades to come through clear, codified, and unambivalent commitments.”
Mr. Xi has no problem with that. On the contrary, China is not interested and perhaps incapable of replacing the United States militarily in the Gulf. So while it may want the United States out of East Asia, the same need not be valid for the Middle East.
That allows Mr. Xi and his Saudi and Arab counterparts to focus on the nuts and bolts of their meetings.
High on Mr. Xi’s agenda is the export of its model of authoritarianism, involving one-person rule, a surveillance state, and the ringfencing of the Internet. It’s a model that appeals to men like Mr. Bin Salman and UAE and Egyptian presidents Mr. Bin Zayed and Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi.
The appeal remains, even if Mr. Xi’s proposition has lost some of its shine as a result of his faltering zero-tolerance Covid-19 policy that has slowed economic growth, hindered the country’s private sector that is also hobbled by punitive state interventions, and sparked an anti-government protest that has forced the Chinese leader to abandon core elements of his effort to control the pandemic.
Moreover, Middle Eastern leaders will have noticed that China’s firewall failed to prevent Internet users from discovering that a majority of spectators at World Cup matches in Qatar were unmasked. Nor were Chinese censors able to prevent an avalanche of video clips of nationwide protests against strict Covid-19 rules from flooding the country’s tightly policed social media.
In addition, Gulf efforts to diversify their economies and reduce dependence on fossil fuel exports centre on a free-market economy and a private sector driven by innovation and creativity rather than the kind of state-controlled capitalism envisioned by Mr. Xi.
That has not prevented China from advancing its control and governance systems with investments and partnerships in Middle Eastern telecoms, corporate communication systems, cybersecurity, and smart cities in countries stretching from Morocco to the Gulf.
Chinese involvement runs the gamut from building 5G systems and data centres to providing cloud services and developing artificial intelligence systems.
Investments in technology and knowledge transfers enable Arab autocracies to enhance their surveillance capabilities and Internet control.
Furthermore, countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE have looked for inspiration in China’s restrictive cybersecurity legislation.
Days before Mr. Xi’s visit to Saudi Arabia, China’s foreign ministry released a report on ‘Sino-Arab Cooperation in a New Era’ that, according to Chinese media, misleadingly asserted that China “never seeks any geopolitical self-interest.”
China probably meant to say that it is not seeking to challenge the US position in the Gulf any time soon but intends to be the region’s major partner economically and in terms of technology, a focal point of US-Chinese rivalry.
Speaking last month at a regional security conference, senior Pentagon official Colin Kahl spelt out limits to Gulf-China technological Cooperation that the United States would seek to impose.
“If our closest allies and partners cooperate too deeply with China on the security side, it’ll create security risks for us. Getting into certain networks that create real cyber vulnerabilities and risks for us. Infrastructure that generates real intelligence risks for us, and networks that touch our military networks that create real risk for us, or a presence in certain countries that allow surveillance of our forces and what we’re doing in ways that presents a threat to us,” Mr. Kahl said.
Although Chinese 5G projects in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and elsewhere in the region have progressed despite US objections, Mr. Kahl left unaddressed whether they threatened to cross his threshold.
The Chinese foreign ministry report identified technology, agriculture, and investment as focal points of Chinese-Arab economic cooperation.
During his visit, Mr. Xi was likely to also angle for construction contracts for Mr. Bin Salman’s US$500 billion futuristic Red Sea city of Neom, as well as involvement in developing a Saudi defense and automotive industry.
For its part, Saudi Arabia will want to attract Chinese investment in its mining sector. Khalid Al Mudaifer, the kingdom’s deputy mining minister, said he is seeking US$170 billion by 2030.
In a bid to exploit strains in Saudi- and potentially UAE-US relations and uncertainty about America’s reliability as a security partner, the Chinese report asserted that “China has always believed that there is no such thing as a ‘power vacuum’ in the Middle East and that the people of the Middle East are the masters of the future and destiny of the region.”
Mr. Xi arrived in the kingdom as a US district court in Washington dismissed a lawsuit against Mr. Bin Salman and 20 others for the 2028 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The court based its decision on a finding by the US government that Mr. Bin Salman enjoyed sovereign immunity.
On another note, the Chinese report predicted that China and the Arab world would continue to support each other’s counterterrorism and deradicalisation policies.
In stressing counterterrorism and deradicalisation, the report suggested that Gulf silence, and in the case of Saudi Arabia, endorsement of Mr. Xi’s brutal crackdown on Turkic Muslims in the north-western Chinese province of Xinjiang, reflected a more complex balance of power in the Chinese-Gulf relationship.
In other words, Gulf acquiescence is more than simply wanting to ensure that the region stays on China’s right side or seeking to shield autocracy from criticism as the preferred political system in both parts of the world.
Because the crackdown targets Islam as a faith, not just Turkic Muslims as a minority, Gulf support offers China badly needed Muslim endorsement, particularly from Saudi Arabia, the custodian of Islam’s two holiest cities, Mecca and Medina. In doing so, the support enhances Gulf leverage in relations with China.
At the same time, China’s framing of the crackdown as a fight against extremism, terrorism, and separatism legitmises the clampdown by Saudi Arabia and the UAE on any expression of political Islam.
For Mr. Gargash, the UAE diplomatic advisor, the Gulf’s ties to the United States and China fit neatly into a box. “Our trade relations increasingly look to the East, while our primary security and investment relations are in the West,” Mr. Gargash said.
The official did not mention increasingly close political ties to China, like in the case of Xinjiang or the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and that is where things potentially get messy.
The Popular Uprisings and unfulfilled achievements
From the Tiananmen Square uprising in Beijing in 1989 to the Arab Uprisings in 2011, to the demonstrations and anger in Iran that exceeded a month and a half after Iranian security killed Mahsa Amini, a young Kurdish woman in Tehran in mid-October, which triggered protests that are the most dangerous, longest, most widespread, and threatening to the regime since the revolution in 1979. It claimed the lives of more than 400 demonstrators and protesters, according to an Iranian human rights organization – since 1,500 people were killed in 2019-2020.
The eruption of popular anger and the expansion of the area of angry protests led to the deterioration of living conditions and the dominance of the regime and its tools and reversed priorities, and led to a decline in the standard of living and a blockage of horizons for millions of young people. Improving the standard of living of citizens in the face of high rates of unemployment, inflation, high prices, and the collapse of the value of the riyal, which led to the loss of hope and the accumulation of popular frustration.
As we witnessed in the Arab Uprisings(a media term related to the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia in 1968 in response to the repression of the Soviet forces), I prefer to call them the uprisings of freedom, dignity, and a decent life. They did not, in their entirety and on their own, change the regimes from their roots, their old guard, and the deep state. Rather, it kept its pillars who returned to lead the scene and turn the clock back, as in Egypt and Tunisia, or to slide towards chaos and internal conflict, Libya and Yemen, or the militarization of the uprising and the summoning of foreign powers from inside and outside the region and the loss of sovereignty, as in Syria.
We witnessed the failure to bring about change in October 2019 in Lebanon, after tumultuous demonstrations that swept across its cities, under the slogan “All of them means all of them.” Despite the resignation of the Saad Hariri government, the economic and social conditions continued to collapse, the banking sector in Lebanon collapsed, the national currency (the Lebanese pound) lost 90% of its value, Lebanon approached the Venezuelan bankruptcy model, and the banks seized the deposits and accounts of Lebanese citizens (and age transfers), and some depositors deliberately stormed Banks by force of arms to recover their deposits and money withheld due to the arbitrary decisions of the Banque du Liban to withdraw money by dropper! So to live and to pay for treatment! This led to an increase in the number of Lebanese who are below the poverty line to 80 percent! Today, they have mercy on the days before the uprising or bypassing the “October Revolution” whose slogan is change for the worse, and they elected “change-making” deputies. The middle class has disappeared, and the phenomenon of mass brain drain has expanded with tickets without return!
Iraq also witnessed the October 2019 revolution. Protests swept the capital, Baghdad, and major cities and governorates of Iraq due to the deteriorating financial and economic conditions, high rates of unemployment and high prices, rampant corruption and Iran’s interference. The protesters demanded the dismissal of the Iraqi government and early elections, and later elections took place in October 2021, and only a president was elected and a new government formed. More than a year after the parliamentary elections, the parliament elected Kurdish President Abdul Latif Rashid, who commissioned Mohammed Shia al-Sudani last October to form a new government. This was after confrontations and the resignation of the largest al-Sadr bloc in the parliament, and the sit-in of his deputies in parliament and the divided system. What is remarkable, however, is the high death toll, which exceeded 750 dead and 17,000 wounded, and for the first time the protesters shouted, “Baghdad is free – free, and Iran is out, out!” Burning the Iranian flag and the Iranian consulate in Najaf, and pictures of Qassem Soleimani.
We are witnessing the expansion of the protests in China, in its second week, in rejection of the strict measures of closure and strict quarantine to prevent the spread of the Corona virus, which has returned to spread violently in several Chinese cities, including the capital, Beijing, and major cities, Shanghai and Guangzhou, due to anger at the policy of the ruling Communist Party regime. To confrontations and clashes with the security forces and even demands for political reforms, and in the precedent of calling for Chinese leader Xi Jinping to step down.
But the question is: Why did those uprisings and protests fail to impose a fait accompli and succeed in achieving the change for which they arose and the masses who were moved by the hope of change gathered around them to thwart and return the countries against which they revolted, and even in a position more capable of dealing with the protests.
Scientific studies have proven that the chances of popular protests against non-democratic regimes succeeding are slim due to the policy of repression and the employment of censorship, eavesdropping, and monitoring devices, and thwarting the protesters’ ability to intimidate, infiltrate, and disperse. Totalitarian autocratic regimes also succeed in maintaining the cohesion of the ruling class, preventing its weakening. As in the case of China, with its experience in containing protests, it has resorted to easing strict lockdown and stone restrictions!
The studies also indicated that since the first decade of the twenty-first century, the pace of protests increased, but this was accompanied by a decline in their success rates, as in the Arab Uprisings. At the end of the first decade, the success rates of the uprisings declined to one in three. As for the beginning of the second millennium in the twenty-first century, the success rate declined to one in six uprisings. Because of the loss of leaders and the ability to change, and the ability of the regimes to confront them with hacking measures, spreading fake news, and arresting their leaders. China, also has advanced technological capabilities for monitoring and eavesdropping, and even exporting this technology to countries around the world.
The regimes that came to power through revolutions live for a long time and gain experience in dealing with challenges and threats such as the Bolshevik revolution in the Soviet Union from 1917 to 1991, the Chinese revolution of 1949 and the Iranian revolution of 1979.
In the end, as in the bloody protests of the Arab Uprisings, in Lebanon, Iraq, Iran and China, none of the revolutions and popular uprisings, due to counter-revolutions, security measures and the iron fist, failed to achieve their hoped-for goals of improving and changing the difficult reality. The results remain either the survival of the status quo, or further deterioration of the living conditions of the frustrated citizens, which generates uprisings.
Why Israel should support the establishment of the Middle Corridor
The governments of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, and Kazakhstan earlier in the year signed a declaration on improving the transportation potential throughout the region. Following that, the Azerbaijani, Kazakh, Georgian and Turkish foreign and transport ministries decided that there should be accelerated transport routes throughout the region, which will include the development of the Middle Corridor, a rail freight and ferry system that will link China with Europe.
It starts in Southeast Asia and China, and runs through Kazakhstan, the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey before reaching southern and central Europe. This will permit trains to travel from China to Europe within 20-25 days, thus helping to reconnect the former Silk Road. As a former Israeli minister, I believe that Israel should be supportive of the establishment of the Middle Corridor, as it will help to strengthen the Abraham Accords if it is expanded to include Israel, the United Arab Emirates and other countries in the region.
The entire Middle East region used to be connected by train under the rule of the Ottoman Turks. There are a number of remnants of this wonderful train system in Israel, including the Ottoman train stations in Beersheba, Jaffa, and Jerusalem. These Ottoman train stations are historic landmarks from a bygone era when train travel across the Middle East was possible. Ottoman-era trains used to travel from Jaffa to Jerusalem, Haifa and other areas of the former Ottoman Turkish Empire, such as Medina and Damascus.
However, since Israel was declared to be independent, there has been no train travel between Israel and the Arab world. This was one of many causalities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yet in the wake of the Abraham Accords, this all has the potential to change, as the Arab countries no longer view Israel to be the pariah that they once viewed it to be. If anything, the Persian Gulf countries now view Israel to be a partner in the struggle against Iran, as do the Turkic republics like Azerbaijan, who greatly disdain how the mullahs are treating the Azerbaijani population in the Islamic Republic.
Thus, if this Middle Corridor is built, we Israelis can try to connect onto it as well, as it will help to counter the mullahs in Tehran by creating a stronger connection between the Turkic republics, Israel and the Arab world. We can connect to it via Turkey by ferry, and then from there, have another set of trains going from Israel to Jordan and Saudi Arabia and from there, to the United Arab Emirates. In our times, this is within the realm of the possible.
This will thus help to greatly expand trade between China, the Turkic republics, Israel and the Arab countries. Already, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan know that it is necessary to have a train that crosses from Israel to the Gulf states. They are talking about it and thinking about it. They are starting with trucks with containers that I arranged, where they bring containers from Abu Dhabi to Israel crossing from Saudi Arabia to Jordan to Haifa. They could continue from there to Turkey via ship and from there to Europe and anywhere else.
That means that we can have a train traveling from Europe to Turkey and from there, ships can go to Haifa, and from Haifa to Jordan, Saudi Arabia and from there, to the Gulf states, and they can go back in the opposite direction. I am in Bulgaria now to check how I can make it more relevant. After that, a Saudi Arabian agreement with Israel can start with a new train, like what existed in the Ottoman times with the Hijaz Railway. The people of Hijaz want to make it happen again. This is in the plan of the Abraham Accords Agreement and it will happen in the future.
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