Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Netanyahu looks to play Trump card in Asia -Israel has plenty to offer as it makes up for 8 years on the sidelines

Just 48 hours after returning from meeting U.S. President Donald Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu embarked on a weeklong trip to Singapore and Australia. After eight years in the cold with the Obama administration, Israel is eager to revitalize one of its strongest diplomatic assets -- ties to Washington -- for its own pivot to Asia.

"This is diplomacy of technology and economics," Netanyahu told his accompanying press corps. "We are ready to enter new markets and are positioned to do so." In all of the meetings, Netanyahu explained that Israel has much to offer in the areas of "T and T," its renowned technology and its anti-terrorism expertise.

The two Ts are in high demand these days, not least in Asia. Netanyahu's first stop, a city-state sandwiched between Malaysia and Indonesia, is something of an old friend. Israel played an instrumental role in aiding the development of the Singapore armed forces after the country's independence in 1965. Lee Kuan Yew, the country's founder and first prime minister, turned to Israeli experts for military assistance when other countries had refused.

This was the first official visit by an incumbent Israeli prime minister. The tiny yet vastly wealthy country is regarded by Israel as a strategic hub and bridge to Asia for business and regional trade. "We live in a technological age," Netanyahu said. "The future belongs to those who innovate. Israel and Singapore are innovation nations, and together we can bring more prosperity, more hope for our peoples." The two countries' cooperation in defense, research and development and trade stands at some $1.5 billion annually.

The prime minister was accompanied by officials from Israel's housing and construction ministry. The Israeli leader was keen on learning about Singapore's expertise in major building projects and providing affordable housing, primarily for young couples. Real estate prices have soared in Israel over the past decade -- a serious problem to which Netanyahu's government has yet to find a solution.

Israeli officials were also hugely impressed by Singapore's expertise in land reclamation, enabling massive construction projects in a country with limited space in which to build.

"Israel is looking toward the Asian continent, especially the economic aspects," said Yuval Rotem, director general of Israel's foreign ministry, another member of the delegation. "Today the Israeli message is clear: to find new markets in Asia, and Singapore will be one of the gateways to these markets."

Moments before the prime minister was scheduled to head off to Australia, the pilot was informed that the El Al plane carrying the delegation would not be allowed to fly over Indonesian air space as there are no diplomatic ties between the two countries.

Coincidentally, Indonesian President Joko Widodo arrived in Sydney only hours before Netanyahu departed Australia.

After the rerouting, Netanyahu was warmly received by his Australian counterpart Malcolm Turnbull. This was also the the first official visit by an Israeli prime minister. The two leaders discussed the goals of enhancing Israel - Australia trade, which currently stands at a modest $1.1 billion dollars. Australia is a trillion dollar market and is in the process of increasing its defense spending to $50 billion. Military experts attribute this to regional tensions.

During the four day visit Turnbull accompanied Netanyahu to several events, including a visit to a synagogue in his own constituency, where the Israeli leader received a rock star's welcome.

The Turnbulls also hosted a Sabbath dinner for the Netanyahus on Friday evening at their private home on Sydney Harbor.

Having been subjected to the ire of Donald Trump last month, in what the U.S. president described as the "worst call by far" after taking office, Turnbull may well look to Netanyahu as a mediator.

The Trump card is the third "T" that Israel has up its sleeve. Netanyahu clearly believes in what many claim could be a tremendous relationship with the U.S. president -- a stark contrast to his frosty ties with Obama.

While Israel has always had many friends in the U.S. Congress, it is its ability to open doors with the White House that could be most appealing for Asian countries.

It looks like it will be a busy spring for Netanyahu, with scheduled visits to China and Russia before returning to Washington for the annual American-Israel Public Affairs Committee Conference.

There is every reason to believe that, while Netanyahu is in town, Trump might just find the time to meet and hear all about his recent travels and the folks he met along the way.

Nikkei Asian Review

No comments:

Post a Comment