SIGNAL Note 64: “Indispensable Netanyahu”- The Israeli prime minister’s diplomatic role has overriding importance for American and world security

After 13 years in office, Benjamin Netanyahu has served long enough to have rankled every Israeli I know. He faces a difficult election on September 17, after failing to form a coalition government following a national election earlier this year. As an American, I avoid taking a view on Israeli politics, but this is a special situation in which Netanyahu’s diplomatic role has overriding importance for American and world security. I have argued since 2009 that the United States has a narrow but important set of common interests with Russia in the Middle East. Thanks in large part to Netanyahu, security cooperation seems effective.

No other world leader could have convened, as Netanyahu did June 25, a meeting of Russia’s national security adviser Nicolai Petrushev and American NSA John Bolton. Speaking in Jerusalem, Petrushev declared, “We pay special attention to ensuring Israel’s security,” calling it “a special interest of ours because here in Israel live a little less than about two million of our countrymen.” He added, “Israel supports us in several channels, including at the UN.”

SIGNAL Note 63: Reflecting On Moroccan Sense Of Tolerance

Morocco is not a fully-fledged democracy, as is the case in the West, but incrementally the country, is slowly but surely, moving in that direction. As a matter of fact, the constitution of 2011 has opened the door to the devolution of power and has strengthened the diverse identity of the Moroccan individual: he is Arab, Muslim, Amazigh, Jewish, African and Mediterranean.

Tolerance has been through centuries a way of life of the country and is the second nature of Moroccans, not to say that it is probably part of their DNA. Jews arrived in the country in the year 71 AD after the destruction of their second temple by the Romans. They were well received by the Amazigh/Berber native people and they quickly melted into their social fabric for two reasons: firstly, because they were tribal and secondly they shared in the trait of a strong matriarchal system.

The Jews, though a minority, managed to convert some of the Amazigh/Berber people to Judaism from paganism without obliterating their strong pagan beliefs such as practices linked to agricultural rites of fertility, which even Islam was not able to get rid of.

While the Amazigh/Berber concentrated their efforts on agriculture, cattle-raising and animal husbandry, the Jews developed commerce, trade and early banking practices, a tradition that was to continue for centuries until their departure to Israel starting in the fifties of the twentieth century, after the creation of the Jewish State in Palestine in 1948.

SIGNAL Note 62: Unprecedented Speech By Mossad Chief

Dear friends and colleagues,

This morning, Mossad chief Yossi Cohen gave today an unusual speech, the first one of this kind ever given by an acting chief, a speech which reveals a bit of the organization’s activity and his views. I bring here a translation of a few paragraphs that seemed important to me. Sorry for the length of the thread.

[On the role of the Mossad in identifying and promoting opportunities for peace] The purpose of the Mossad is to protect the State of Israel from the danger of war, but in my opinion it has a no less important role: It is our task to identify opportunities for peace. And furthermore, to initiate moves that could bring peace closer.
Peace is a supreme value, and we apply our principles of war – including daring, creativity and striving for engagement with the enemy – to the battle for peace as well. We have been doing so for very many years.

A Global Order of Connectivity – The Chinese Vision

The international political order that was created after the Second World War is based on the concept of sovereignty. With the breakup of the western empires, the sovereign nation-state became the basic and dominant form of political order. These sovereign states adopted numerous treaties that regulated the complicated relationship between them. The treaties attempted to cover as many aspects of this relationship as possible, from the delivery of mail to the development of nuclear energy. The pervasive nature of this order has earned it the title “global”. Being a part of this order is a prerequisite for providing citizens with global services such as information technology and financial clearance.

Still, the basic logic of the “global” order is a narrow notion of sovereignty. Globality is enforced to the extent that it suits the specific interests of specific states. It is possible to wage a “global war on terror”, for example, because all states are concerned about the physical security of their citizens. It is less possible to create “global” cooperation in order to fight global warming, as this is potentially damaging to the economic interests of some states (more than others). First and foremost, sovereignty still serves to impose borders. Free movement is a privilege reserved mostly for capital, not for many goods and commodities and certainly not for people. The “global” remains an exception to most rules and is dependent on express consent which is not easily given.

SIGNAL Note 60: From David Ben-Gurion to Ben-Gurion University: the Israel–China Connection, from Idea to Action

David Ben-Gurion, founding father of the State of Israel, often expressed his appreciation for the Chinese people and predicted that China would again play a senior role—one of leadership and influence—in world affairs as it had once before. While one may be inclined to diminish the importance of these statements, one might also accordingly argue that Ben-Gurion took this position as a sober-minded statesman who recognized the importance of building bridges and maintaining relations with the great continent that Israel calls home—Asia.

A more thorough examination of Ben-Gurion’s articles, speeches and letters, however, reveals a much deeper dimension regarding his respect for China: one that transcends the practical interest that flows from geographic proximity and potential economic cooperation. Even while serving as prime minister and minister of defense, Ben-Gurion found time to read Chinese philosophy and study the history of the Chinese people, “one of the first peoples of culture in antiquity,” he said.

SIGNAL Note 59: Can the Belt Road Initiative Help Ameliorate the Arab-Israel Conflict?


One of the main purposes of China’s Belt and Road Initiative is to enhance trade between countries, increase mutual learning between civilizations and promote greater people-to-people exchanges. Furthermore, this unprecedented project is also designed to promote dialogues and exchanges among civilizations and to enhance friendly interactions between countries. Could these lofty ideas be applied also to the resolution of the century old Arab-Israel conflict? This paper argues that the Belt and Road Initiative can play an important role in promoting greater dialogue and understanding between Israel and some Arab countries in Asia thus lessening tensions in the Middle East and also helping China to play a growing role in that region as well as enhancing China’s vital interest in that area.

SIGNAL Note 58: The Syrian Wars: A New Chapter Opens in the Golan Heights

This article was originally published in The Jerusalem Post.

The sounds of war have again echoed over the Golan Heights this past week. However, the drums of war have changed their course. Until last summer, we could clearly hear and witness the Syrian war with Syrian and Russian planes bombing rebel positions, occasionally “stray mortar” hitting the Israeli Golan.

However, this week those were Israeli tanks allegedly shooting to Quneitra, just across the Alpha Line and last month it was the roar of Iranian surface-to-surface missiles, flying above the heads of Israeli skiers who surprisingly saw the rendezvous of Israeli Iron dome interceptors.

The sounds of Israeli fighter jets – operating to dismantle Iranian positions, ammunition depots and shipments to Hezbollah have replaced the Syrian ones – have added additional drums of war to the northern horizons. The Syrian war episode may have entered its concluding chapter, but the Israeli-Iranian confrontation is opening a new one.

In the summer of 2018, the Assad regime reestablished its control over the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, restoring Syrian sovereignty and redeploying Syrian Army elements to their pre-war positions.

SIGNAL Note 56: A Break in Saudi and Turkish Relations Could Intensify MBS-Bibi Bromance

After the unfortunate killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has relied on leaks and insinuations to pressure and damage Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s international standing. The tactics deployed by Erdogan have proven to be the straw that broke the camel’s back, leading MbS to lose any hope of restoring the already tense relations with Turkey. For MbS, Israel represents the ideal non-Arab state to integrate into his vision for the region.

Saudi Arabia had close relations with Erdogan since his coming to power. The Saudis positively viewed the ascendancy of Sunni Turkey in the Middle East as a balancing act against Shi’ite Iran. Also, the Saudis welcomed the Islamist orientation of the Turkish government, as it furthered their belief in the imminent rise of moderate Sunnis in the Middle East. However, this close relationship frayed as the threat of Iran grew in intensity due to the Obama administration’s accepting attitudes of Iranian dominance of the Gulf and other parts of the Middle East, and Turkey’s willingness to aid Iranian efforts to circumvent international sanctions.

SIGNAL Note 55: U.S.-China Relations: Israel in the Crossfire?

Perceptions can have a decisive influence on geopolitics.

For much of the past half-century, the United States viewed China’s economic growth as benign, contributing to global economic well-being. The resulting accumulation of wealth was considered the initial phase of a process leading to a democratization of the world’s most populous nation. In recent years, those perceptions came into question, leading to American distrust of China. Western understanding of China’s words and actions both at home and abroad reaffirmed the fear that China was becoming a threat to international stability.1 While Beijing promotes its Belt and Road Initiative as a means to bring nations closer together through mutual cooperation, some Americans have come to view it as a form of economic colonialism as more and more BRI projects led to crippling debt.2 Closer to home, Americans are distressed that the “Made in China 2025” policy is a state-backed plan to commandeer the advanced technology sector thereby debilitating the U.S. economy in the decades to come. These perceptions are firmly informing American discourse.

  1. Tiezzi, Shannon, Beijing’s China Threat Theory. June, 2014. The Diplomat Retrieved from:

SIGNAL Note 54: The Story of Middle Eastern and North African Jews in the 20th Century

The Middle East has been home to the Jewish People for over 3000 years. The Jews began developing their unique civilization in the Land of Israel around the 11th century, BCE, and they flourished there until they were conquered by the Romans in the first and second centuries of the common era. In 135 CE, the Romans renamed the country “Syria-Palaestina.”

The Jews were twice exiled from their land, which during the course of history has been occupied by the Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, Muslims, Crusaders, Ottomans and British. The exiled Jews established centers throughout the Middle East and North Africa, beginning in Iraq in 586 BCE. But throughout the millennia, Jews always attempted to return and reestablish communities in their ancient country.

In telling the tale of 20th century Jewry, an important story is often overlooked: the return of the Jews from the Middle East and North Africa to their ancient homeland. There were large, rooted and sometimes thriving Jewish communities in every Arab-Islamic country at the beginning of the 20th century. For instance, during the 1920’s Baghdad was 40 percent Jewish. However, these communities no longer exist.

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The SIGNAL Note is a Chinese-English publication by SIGNAL's analysts exploring Israel’s Perspective on Xi Jinping Thought & its potential impact on the Middle East.