Russia has often had antagonistic relationships with its neighbors while it has always remained somewhat of an outsider in the International Community. In many respects, Israel has struggled with the same kind of dynamics thanks to its longstanding security threats and its non-Islamic identity. Recently, Russian President Vladimir Putin has been experimenting with soft power options, including efforts to engineer diplomatic solutions to the Syrian Civil War, the safeguarding of Edward Snowden, and the release of political prisons. Thanks to ongoing regional instability and the weakening, as well as the delegitimization, of Middle Eastern governing institutions, Israel too has an opportunity to use soft power to become a regional power/leader in order to lessen threats to its own security, if it is willing to lean away from military power and its increasing costs.
It is often far easier to help others find solutions to their problems than it is to struggle to find solutions to your own problems. Once again, the US and other global actors are trying to broker a lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians in order to demonstrate progress and inspire stability through conflict resolution, i.e. “bring peace to the Middle East.” In reality, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is no longer a major driving force behind instability in the Middle East. It is now an unresolved tertiary issue that needs addressed among many other grievances and conflicts to be found throughout the region.
When threatened, it is the tendency of actors to turn inward, but doing so also forces others to focus on the insecure actor’s internal issues and faults. For Israel, its inability to resolve its conflict with the Palestinians means the Jewish State is drawing the world’s attention onto it and inviting outsiders to harshly criticize it as an egocentric antagonist. Clearly, Israel has security interests when it comes to finding a path to peace, but Israel as a stable, democratic nation fairly responsive to the need of its People can reach out to others nations and Peoples to offer guidance on how the largely authoritarian regimes of the region can become more responsive and/or allow for a transition of power.
Such gestures are certain to garner criticism of Israel given its dealings with the Palestinians; however, voicing solutions to citizens and offering to help other governments is something Israel can do to promote regional stability. Given Turkey’s massive political corruption scandal, Saudi Arabia’s status as a monarchy as well as its mounting commitments to states like Egypt, and Iran’s obvious faults, which are being addressed, the region has no fully legitimate regional power free of critical flaws to help lead the region through this era of change. Unfortunately, the United States too has lost a great of its legitimacy in the Middle East due to Iraq and Afghanistan, among other issues As such, there is an opening for Israel to expand its soft power and become part of a leadership coalition of flawed regional powers.
Considering Israel has been able to serve its People and build a strong economy even under constant security threats, with the help of the United States, it is an expert in solving many of the problems Middle Eastern countries are facing. At the very least, Israel can offer guidance where it can provide viable options and analysis, whether or not others are up to what Israel has to say. Leadership is not about portraying yourself as a perfect role model, but rather, stepping up with insights, options, and help when they are needed. If Israel can legitimize itself as a leader in a region facing chaos, it will legitimize itself as a regional power and partner to its neighbors, thus improving its own security interests. In short, Israel needs to be more vocal and active when it comes to improving the lives of citizens in neighboring countries.
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