Why does Netanyahu embrace oppressive Philippines President Duterte?

    Even among strongmen, Duterte is uniquely repugnant. He has launched a brutal crackdown on political opponents and drug users, and has publicly pledged to kill millions in his country.

    BOSTON — On Nov. 5, Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz said that Israel should avoid selling weapons to repressive regimes. While it might seem like an obvious move for the Jewish state, Gantz’s comments marked a stark contrast with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s doctrine — especially given Netanyahu’s relationship with President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines.

    Even among strongmen, Duterte is uniquely repugnant. He has launched a brutal crackdown on political opponents and drug users, and has publicly pledged to kill millions in his country.

    Netanyahu has hosted Duterte for a widely publicized state visit, sold arms to him and sent delegations to help train the Philippines military.

    Should Gantz manage to assemble a coalition and become prime minister, he would do well to act on his comments and reassess Israel’s alliances with illiberal regimes. And he should start with the Duterte relationship, which offers Israel few strategic benefits and has resulted in no major diplomatic concessions or achievements.

    Duterte has said publicly that his interest in Israel lies in lax Israeli arms export regulations. In cozying up to Netanyahu, Duterte has brought useful Israeli resources and military advisers to his country to train his military in counterterrorism. This is especially helpful to the Filipino president as he ratchets up counterterror operations and his sickening domestic repression campaigns against drug users and political opponents.

    But the possible and existing gains for Israel are few and far between. Though Israel’s relationships with other autocrats have been and could be risky for their long-term strategic well-being and security, the potential payoffs of those relationships have been apparent.

    In Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Netanyahu has cultivated core alliances against Iran. And as the Saudi and Emirati regimes cooperate with Israel against the Islamic Republic, they continue to soften their rhetoric and positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

    Israel’s alliances with illiberal regimes beyond the Middle East hold another set of potential benefits. Approaching Beijing could allow Israel to hedge against its previous bets on a West that in Netanyahu’s mind may well be in decline. Warming ties with China are one way to prepare for a changing global order in which China plays a larger role while opening the Israeli market to billions of dollars in trade and investment.

    Similarly, relations with Russia are a perceived long-term investment for the Jewish state. In aligning with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, Israel is preparing for the new Middle East with a diminished U.S. presence.

    Even in dealing with less powerful autocracies like Azerbaijan, the strategic endgame is clear. As part of its growing ties with Baku, Israel has reportedly gained access to an airstrip that could prove vital if the Israeli government decides to strike Iranian nuclear facilities or military installations.

    But Duterte offers none of these benefits to Israel. Unlike Saudi, Emirati and Azerbaijani counterparts, Duterte is hardly useful to Israel’s strategy against Iran.

    To make things worse, Netanyahu has failed to extract any tangible diplomatic concessions from Duterte. The Philippine Foreign Affairs Department announced in 2018 that it would not move its embassy to Jerusalem. It has not cast any important United Nations votes in Israel’s favor since 1947 and, unlike Russia and China, does not have veto power on the U.N. Security Council.

    Netanyahu’s choice to work with Duterte reflects longstanding Israeli doctrine. Conventional Israeli wisdom argues that Israel operates in hostile environs and can use as many allies as possible. These alliances are said to bring international legitimacy to Israel as it continually fights delegitimization and condemnation at the United Nations and elsewhere.

    But aligning with a leader who compared himself to Hitler and vowed to kill 3 million people in his country is hardly helpful in the international arena — especially considering Duterte’s penchant for abhorrent repression, controversy and bad publicity.

    Netanyahu’s dance with Duterte is also driven by domestic political considerations. In recent years, and in the 2019 elections, in particular, the prime minister has touted his ability to build and sustain alliances. Photos of Netanyahu and his counterparts adorn billboards in Israel emblazoned with his campaign slogan: “Netanyahu. In another league.”Gantz ran a different kind of campaign. Judging from his comments, he does not share Netanyahu’s worldview. If anything, Gantz’s remarks could foretell a new direction for Israeli foreign policy. Ultimately, it is too early to tell whether he will succeed in building a coalition or in reorienting Israeli strategy.

    That aside, tenuous alliances with autocrats are an unfortunate and ill-advised facet of Israeli policy. But if Israel is willing to take on those risks, to begin with, it should do so if (and only if) there are clear possible strategic gains on the horizon.

    Israel has no endgame in Manila. Netanyahu’s partnership with Duterte has earned him a handful of trade and arms deals and a state visit. But those limited benefits come with grave risks and without any significant diplomatic achievements.

    If Gantz becomes prime minister, he should follow through on his comments and chart a new doctrine. Reversing course on Israeli ties with Duterte would be a good place to start.

    The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JTA or its parent company, 70 Faces Media.


    For educational purposes only. No copyright infringement intended.

    Best Comments

    Behind the scenes in politics, the term quid pro quo is always present. This literally means “something for something” and is essential for politicians so that they can boost the economy of their country or only for their own self-interests, like gaining an upper hand in the upcoming elections. The move of Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, to send military advisers and sell military resources to the Philippines is a surprising one. Benny Gantz, an Israeli soldier and politician, is right on cue about “avoid selling weapons to repressive regimes”. Not only does this is contrary to quid pro quo, since Israel cannot gain an inch with the diplomatic deal, the motive of the Israeli Prime Minister is also suspicious. Why would the Israeli Prime Minister agree to a deal that they could not gain anything from? In the shoes of the citizens, this can be viewed as a win for the Philippines and loss for Israel, but in the shoes of a political leader, there is nothing in this world that is given for free. So, maybe there is something the Prime Minister of Israel asked in exchange but is classified and is not revealed to the public.

    – Artem ***
    Top 1

    It is funny to think that the Philippines was all take and that Israel was handing us weapons, resources, and military advisers. It may seem that the alliance is one-sided but I think that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won’t approve of something that will not benefit his own country. Although Benny Gantz did present fair points regarding the matter, viewing the alliance as unfavorable for Israel. Nonetheless, Netanyahu must have thought that regardless of Duterte’s bad publicity and repugnant attitude, he would find the alliance useful. He could use it to Israel’s advantage; Duterte, an influential person who speaks up to whoever crosses his way. I think that there is still something Netanyahu is hiding up in his sleeves. President Duterte, on the other hand, must have also predicted such a possibility but I guess that this is one of the risks the Philippines is willing to take.

    – Ma. Christine ***
    Top 2

    President Duterte has always been seen by many as a repugnant president that brought brutal crackdowns on how he runs and fights against politics and issues especially on the long run war on drugs but despite all that negative side, we cannot terminate President Duterte’s opened opportunities for our country’s sake. With this kind of profile, the President was able to obtain a beneficial factor that influenced the Israeli’s Prime Minister to offer such an alliance and offer our country the gun and weapon resources without even giving something in return. Perhaps it was an open door for the Philippines to gain such an alliance giving us the upper hand, and an extreme advantage for us, but despite all that, it still leaves a big “?” (question mark) to the minds of many, especially those who are politically inclined citizens or the politicians themselves. It is such a suspicious act for the Israeli Prime Minister to do and might even be connected for the solutions of conflicts occurring in the state of Israel. It is obvious that behind that beneficial factor there is a “something” hidden from the public’s notice that might be crucial for our country’s state.

    – Mara Jia ***
    Top 3

    President Rodrigo Duterte may be bashed and ridiculed for being a sub-standard, chaotic, and death-mongering vigilante, but this image is precisely why there are people like Netanyahu who are willing to take a chance on him. His violent image could seem intimidating to those who dare to contradict his views and beliefs, and this came into his advantage due to the deal the aforementioned Netanyahu had struck up with him. With the help of the Israeli connections we attained, the Philippines could become one of the most feared countries. The deal has brought around many possible benefits throughout the country when it comes to Military Defenses, however, in the case of the Israeli community, they have nothing significant to attain in this deal. We would be the only ones who would have any significant benefits from this deal, which is why many would deem this entire partnership as dangerous, not only to our country but also to that of the country of Israel. So if more sensible people like per se Benny Gantz, a blue and white party leader, who believes that their country should avoid selling their weapons to oppressive regimes, were to ensure the safety of the country, then maybe cutting ties with our country would be the best bet for Israel.

    Joeanne ***
    Top 4

    Benny Gantz’s stand to avoid the selling of weapons to repressive regimes might be a thing to ponder for the people of Israel. The Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, have [has] kept an alliance with the Philippine President, President Rodrigo Duterte. In this formed alliance, [the] Philippines have been gaining benefits from Israel especially military assistance while Israel had not attained anything in return; not even any diplomatic achievement. This situation supports Gantz’s stand. But, despite ganining [gaining] nothing, why would the Prime Minister engage himself into a partnership wherein the ally’s country continues to gain while his country does not? In this world, when you give something, you must take something back. That’s how the “give and take” process works. The Prime Minister must be strategizing on how to use [the] Philippines as an effective ally that he can use with their conflict against Iran. That’s why he had been providing help for the country so that in some time, there would be something he can take from the country which the President can’t easily decline. This might be the Prime Minister’s vision which we citizens would never know.

    Ranelle ***
    Top 5

    It is astounding to know that our president did make its way to get an alliance with a country that has a great military defense – which we do not have. But the thing is, how did our president get an alliance with a country that has many to offer which we cannot reciprocate? Or why did Netanyahu agreed to an alliance to a country in which he has no gain? What were his intentions? Do his fellowmen even agree to this? If this was a business, he would lose a lot of profit or even delve into bankruptcy. He will just offer and give and got nothing to receive. Was Netanyahu kind of a saint? Something is really off. Is this alliance agreed to because they can seek the help of each other’s country? Or just based on something personal between the leaders? I hope not. This also made me think that were they leaving some of the agreements between them, away from the public? But I suppose that it would be unfair to the citizens of each country because we have the right to know what is going on.

    – Elaiza ***
    Top 5

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