Israel, US, 4 Arab countries focus on security at summit

Credit…Pool photo by Jacquelyn Martin

SDE BOKER, Israel — At a groundbreaking summit in Israel on Monday, senior diplomats from Israel, the United States and four Arab countries discussed how to coordinate against Iran; the importance of maintaining Washington’s engagement in the region; and the need to maintain calm over the coming weeks, when a convergence of religious holidays could heighten tensions between Israelis and Palestinians.

Several of the Arab participants also publicly pressed Israel on the need for a sovereign Palestinian state, pointing out that while they had normalized relations with Israel, they had not abandoned the Palestinian cause.

But while that created mild tension between Israel and its guests, they appeared united in their shared fears of Iran and its proxies during a press briefing at the end of the summit.

“What we’re doing here is writing history – building a new regional architecture based on progress, technology, religious tolerance, security and intelligence cooperation,” Israeli affairs minister said. foreigners, Yair Lapid, who organized the conference.

“This new architecture and the shared capabilities we are building,” Lapid added, “intimidates and deters our common enemies – first and foremost Iran and its proxies.”

This historic summit was the first Arab-Israeli diplomatic meeting on Israeli soil, and many of the participants did not hide their enthusiasm.

“This is our first time” in Israel, said Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Emirati foreign minister, in his closing speech. “If we are sometimes curious, and want to know things and learn, it’s because although Israel has been part of this region for a very long time, we don’t know each other. So it’s time to catch up.

With this in mind, participants confirmed that they would try to meet in a different country each year – and hoped to welcome more countries to gatherings in the future.

The summit brought together Mr. Lapid with the foreign ministers of Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates, as well as US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken. This reflected how Israel cemented its partnerships with parts of the Arab world. Bahrain, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates all normalized diplomatic relations with Israel in 2020, while Egypt was the first Arab state to sign a peace treaty with Israel, in 1979.

A terror attack that killed two people in northern Israel on Sunday evening as ministers gathered in the south was a reminder of how much Israel’s acceptance by some Arab states has done little to resolve its main challenge: the conflict with the Palestinians.

The summit took place in Sde Boker, a small desert town in southern Israel that was the final resting place of David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister.

Credit…Nasser Nasser/Associated Press

The meetings provided a forum to discuss disagreements and shared concerns over the war in Ukraine and gave Mr. Blinken the opportunity to encourage Washington’s allies in the Middle East to align themselves on efforts to isolate Russia.

Although the United States helped Israel negotiate the agreements with Bahrain, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates, the summit was an indication that Israel could now itself act as a public conduit between Washington and certain Arab countries.

In hosting, Israel brought Mr Blinken and his Emirati counterpart, Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, together at a time of friction over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The UAE has so far dodged US demands to boost oil production to help US allies find alternatives to Russian gas.

The foreign ministers met as US-backed efforts to strike a new nuclear deal with Iran are reaching a fever pitch. The meeting gave attendees the opportunity to express their concerns to Mr. Blinken about aspects of the proposed deal that they believe are too lenient.

It has also given the Emirates and Bahrain an opportunity to encourage a distracted Washington to play a more active role in the region – a request they see as particularly urgent after recent attacks on Emirati and Saudi infrastructure by a militia. Iran-backed Yemen fighting Saudi-led forces.

Small groups of demonstrators, standing on a hill opposite the hotel where the summit was held on Monday morning, tried to draw attention to the Palestinians. One group held both a Palestinian flag and an Israeli flag. Another held a banner that read, “Isn’t anyone missing?

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