Israel’s support for anti-democratic movements and authoritarian regimes in foreign lands should not surprise anyone, given it’s anything but a democracy at home. Warlord and ex-General Khalifa Haftar is only the latest aspiring dictator seeking Israel’s support in his just-announced bid for Libya’s presidency.
While profoundly anti-Palestinian and ham-fisted in nature, the Trump administration’s Abraham Accords were essentially a continuation of President Obama’s “Pivot to Asia” national strategy, which depends largely on extricating the United States from the Middle East, both militarily and diplomatically.
The logic is that if Israel’s security is assured, and its Arab Gulf partners are aligned behind it, then the US can shift its focus and concentrate its resources against a rising and expansionist China in the South China Sea, disregarding the Palestinians, democracy, and human rights.
When the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain became the first signatories of the US-brokered Arab Pact to “normalize” Israel’s apartheid regime, regional analysts hailed the Abraham Accords as a “triumph for authoritarianism.”
The deal was a “reminder of why Israel, one of the region’s few democracies, prefers that its Arab neighbors not be democratic,” noted Shadi Hamid, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute.
Certainly, “prefers” is one way to describe Israel’s fondness for autocrats and dictators over democracies, but preference doesn’t fully contextualize how the Israeli state is proactively supporting anti-democratic forces and undermining burgeoning democratic movements throughout the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
Israel is a force multiplier for the latest crop of wannabe dictators.
In fact, one could describe Israel as a force multiplier for the latest crop of wannabe dictators.
On November 1, a private jet owned by the Libyan warlord General Khalifa Haftar, who leads what human rights groups view as among Africa’s most violent militia groups, otherwise known as the Libyan National Army, departed from Dubai and landed at Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion Airport. On board was the ex-general’s son, Saddam Haftar, who was appointed by his father to serve as his right-hand man.
Saddam’s mission was clear: Seek military and diplomatic support from Israel by promising to establish diplomatic ties with Tel Aviv, should his father be successful in his bid to head the national unity and reconciliation government in Libya after the December 24 elections, as reported by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
According to The Times of Israel, “The son of Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar reportedly visited Israel last week for a secret meeting with Israeli officials in which he offered to establish diplomatic relations between the two countries in return for Israeli support.”
Indeed, on November 16, Khalifa Haftar, the blood-thirsty commander and former CIA asset, officially announced in a television address that he would run for the presidency of Libya in December.
To be clear, Haftar has put himself in a position to contest the North African country’s leadership only after waging a more than five-year-long terrorist campaign against the internationally recognized Libyan government in Tripoli and pro-democracy and anti-dictator Libyans.
Not only does Haftar face charges of war crimes in three separate lawsuits filed in the United States, but the International Criminal Court (ICC) has also accused him of carrying out a “pattern of violence that involves the indiscriminate air strikes and shelling of civilian areas, arbitrary abduction, detention and torture of civilians, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and pillaging of civilian property.”
When I spoke with Ahmed Sewehli, a British Libyan pro-democracy activist who co-founded the Misrata Psychiatry Department in Libya, he said it’s become “quite fashionable” for wannabe despots to seek military and diplomatic assistance from Israel.
“If you want to become the dictator of an African or Arab country, go and seek support from Israel.”
“If you want to become the dictator of an African or Arab country, go and seek support from Israel. Especially when you’re on the back foot, like Haftar has been since his one-year assault on Tripoli came to nothing,” Sewehli told Inside Arabia.
There are also credible claims Israel conspired with the Sudanese military to overthrow Sudan’s democratic transitional council last month, putting in place a military dictatorship that has left the capital Khartoum soaked in the blood of pro-democracy protesters.
“I was shot along with nine people,” a protester told BBC News. “There were no warning shots, they just started to fire. The military…they’re like animals. Maybe animals are better.”
Not only did Sudanese military officials secretly visit Israel in the weeks leading up to the coup, but an Israeli delegation, which included defense and intelligence officials, also traveled to Khartoum in the days after the overthrow of the democratic transitional council, according to the Times of Israel.
Unsurprisingly, Israel’s closest Arab allies, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, have also been accused of backing the coup, having always been “uncomfortable with the democratic transition,” and promising the military junta they will deliver infrastructure projects over the medium term.
The Biden administration is publicly urging Israel to “utilize its ties” in Sudan to restore the civilian-led transnational government. This demonstrates a willingness by Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to exert Israeli force and influence far beyond its borders without the go-ahead from its number one benefactor – the United States.
This conduct, according to Yonatan Touval, a senior foreign policy analyst at Mitvim: The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, “betrays misguided diplomatic and strategic thinking.”
“Western powers are unlikely to accept the counter-revolutionary putsch in Khartoum. It is one thing to overthrow an Islamist leadership, even if it was democratically elected; it is another thing altogether to derail a political process that holds out the promise of a Western-oriented democracy,” Touval says.
Then, of course, there’s the way in which Israel derives huge profits from the sale of its repression management technologies and strategies to authoritarian regimes, as revealed by The Guardian.
NSO Group Technologies sold its Pegasus spyware with the “encouragement and official mediation of the Israeli government.”
Haaretz also uncovered that NSO Group Technologies sold its Pegasus spyware for hundreds of millions of dollars to the UAE and other Arab Gulf states to monitor pro-democracy and anti-regime activists, with the “encouragement and official mediation of the Israeli government.”
Ultimately, of course, Israel’s support for anti-democratic movements and autocratic regimes in foreign lands should not surprise anyone, given it’s anything but a democracy at home.
The Jewish state is well aware that the overwhelming majority of the Arab populations are against its repression and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank. And in fact, popular sentiment globally is increasingly shifting against Israel as both US-based Human Rights Watch and Israel-based B’Tselem accuse the self-proclaimed Jewish state of operating a system of apartheid.
It seems that a change in Israel’s unofficial motto as “the only democracy in the Middle East” may be long overdue. Israel today belongs to the same club of tyrants as the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and other military putschists and aspiring tyrants in the MENA region.