Skip to main content

Trump: Dream result for Israel could turn into a Middle East nightmare

If Trump goes through with his election promises, he will be on a dangerous collision course with the entire Arab world - and Iran

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can pride himself as the mother of invention. He began the 21st century process of populist leaders taking over their countries in free democratic elections and then remoulding politics in their image. Netanyahu was followed by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Brexit and now Donald Trump in America. Who’s next? Marine Le Pen as the new French President in 2017?

Netanyahu was the first leader to identify and use as political tools the resentment of many in society against the old elites, leading the way for Trump

With all their differences, what these leaders and trends have in common are inflammatory rhetoric, nationalism, combined with doses of clericalism, hatred of the other, incitement against foreigners, politics of division and the creation of real and fictitious enemies from within and without.

In that sense, Netanyahu is a wizard. He was the first leader – already in 1996 when he was first elected as prime minister - to identify and use as political tools the resentment of many in society against the old elites, the political establishment and the traditional media and to exploit the fears of the deprived and the unprivileged. Never mind that Netanyahu himself, exactly like Trump, is a product of the same elite and grew up in a wealthy and privileged family.

Netanyahu and government ministers rushed not only to congratulate Trump, but also to rejoice. They saw President Barack Obama as the enemy of Israel, despite his diplomatic and military support for the Jewish state. Now they have high expectations of Trump. They immediately remind him of the promises and the statement he made during the election campaign.

Right-wing cabinet members cited Trump’s statement that he would turn his back on the two-state solution and won’t allow the creation of the Palestinian state

Trump said that, if elected, he would move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He is not the first presidential candidate, however, who promised to do this, but previous presidents - once they entered the Oval Office - realised that it is easier said than done. The Arab world, the UN and most of the international community are opposing such a step.

Right-wing cabinet ministers such as Naftali Bennett, who represents the settlers’ movement, cited Trump’s statement that he would turn his back on the two-state solution and won’t allow the creation of the Palestinian state. To the joy of Netanyahu and Israeli ministers Trump also threatened to cancel the nuclear deal with Iran.

Family ties

The Israeli leaders know well that Trump’s in-laws are Orthodox Jews and his daughter converted to Judaism. No wonder that many US orthodox Jews and expatriate Israelis voted for him despite the traditional trend that the majority of American Jews have always voted for Democrat candidates.

As a businessman who believes that there are no free meals he may question whether the annual $3.8 billion shower on Israel is a wise investment

But it is too early for them to celebrate. Trump is an unpredictable. His unpredictability may turn against Israel’s favour. As a businessman who believes that there are no free meals, he may question why Israel is the largest recipient of US foreign aid and whether the annual $3.8bn shower on Israel is a wise investment and brings back dividends to US interests.

The president-elect may also hold a grudge against Netanyahu for his refusal to meet with him at an early stage in the campaign when Trump was still an unknown quantity and perceived as an eccentric anecdote. 

Above all, he lacks any experience of foreign policy in general and of the Middle East in particular. It will take him more than a while to select his Middle East team and to understand the complexities of the region.

If, and there is a big if, Trump after all will try to follow his election promises and execute them as a coherent policy, the US may find itself on a dangerous collision course with the entire Arab world including oil-rich Saudi Arabia, the Emirates as well as Iran.

From the outset it seems very unlikely. But that is exactly what was said about the combination of the words Donald Trump and US president.

Yossi Melman is an Israeli security and intelligence commentator and co-author of Spies Against Armageddon.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during a campagin rally inside the Cabarrus Arena 7 Events Center in Concord, North Carolina on 3 November 2016 (AFP)

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.