Israel's Covert Diplomacy in the Middle East

In order to survive in a hostile environment in the Middle East, Israeli decision makers developed a pragmatic regional foreign policy, designed to find ways to approach states, leaders and minorities willing to cooperate with it against mutual regional challenges (such as the Periphery Alliance with Iran and Turkey (until 1979), the Kurds, the Maronites in Lebanon, Jordan, Morocco, South Sudan and more). Contacts with these potential partners were mostly covert. The aim of this lecture, which is part of a new comprehensive book on Israel’s secret relations with its neighbors during the years 1948-2022 is two-fold: First, to offer a theoretical framework explaining the way Israel conducted its covert diplomacy; and second, to focus on several less-known episodes of such clandestine activity, such as Israel’s ties with Saudi Arabia and Gulf in general. The research is based on three types of sources: archival material (mainly Israeli, but also British and American); media (newspapers, Internet, etc.); and more than 100 personal interviews with leading Israeli officials involved in this secret activity in the Mossad, Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Intelligence.

Elie Podeh is Bamberger and Fuld Professor in the History of the Muslim Peoples in the Department of Islamic and Middle East Studies, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He served as the Department Chair during the years 2004-2009, and President of the Middle East and Islamic Studies Association of Israel (MEISAI) during the years 2016-2022. Since 2011 he is Board Member of Mitvim – The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies. He has published and edited fourteen books and more than eighty academic articles in English, Hebrew and Arabic. His most recent book is Israel’s Secret Relations with States and Minorities in the Middle East, 1948-2020 (Hebrew, 2022; and English forthcoming).