Czech PM: Israel is our strategic partner in the Middle-East

Andrej Babiš and Benjamin Netanyahu, photo: ČTK / AP Photo / Ariel Schalit, Pool

Prime Minister Andrej Babiš is currently on an official visit to Israel, meeting with his counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu and has high hopes for strengthening what he says is a “strategic partnership”. I asked Irena Kalhousová, an expert on Czech-Israeli relations from the London School of Economics, what makes the relationship special.

Andrej Babiš and Benjamin Netanyahu,  photo: ČTK / AP Photo / Ariel Schalit,  Pool
“I think there are many reasons. You mentioned history, which I think still resonates. For Czechs, this stance has been maintained since 1989. No matter who was in the government, this pro-Israeli foreign policy has been consistent.

“However, it is also a political decision, because the Czech Republic is a supporter of Israel as the only so-called democracy in the Middle-East.

“Israel is an important economic partner for the Czechs. Relations are strong there as well. Especially, Škoda Auto has found a very interesting market in Israel.

“Furthermore, co-operation is also growing in the area of defence.”

Innovation, cybersecurity and water resource management are some of the main topics on Andrej Babiš’s agenda in Israel. We know these are important issues for the Czechs, but how serious are the Israelis about cooperating in these areas? What do the V4 countries and the Czech Republic specifically have to offer?

Photo: Eduardo Castro,  Pixabay / CC0
“These agendas, in which Israel really excels, are a gateway for it to get other support from the Visegrad Four, the Czech Republic, or any other country.

“Having very intense cooperation with the Czech Republic, means that Israel has a very important partner in the EU and that counts. Especially, since Israel’s relationship with the EU is currently not as good as it wants it to be.”

Israel was supposed to be hosting the Visegrad Four summit, but fallout between the host country and Poland prevented it from happening. However, the presidency of the Visegrad Group is due to be handed to the Czech Republic this summer and Mr. Babiš has said he will attempt organising another meeting between the two parties in autumn. Do you see this as likely happening? Or are the rifts unlikely to be repaired?

Irena Kalhousová,  photo: ČT24
“No, I think there is a big chance that it will happen. As I mentioned Czech-Israeli relations are very good and the latter will not want to disappoint their Czech partners.

“Concerning Polish-Israeli relations it is more complicated, because history plays a role and the countries see certain past events very differently. However, these problems have occurred already in the past, for example in the form of the so-called ‘Holocaust Law’, and they were able to find a way out of it, so I am sure that both Israel and Poland have an interest in overcoming this dispute. I think it is a short term problem.”