SINGAPORE – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu enjoys talking about Israel’s position in the world, and when asked why Asian, African and Latin American countries are eager to expand ties, he frequently replies “TNT,” shorthand for technology and anti-terrorism expertise.
From Singapore to Rwanda, Colombia to Kazakhstan, these two “T’s” are in high demand, Netanyahu often reminds his interlocutors. And, indeed, both Israel’s vaunted technology and experience battling terrorism will be high on the agenda during his trip to Singapore and Australia.
But now, a third “T” can be added to the mix: US President Donald Trump.
For many years, one major diplomatic asset Israel had going for it was its close, intimate relationship with the United States. “The road to Washington runs through Jerusalem” was an old diplomatic adage.
Netanyahu hails “new day” in Israel-US relations after meeting with Trump (credit: REUTERS)
For instance, when the Iron Curtain crumbled in 1989, one of the reasons that many of the Central and Eastern European countries coming out of the shadow of the Soviet Union sought close ties with Israel was because of a belief that this would help them gain entry to Washington. This was one of the main factors, for instance, behind the development of close relations in the 1990s with Muslim-majority Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.
Then came president Barack Obama.
One of the side effects of Obama’s policy of publicly airing his differences with Israel was that Israel lost the perception of being one of Washington’s “favorite sons.”
Granted, Jerusalem still had many friends on Capitol Hill, but doors to the Obama White House would not be opened by Netanyahu.
Israel lost its status as a darling of Washington, and was no longer able to pull strings to gain favors for friends.
But now Trump has seemingly changed that all back. The very friendly press conference held by Trump and Netanyahu in the White House last week was seen and heard around the world, including in Singapore and Sydney, where the prime minister is now traveling. While some in the American Jewish community expressed concern about Netanyahu appearing to be “tied at the hip” to a divisive US president, Netanyahu’s obviously good relations with Trump give the country added value in its dealing with countries that don’t enjoy such a close relationship with the American leader, but would like to.
The public warmth between Trump and Netanyahu adds another “T” to the two Netanyahu constantly talks about regarding what Israel has to offer various countries around the world. Netanyahu knows this well, and will undoubtedly trade in this currency.
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