Throughout history, occupying forces have always sought to find friends in their immediate neighborhoods. In this endeavor, they usually rely on the racial, ethnic and ideological differences of the region’s residents in order to enhance their penetration and build alliances aimed to strengthen their security and maintain their survival. Israel, as a colonial state, has followed suit.
Recently, a bunch of stories about a new wave of regional friends of Israel has become public. In his article published in Israel Today, Aviel Schneider reveals that the Yemeni separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) led by Aidarus al-Zoubaidi and strongly backed by the UAE employs a tone of friendly reconciliation with Israel. He describes the STC as a “secret friend” to Israel. He claims that a “new state in the Middle East had been declared behind closed doors” referring to the region in South of Yemen that the STC is trying to seize from the legitimate government of Yemen led by President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi.
The claims, allegedly first disclosed in this article, have been supported by several indicators recently. For example, as Schneider wrote, “at a recent press conference, the STC expressed a positive attitude toward Israel, although the question of official diplomatic relations has yet to be discussed”.
In a related context, Hani Bin Briek, the vice-chairman of the STC, tweeted several times, expressing warm feelings for Israel and the Jews, calling them “our cousins”. In his latest tweets relating to the issue at hand, he replied to a tweet posted by @IsraelArabic, saying “Welcome to the Jewish-Israeli cousin who visited our Arab country Qatar, and felt the human brotherhood. Our cousins, descendants of Isaac, were with us in every Arab country and are still present in some of our Arab countries, as citizens, in their country, including Yemen”.
Commenting on the news about a relationship between the STC and Israel being secretly established, Briek avoided confirming these allegations, but he stressed that the STC does not, in principle, object to establishing a relationship with Israel, insisting on that “peace with Israel is an ambition as well as a desire for us.” Adding, “if we have a relation with our Israeli cousins, we will announce it”.
The allegation about the secret relationship in the region between Israel and the separatist movements and putschists is not limited to Yemen. Westwards, especially in Libya, we can find tangible indications of Israeli aids to the UAE-backed militia led by Khalifa Haftar.
Several reports spoke recently about direct meetings between Haftar and Israeli security officials. They revealed that Israel provided direct military support to Haftar’s forces, one of them including direct engagement by Israeli fighter jets. In exchange, Hafter pledged to sign security and economic agreements with Israel.
Abdel Salam Al-Badri – who is thought to be deputy prime minister of the Libyan government in Benghazi (the interim government of the Tobruk Parliament) – called on Israel to join new political initiative on signing a joint maritime agreement with Lebanon, Egypt, Cyprus and Greece, in response to the maritime cooperation agreement that Turkey signed with the Government of National Accord of Libya months ago.
Al-Badri who addressed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu via Israel’s Makor Rishon newspaper told Israelis that “We have never and will never be enemies with Tel Aviv, and we hope you will support us”.
In the same context, Abdel-Hadi Al-Hawaij, Minister of Foreign Affairs in the government of Haftar, held a lengthy dialogue with the Israeli newspaper Maariv, in which he expressed his wish for normal and official relations with Israel. In addition to recent allegations by Israeli security expert Yossi Melman which confirmed Haftar’s relationship with the Israeli Mossad.
For Israel, the new developments were welcomed and viewed as strategic steps in the long process of closing the window of vulnerability which has been challenging the state of Israel since its outset, specially of being in an antagonistic environment. Although Israel astonishingly made peace agreements with some Arab regimes, the majority of Arab people consider Israel to be the most threating state against the security of the Arab world, according to the Arab Index in 2017-2018.
It can be said that the following points summarize Israeli strategies to maintain its survival and its regional hegemony: military power with nuclear capabilities, maintaining strong relations with one of the superpowers, expanding land seizure (Israel is now preparing to illegally annex more than 30 percent of the Palestinian Occupied territory in the West Bank), preventing the establishment of a free and independent Palestinian state, working for breakthroughs towards normalization with its Arab neighbors, preventing any regional power from acquiring nuclear capabilities, and last but not least, working to support separatist movements in the region.
Given the idea that the scope of Israeli foreign policy basically covers the Middle East region, as Israel Shahak argued in his book Open Secrets: Israel Foreign and Unclear Policy, the recent strategy of supporting separatist movements, as the aforementioned reports revealed, arguably represents a new episode in the long-term Israeli efforts to re-partition the region, or what might be called a strategy of “collecting the crumbs”.
By supporting the separatist movements and putschists, Israel hopes to establish a joint strategy combining both symmetrical and asymmetrical policies. While its symmetrical policies obviously relied on building up a strong arm forces as well as proactive foreign policy, its asymmetrical policies projected through the steady development of ties with major non-state actors who have been playing significant role in international politics, since the beginning of the Cold War.
It may be argued that the first separatist group Israel approached were the Kurds in northern Iraq. Israel’s rapprochement with the Kurds was seen through a Machiavellian lens, since Tel Aviv intended to keep eye on Iraq, Syria, and Iran especially after the Islamic regime took over from the Shah in Tehran. Israel’s aid to the Kurdish separatists covered the military, humanitarian and diplomatic fields.
By way of example, as early as June 2004, The New Yorker reported that Israeli military and intelligence operatives were “providing training for Kurdish commando units and, most important from Israel’s perspective, running covert operations inside Kurdish areas of Iran and Syria”.
In his book, The Kurds of Iraq: Building a State Within a State, Ofra Bengio argued that Jerusalem’s connection with the stateless Iraqi minority first began shortly after the outbreak of the Kurdish rebellion in the autumn of 1961, apparently at Israel’s initiative, with the aim of weakening Baghdad.
Moreover, Israel was the only country that explicitly supported the referendum held in Iraqi Kurdistan in 2017, aimed at independence from the central government in Baghdad. Israel has announced that it is ready to recognize the independence of the territory as soon as it is declared.
Undoubtedly, Israel’s policy of supporting the Kurds has borne fruit. In addition to the intelligence gains that Israel enjoyed through operating freely in areas that are now controlled by the Kurds in Syria and Iraq, Israel has been able to smuggle Iraqi Jews during the 1990s, for example, through direct assistance from the Kurds, especially by Masoud Barzani, who became the president of the Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government.
Another example worth mentioning is the Israeli support to the southern Sudanese rebels over decades. When the secession of South Sudan and the formation of the state of South Sudan was announced, Israel was among the first countries in the world to officially recognize it.