The recent meeting of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Arab Gulf leaders at the Warsaw conference has opened the door to
speculation about another state in the region, Iraq.
Israel, like many other countries, has had a love-hate view of Iran and Iraq over the years.
Like other countries, Israel has never managed to befriend both at the same time. Indeed, others have sought to promote conflict between Iran and Iraq to assist in establishing a regional balance.
Israel finds favor in this policy of strategy of “divide and rule,” because so long as Israel’s adversaries are engaged in a conflict with others, Israel is usually ignored as a target.
Israel and Iran are at loggerheads, so it won’t come as a surprise that Israel should try to befriend Iraq.
It is already known that Israel and the Kurds have a good working relationship, and share mutual interests about the fate of Syria. But as with all other Arab states, having a good working relationship – be it economic or even weapons sales – doesn’t mean they will recognize Israel as the Jewish national homeland or even agree to formal diplomatic relations. These states have little intention of making peace a reality.
It was recently revealed that several Iraqi delegations visited Israel in 2018 and 2019. But it would be too optimistic to read too much into these meetings regarding the future of Iraqi-Israeli relations.
Formal diplomatic ties – aka a peace treaty with Iraq – remain very far away. This is not the least because there is a strong Iranian Shiite influence in the government of Baghdad, and Tehran has come to dominate many areas of Iraq through its proxy Shiite militias ever since Saddam’s downfall.
This doesn’t prevent influential Sunni and Shiite Iranian figures, including sitting members of parliament, from traveling to Jerusalem, often telling their colleagues that the purpose is to make a pilgrimage to the sites holy to Islam.
It would be delusional for any Israeli authority to think that this is not in reality the true reason. There is a tendency for Israelis – because they would like to be at peace with their neighbors – to jump to quick conclusions and try to force an issue that might need to wait for the next generation.
Experience has already shown that decades of negotiations have cast doubts on the concessions required for what turns out to be a false peace.
The 40-year peace between Israel and Egypt is very cold. And peace ties with Jordan are at a rough spot, following Amman’s refusal to renew part of the 1994 Israel-Jordan peace treaty that allows Israel to lease two small areas of land: Naharayim in the northern Jordan Valley, and Ghamr in the South.
Immediately after the overthrow of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in 2003, dozens of Iraqi parliamentarians visited Israel, including Iraqi MP Mithal Alusi. But a short while later, he was kicked out of parliament, and his two children were murdered. So nothing has come of that since.
It is evident that Arab states in the Middle East and Arab Gulf are only interested in making peace, or even just trading with Israel, when they are in distress, having learned how to acquire Israeli aid through empty promises of future peaceful relations.
The examples of this abound. In the 1980s, the Lebanese Christians sold Israel the illusion of a future peace that would be made possible once the Palestinian terrorist organizations had been expelled from Lebanon. This, among other things, led to the outbreak of the 1982 First Lebanon War, and the outcome of that misadventure is well-known.
Diplomatic relations between Israel and Iraq are light years away. In my opinion, the visit by Iraqi officials to Israel was focused on the topic of Syria in the hope of getting Israeli aid, or at least support, in return for hollow promises of a future peace and diplomatic relations.
And the visiting officials paid the same kind of lip service as was paid by the Lebanese Christians in the 1980s, and most recently by the Syrian opposition.
The option known as “divide and rule” would see Israel respond in a way to keep Arab states and non-state actors in conflict and war with each other.