image Photo: GPO

Landmark Israeli-Arab Summit focuses on Iran

Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs Yair Lapid hosted his counterparts from the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, and Egypt at the 2-day Negev Summit,” also attended by US Secretary of State.

By Erin Viner

The historic meeting comes amid heightening concern by Jerusalem and its regional partners over the revival of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal with Iran, as well as the allies’ opposition to Washington’s consideration of delisting Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from its list of Foreign Terror Organizations (FTO).

The gathering was held at the Sde Boker kibbutz in the Negev desert of southern Israel, best known as the retirement home and burial site of Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion.

The six foreign ministers who participated in the historic meeting were Minister of Foreign Affairs Yair Lapid, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) H.H. Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bahrain Dr. Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Morocco Nasser Bourita, and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Egypt Sameh Shoukry.

Egypt was the first Arab country to make peace with Israel in 1979, while the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco normalized ties as part of the 2020 United States-brokered Abraham Accords.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken made a show of unity with Middle East allies at the rare summit, in efforts to allay their misgivings about the emerging JCPOA deal while conveying Washington’s steadfast commitment to the region.

The two-day desert retreat was further clouded by US-Russia tensions over Ukraine, a deadly Islamic State-linked attack in Israel and health concerns as Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was diagnosed with COVID-19 after meeting Blinken. The top US diplomat appeared to be unphased by the possible exposure and was spotted jogging outside Sde Boker this morning.

“The (region’s) moderates are convening to talk and to form a front against the extremists,” Gil Haskel, an official with Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) told public broadcaster Kan, referring to Iran’s hardline Islamist rulers.

“There are nuances, different perspectives being discussed or argued about, there is some agreement about some issues and less so about others – but there’s no doubt in this room around the table that Iran must not be nuclear,” he underscored.

World powers were close to reaching an agreement at the Vienna Talks to restart the JCPOA several weeks ago until Russia made last-minute demands of the US by insisting sanctions imposed on Moscow over its Ukraine invasion should not affect its trade with Tehran.

Speaking to Israeli President Isaac Herzog, Secretary Blinken commented that the Israeli-Arab summit “would have been unimaginable just a few years ago.  And what we’re seeing is normalization become the new normal for this region.  And I think it’s going to attract more and more countries, as they see the benefits of these partnerships among so many of the leading countries in – from the region.”

Adding that the US “is very proud to be a part of that, to support the efforts to deepen the partnerships with countries that have already normalized with Israel, and to help seek new partners, and to make sure that, as we’re working together, we’re doing it in a way that, of course, stands up for our common security – because we face common challenges – but also finds ways to make meaningful difference in the lives of our citizens,” he underscored, “And that’s the tremendous opportunity of what is coming together in the Negev later today:  the opportunity to work together, invest together in infrastructure, in global health, in dealing with climate change, renewable energy, bringing our businesses together, bringing our people together.  It’s an incredibly powerful and positive vision for the future, and Israel is making that real, and I applaud that.”

Blinken also reportedly pressed Arab allies to step up support for Ukraine to fend off Russia’s invasion as several Gulf nations have so far stopped short of providing meaningful assistance. Israel has been trying to mediate an end to the crisis, holding talks with the Russian and Ukrainian leaders.

As the foreign dignitaries were meeting in the Negev, 2 Islamic State-affiliated terrorists killed 2 Israelis and injured 12 more in a shooting attack in Hadera. All of the leaders resolutely condemned the attack. Foreign Minister Lapid stated that the participants had decided in the wake of the attack to make their meeting an annual event.

Minister Lapid’s statement at the conclusion of the Negev Summit:

“Last night, for the second time in a week, terror struck at the heart of Israel. At the heart of Israel in two senses: in the heart of the country, in a crowded city. And also, at the heart of every Israeli citizen. This was murder for the sake of murder, terror for the sake of terror.

Shortly after this attack, Islamic Jihad and Hamas praised it. They declared that it was a response to the Negev Summit that we are holding here. The terrorists’ goal is to intimidate us. To make us afraid to meet and build the relationships and agreements between us. They will not succeed. We will not let them.”

What we are doing here today is making history. Building a new regional architecture based on progress, technology, religious tolerance, security and intelligence cooperation. This new architecture, the shared capabilities we are building, intimidates and deters our common enemies – first and foremost Iran and its proxies – they certainly have something to fear. What will stop them is not hesitation or being conciliatory, but rather determination and strength.

This meeting is the first of its kind, but not the last. Last night we decided to make the Negev Summit into a permanent forum. Together with our closest friend, the United States, we are today opening a door before all the peoples of the region, including the Palestinians, and offering them to replace the way of terror and destruction with a shared future of progress and success.”