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    Middle East
     May 12, '14

Israel acts to undermine Arabs in Asia
By Nicola Nasser

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing.

Israel is carving economic inroads into Asia which could be deep enough to compromise traditional Asian political support for Arabs. If this trend continues, growing economic Israeli-Asian relations will develop into political ties that neutralize Asia in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's official visit to Japan from May

11-15 is not an historic breakthrough per se in bilateral relations that date back to 1952.

Neither is the normalization of relations in "a matter of weeks" between Israel and Turkey, which was the first major Muslim country to recognize the State of Israel in 1949, as was promised by the Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan on April 27.

However, both events highlight a breakthrough Israel has discreetly achieved in pivoting to Asia, which was once an reservoir of support for Arabs in their conflict with Israel over Palestine.

"For the first time, in 2014, Israeli exports with Asia will exceed trade with the US, pushing it from second to third place (behind the EU)," director of the Foreign Trade Administration at Israel's Ministry of the Economy, Ohad Cohen, was quoted as saying by Israeli "Globes" on April 27.

While opening more trade attache offices in Asia, the Israeli Ministry of the Economy has closed a number of European trade offices in Austria, Hungary, Finland and Sweden "in order to refocus on emerging markets," Cohen explained.

"Today we have five offices in China, three in India, and we have added attaches in Vietnam and an office in Manila," he added.

US President Barack Obama visited Asia in April trying to demonstrate that his promised strategic "pivot" to the region was seeing progress real. However, the Israelis seem to be making more secure progress in a similar direction.

"'Pivot to Asia' is a term that might be applied to Israel," Roger Cohen wrote in The New York Times on April 24, citing a boom in its trade with China to more than $8 billion in 2013. Israel's military and technological cooperation with China had once created a crisis in the US-Israeli relations.

Cohen noted that while the US and Europe continue to "huff and puff" about the illegal Israeli colonial settlements in the occupied Palestinian West Bank "Asia does business. India has already bought sea-to-sea missiles, radar for a missile-intercept system and communications equipment from Israel."

India: A case study
India could be a case study for Israel. According to the website of the Embassy of India in Egypt, "Much of our external trade passes along the Suez Canal, the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden," all almost exclusively Arab sea routes, and "Our total bilateral trade with the Arab countries is over US$ 110 billion and the region is home to 4.5 million Indians and caters to 70% of our energy imports."

Indian Defense Minister AK Antony told the 15th Asian Security Conference in February last year that "West Asia is a critical region" for India and the "Gulf region is vital for India's energy security."

During 2011 to 2012, India's trade with the Arab Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) was more than $145 billion (with exports and imports from the region standing at 20% and 14%, respectively), Antony said.

Former Indian ambassador to Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, Talmiz Ahmad, wrote on December 29, 2013 in the Deccan Chronicle: "The security and stability of the Gulf and West Asia are crucial for the long-term interests of the Asian countries. This calls for a review of the Asian security role in the Gulf."

Yet, despite its vital ties with Arab nations, India is now also the largest customer for military equipment and the largest Asian economic partner of their arch-enemy - Israel. By courting India and China, Israel can neutralize Asian pro-Arab and pro-Palestinian influence in the region.

These Asian-Israeli exchanges deprived Israel of an influential incentive for making peace. They should have been at least postponed as an Asian prize for ending the Israeli military occupation of Arab lands in Palestine, Syria and Lebanon.

Israel considers itself a Western influence doing its best to make Asia a free market for Western interests, but it is likely the main destabilizing factor in the region.

Controversial explanation
Writing in Forbes on May 14 last year, professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, Jonathan Adelman, and the acting executive director for Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME), Asaf Romirowsky, gave a controversial explanation for Israel's apparent breakthrough in Asia.

Historically, "Asia largely lacks the anti-Semitism that was so prominent in Europe" and "Israel was like most Asian states ... a new state born after World War II after a struggle with a Western colonial power, in this case Great Britain," they said.

"Geographically, Israel is in West Asia, only four hours by air from India and 11 hours by air from China. Historically, Israel, like most Asian states, is a new state born after World War II after a struggle with a Western colonial power, in this case Great Britain. ... Economically, Israel's rapid transition from Third World power to First World 'start-up nation' echoes the great transformation underway in such Asian countries as India, China and the Four Tigers."

The authors add: "In intelligence matters, which are so critical to many developing countries, Mossad, with its strong human intelligence capabilities, is attractive for helping these countries overcome foreign threats to their rise to power."

It sounds almost as if the authors are like laboring to "sell" Israel to Asia.

Ironically both of them had nothing to say about Israel being promoted mainly by its US strategic sponsor as "the only democracy in the Middle East".

Israel was not born after a struggle with the colonial power of Great Britain. Rather the country was imposed by this colonial power by force on the region after an ongoing ethnic cleansing of the native Arab Palestinians of the land.

Taking the wrong side
The argument that Mossad could help Asian countries overcome their terrorist threats deserves more elaboration.

The fact that the Muslim population in Asia is almost double that of the Arab countries combined is a factor that could potentially create a cultural bridge for more interaction between the overwhelmingly Arab West Asia and its mother continent, but nonetheless there is a worrying negative side.

The rise of Islamist extremism could make use of this cultural bridge as well, but the Israeli occupying power is making the best use of it by exploiting this threat to cement its intelligence ties with Asia.

These extremists are at war with the Arabs and not with Israel. So far the latter has been safe from their threat not because of its defense capabilities against them, but because it was not and is not targeted by them.

Of course Asia could not idly watch the rise of Islamist extremism and could not avoid taking sides and embark on a defensive battle against it outside its borders otherwise it will be risking fighting this evil within its own borders sooner or later.

However, Asia seems to take the wrong side. The Israeli occupying power is not Asia's best ally to preempt this threat - rather it is the Arabs who know and have experience in countering it.

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.

Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. An edited version of this article was first published by Middle East Eye. (nassernicola@ymail.com)

(Copyright 2014 Nicola Nasser)

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