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Israel’s Pivot to Asia

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Trans-Pacific View

Israel’s Pivot to Asia

Insights from Avital Leibovich.

Israel’s Pivot to Asia
Credit: Flickr/ Foreign and Commonwealth Office

The Rebalance author Mercy Kuo regularly engages subject-matter experts, policy practitioners, and strategic thinkers across the globe for their diverse insights into the U.S. rebalance to Asia.  This conversation with Lieutenant Colonel (Res.) Avital Leibovich – Director of the American Jewish Committee’s Jerusalem office, with a distinguished career spanning over 20 years in a wide range of senior media and public relations positions within the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) as former Head of the Interactive Media Branch of the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit and Head of the Foreign Press Branch – is the 59th in “The Rebalance Insight Series.”

With the United States, China, and India as some of Israel’s top trading partners, what is the Asia-Pacific region’s strategic relevance to Israel?

Israel has a very diverse and innovative economy. The high-tech industry, agri-tech and entrepreneurship in Israel are rapidly expanding. As the Asia Pacific constitutes some of the world’s largest populations and economies, Israel finds these countries to have great potential for businesses, and vice versa, I believe that China and India are also interested in the great industrial potential that Israel has.

The “Israeli brain” comes up with solutions for any problems raised to it, and as such there are many Israeli solutions which may be suitable for the Asian audience. For example, as large parts of the population live in desert areas, Israeli companies created solutions for water transportation and desalination, agricultural solutions for these areas, and more. These can also help rural villages in the Asia-Pacific. Israeli medicine and pharmaceuticals are also among the most innovative in the world (Teva, for example). In addition, it’s important to note that the Asia-Pacific has a growing political importance and power in the world, and as such, these relations are strategic and beneficiary for both sides.

How do China’s investment interests in Israel impact U.S.-Israel relations?

It is important to note that the relationship between Israel and the U.S. is strategic, and constitutes an important pillar in Israel’s foreign relations. Chinese investments in Israel seem to be merely out of economic interests and are a great opportunity for Israeli business people to work with the Asia-Pacific. Israel, as a state, sees China as an important economic partner, and as a part of this perspective, only in the past six years Israel opened two new consulates in China – in Chengdu and Guangzhou. These enable more business people from Israel to work with Chinese counterparts and expand their businesses. While China is a strategic economic partner, the U.S. is not impacted by it. I don’t believe there is any negative impact on the U.S.-Israel relations from the growing economic relations between China and Israel.

With in-depth understanding of cybersecurity and information dissemination, what are ways to mitigate risks of cyber conflicts in U.S.-China relations?

Israel is not a side in any cybersecurity issues between the U.S. and China. However, as a country under constant threat from different directions, Israel has developed solutions to defend itself from cybersecurity risks. Every single day, Israel faces 200,000-2,000,000 attempted cyber attacks on its governmental websites from outside sources. So far, only a few have succeeded, thanks to Israeli technologies. Israel is considered one of the world’s hubs for cybersecurity, and according to June 2016, Israeli exports in this field constitutes 5-8 percent of the world’s trade in cybersecurity.

With Turkey at the intersection of Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, explain the importance of the recent rapprochement in Israel-Turkey relations.

Turkey has been one of the key actors in the Middle East for the past hundreds of years. Israel and Turkey used to be very close allies, but the past six years have shown great deterioration in the relations. Turkey used to be the bridge between the West and the Arab world, and as such constituted an important factor in Israel’s foreign and economic relations. The recent agreement between the two governments may be the first sign for a change in their relations, which may bring regional and economic developments. I believe the relations will grow, as there are mutual interests between the two countries, which may lead to affecting the stability in the region. I hope that in the coming years we will see a warming of the relations, as they pose a great opportunity for Israel in the region, and may increase stability in the Middle East.

How should the next U.S. president understand the strategic context of Israel’s growing relations with Asia?

The United States is Israel’s main strategic ally – diplomatically, economically, and militarily. There is no threat to this relationship by any country. Having said that, Israel is seeking ways to expand economically, and Asia is one of the largest markets in the world. As such, Israel is trying to get more involved in it. Relations with Asia don’t affect Israel’s relations with the U.S., and I don’t expect it to in the future.