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Israel stays flexible on US election outcome

Nov 4, 2020

Israel may prefer Trump, but Biden is no stranger

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has channeled most of his country in hoping that US President Donald Trump could win a second term. But there also has been a lot of good feeling toward his Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, a longtime champion of the US-Israel relationship and friend of the prime minister. What anxiety there may be in Israel around the rising possibility of a Biden presidency revolves around two issues — Iran, of course, and a younger, progressive wing of the Democratic Party that is not as committed to the US-Israel partnership.

It goes without saying … Netanyahu’s backing of Trump throughout the 2020 campaign has always been something known but not said, at least not in so many words. Netanyahu did his all in recent months to link Trump to the massive wins for Israel, and for Netanyahu himself, since 2017: normalization with the UAE and Bahrain, with Sudan next in line; moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem; recognizing Israeli sovereignty of the Golan; and withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

No playing with fire. But the US-Israel relationship isn’t built on one president or party. It has enjoyed rock-solid bipartisan history, and no Israeli prime minister would want to show any distance, especially in times like these, with the election outcome still hanging in the balance.

Case in point, as Ben Caspit reports here: On Oct. 23, during a highly publicized three-way call between Trump, Netanyahu and Sudanese Sovereign Council President Abdel Fattah al-Burhan announcing Sudan-Israel normalization, “Netanyahu managed to avoid a trap set by the president over his Democratic rival,” Caspit writes. “Trump asked whether Netanyahu thought ‘Sleepy Joe could have made this deal.’ After a second of hesitation, Netanyahu responded, ‘Mr. President, one thing I can tell you is we appreciate the help for peace from anyone in America.’”

Two things. There are two things, however, that may give Netanyahu and many Israelis some concerns about a Biden presidency:

Iran. Biden has said he would reenter the Iran deal, which Netanyahu has opposed from day one, going back to the Barack Obama administration, when Biden was vice president. There was no love lost between “Bibi and Barack,” first because of Obama’s lecturing (as Netanyahu heard it) on Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and then over the Iran deal. Again, the US relationship was too vital to be allowed to fray, but the personal touch during those years was mostly left to Biden, US Secretaries of State John Kerry and Hillary Clinton, and others in the administration. Netanyahu appeared to favor Trump over Clinton in the 2016 election, one of the reasons being Iran, as Trump campaigned on ending the deal. But channels were always open with Clinton.

The NextGen Democrats. Israel is particularly concerned with a trend among young progressive Democrats, including Reps. Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, both of whom easily won reelection and who are not as invested in the unquestioning nature of US ties to Israel.

Our take: If Biden wins, as seems increasingly likely on Wednesday afternoon as this is being written, expect Netanyahu and Biden to be on speed dial, not so different than Bibi and Trump. If Biden pursues a new deal with Iran, the bet here is he will keep Netanyahu and Israel close, avoiding the friction of the Obama administration. As we wrote here last month, there seems to be recognition that a regional component will need to complement any prospective future nuclear deal. Biden has been complimentary of Israel’s normalization agreements, and would likely pick up that thread. Biden will also be key to holding off initiatives by progressive Democrats critical of Israel.

Egypt: “We Chose Him” song about Mubarak, refashioned for Trump

A quirky election story: Egyptian singer Wissam Magdy’s music video in praise of Trump has gone viral. The song is derived from a 20-year old version of “Ekhtarnah” (Arabic for “We Chose Him”) performed in celebration of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The lyrics include:

“We chose him, elected him, with our love he’ll always win. When he speaks our hearts listen because our rights are his vision. With our lives we trusted him, we chose him, elected him.”

You can check out the report by David Awad here.

UAE: Normalization with Israel brings kosher food and Golan wine

World’s tallest building houses kosher bistro. Carry-out service is available from a new kosher restaurant on shabbat, reporter Amberin Zaman learned on a recent visit to the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, as a result of normalization with Israel. The restaurant will cater to Israeli tourists and a small community of Jews in the UAE estimated at 500 to 1,500. “They are served by three synagogues — two in Dubai, and a third in Abu Dhabi that just opened its doors. Now they are stepping out of the shadows as the UAE opens its arms to Israel,’ she writes. Amberin’s full report is here.

Palestinians furious over export of Golan wine. The UAE “has dealt a heavy blow to the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, after it signed a deal Oct. 28 with Israel to sell wine made in Syria’s occupied Golan Heights in Dubai. The deal was concluded between the Emirati African + Eastern company that operates in the field of wine and alcohol marketing and the Israeli-owned Golan Heights Winery. The products will be launched in wine stores, hotels and restaurants in Dubai in the next few days.” Read the full report from Ahmed Melhem here.

In case you missed it: McMaster says if Biden elected, reentering Iran nuclear deal would be “huge mistake”

Trump’s former national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, called the 2015 Iran nuclear deal “deeply flawed” and “a political disaster masquerading as a diplomatic triumph.”

In the latest episode of Al-Monitor’s “On the Middle East” podcast series, McMaster says reentering the Iran deal would be a “huge mistake,” adding, “What’s immensely important now, and what the biggest accomplishment of the Trump administration has been, is to put the economic pressure on the regime, to force a choice, and ultimately, it will be up to the Iranian people to voice a desire to change the nature of their government.”

You can read Joe Snell’s report on the interview here, and listen to the podcast here.

What we’re reading: How effective is the UAE military? Pretty effective, says Kenneth Pollack

Pollack, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of seminal studies on Arab military effectiveness, provides a deep dive on the UAE military and concludes that the key to the UAE’s progress has been “the commitment of the country’s senior leadership, particularly Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, who has encouraged and enabled his military to employ a range of workarounds to the economic and culturally driven factors that have hobbled Arab militaries throughout the modern era. Read the study here.

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