Week in Review: Bibi’s Diplomacy Down Under; Haley’s Dramatic Debut; Driving and Drilling

Bibi’s Diplomacy Down Under

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was warmly received as he visited South Asian allies this week.

In Singapore, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong noted during their joint meeting on Monday that the two young nations have a long history of friendship: “When we became independent, the IDF helped us build and train the [Singapore Armed Forces]. Today, our ties extend to investments, technology and R&D. Our universities and research institutes have exchanges and joint research projects, and we are planning further collaboration with each other.”

Netanyahu characterized his visit as part of a diplomatic pivot to East Asia, noting that in the coming months, “I’ll go to China, [and] somewhat later this year Prime Minister Modi of India will come to visit Israel.”

Netanyahu then headed to Australia to meet with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who noted the similarities between the two nations. “We have so much in common, shared values, democracy, freedom, the rule of law,” Turnbull observed. “Two great democracies, one very small in area, one vast, but each of us big-hearted, generous, committed to freedom. Prime Minister, you are so welcome here in Australia.”

Turnbull also wrote an op-ed in The Australian, the country’s largest national newspaper, in which he criticized the UN for singling out Israel. “My government will not support one-sided resolutions criticizing Israel of the kind recently adopted by the UN Security Council and we deplore the boycott campaigns designed to delegitimize the Jewish state,” he wrote. Turnbull had previously criticized UN Security Council Resolution 2334 in December, saying that the measure, which criticized Israeli construction in eastern Jerusalen and the West Bank, was “deeply unsettling.”

Australian Ambassador to Israel Dave Sharma praised his country’s ties with Israel in an an interview with The Tower on Friday. “Israel has one of the most entrepreneurial, innovative start-up economies in the world,” said Sharma. “Australia needs to have an economy more like that. We’re a prosperous, high-income economy, but we need to remain at top of the value chain if we want to remain high-skill and high-income.”

If there was one negative to Netanyahu’s trip, it was that his plane from Singapore to Sydney had to go three-and-a-half hours out of the way because Indonesia refused to let his flight cross through its airspace.

Haley’s Dramatic Debut

In her first press briefing last week as the United States’ new ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley harshly criticized the Security Council’s treatment of Israel, proclaiming that the U.S. “will not turn a blind eye to this anymore.”

William Jacobson of the Legal Insurrection blog compared Haley’s speech with a similar one by one of her most famous predecessors, Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Just as Haley blasted Resolution 2334, calling the condemnation of Israel’s presence in the Old City of Jerusalem a “terrible mistake,” Moynihan said in the wake of the now-revoked “Zionism is racism” UN General Assembly resolution that the United States “does not acknowledge, it will not abide by, it will never acquiesce in this infamous act.”

Former Israeli ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor wrote in The Wall Street Journal on Thursday that Congress can take action to support Haley’s stand.

The U.S. paid $9.2 billion to the UN last year, which included both covering 22 percent of its operating budget as well as a “voluntary” contribution of $5.9 billion. “If the U.N. were advancing democratic values or making the world safer, the money would be well-spent,” Prosor argued. “A new U.S. administration and new U.N. secretary-general provide a golden opportunity to help the U.N. return to its core values, challenge its inefficiency, and halt its frequent attacks on American values and allies. The message should be clear: the U.N. must reform or the U.S. could cut its funding.”

Prosor suggested three ways the U.S. could use its economic leverage to bring about change at the UN.

The first: Improve transparency by appointing a delegate to the UN’s budgetary committee, ensuring that American money is spent for proper purposes. The UN currently has no obligation to provide detailed spending reports that comply with international accounting standards. “That’s not good enough for a small business filing its taxes,” Prosor observed. “For an organization spending billions[,] it’s ridiculous.”

Next, the United States should ensure that the UN acts in accordance with its principles. For example, the UN Human Rights Council has been “hijacked by human-rights violators like Cuba, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela,” Prosor noted. Congress should work with an independent investigator to ensure that “that U.N. agencies are upholding their mission statements in keeping with U.S. standards, interests and values.”

Finally, if the UN or one of its subsidiary agencies continues to act in ways that are “lackluster, inefficient, corrupt or abhorrent, America could demand rapid reform,” and perhaps even withdraw funding.

In short, Prosor wrote, if Congress truly supported Haley’s vision, the UN would no longer be able to “remain hostile, opaque and unaccountable and expect to get a star-spangled paycheck.”

Driving and Drilling

Two stories this week underscored the dynamism of Israel’s economy.

German automaker BMW announced that it will include traffic detection technology developed by the Israeli company Mobileye on many of its 2018 model vehicles. Mobileye has been a crucial partner for General Motors, Volkswagen, Nissan, and other car companies racing to bring driverless vehicles to market. The Jerusalem-based company raised $890 million in its 2014 IPO, one of many reasons that Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat reminded attendees at this week’s OurCrowd Investors’ Summit that Jerusalem “is a city not only of the past, but also of the future.”

An American-Israeli business consortium finalized plans on Thursday to invest $3.5 billion toward developing the Leviathan natural gas field in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. “If we continue on a responsible and steadfast path, we will also succeed in discovering more gas fields, positioning Israel as an important player in the energy market alongside our neighbors in the Middle East and Europe,” Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz stated.

Israel has received diplomatic dividends from its development of offshore natural gas reserves. For example, the country has grown closer to Cyprus and Greece, partly driven by opportunities to partner on pipelines and other natural gas export opportunities.

Feature: Can Trump Break Up the Russian-Iranian Alliance?

Anna Borshchevskaya of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy observed that Moscow and Tehran currently have a number of common interests, including arms exports, nuclear research cooperation, and “strong opposition to Sunni Islamism.” But perhaps the biggest incentive for Russian President Vladimir Putin to seek a closer alliance with Iran is “his desire to reduce Western influence and pull Iran closer to Russia overrode all others.” As one quoted observer put it, for Russia, “a pro-American Iran is worse than a nuclear Iran.”

Given these considerations, Borshchevskaya wrote, “it is going to be difficult to drive a wedge between Russia and Iran.” But President Donald Trump could still try to cause a split between these two American adversaries by convincing Putin that Russia and Iran’s interests in Syria differ and will become incompatible in the future. More importantly, she wrote, the United States needs to restore its influence in the Middle East, because “Putin preys on weakness and has perceived the U.S. as weak for years.” Restored alliances and a more active American role in the region “would limit Putin’s influence, including his alliance with Iran.”

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Three Big Questions

Muslim-American activist Linda Sarsour helped raise over $100,000 to restore a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis that was vandalized this week. Yet as a supporter of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, she is effectively an advocate for Israel’s destruction, and is slated to appear at the national meeting of the pro-boycott group Jewish Voice for Peace later this year with convicted Palestinian terrorist Rasmeah Odeh, who killed two Israeli university students in a 1969 bombing. Ben Cohen asked in his weekly column: Does Sarsour’s good deed absolve her bad actions?

Sixteen deaf Palestinian children received cochlear implants at an Israeli hospital over the past year, allowing them to hear for the first time. What are they more likely to hear when they return to their homes and schools: praise for the doctors, or songs like “Pull the Trigger,” which was performed at a recent Palestinian youth dancing competition and features the lyrics “We replaced bracelets with weapons/We attacked the despicable ones”?

Earlier this month, a delegation from the self-proclaimed “feminist” Swedish government visited Iran, and the women in the party covered their hair in accord with the dictates of their hosts. This week, it was reported that the Iranian chess federation kicked an 18-year-old female grandmaster off the national team for failing to cover her hair during a tournament in Gibraltar. (Her brother was also kicked off the team for playing against an Israeli opponent.) Who did a better job of championing women’s rights: the Swedes, or the teenage chess champ?

[Photo: Haim Zach / GPO ]