Negev Summit partners to meet in Bahrain to maintain cooperation

Senior diplomats from Israel, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Morocco and the United States will meet in Manama on Monday to formalize commitments made at a March summit aimed at redefining fault lines geopolitics of the Middle East, the Foreign Ministry announced on Sunday.

The meeting in the Bahraini capital, the first since the so-called Negev summit steering committee, is expected to formalize commitments to turn a summit of regional leaders in Israel months ago into a permanent forum, reporters told Sunday. a foreign ministry official, Oded Joseph.

Israel will be represented by Joseph and Foreign Ministry Director General Alon Ushpiz, who took off on Sunday.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Yael Lempert will lead the US delegation.

In late March, Israel hosted an unprecedented summit of regional leaders in the Negev town of Sde Boker, where they announced the gathering would be the first iteration of a permanent regional forum.

Joseph, who heads the ministry’s Middle East section, said the meeting was to take place shortly before US President Joe Biden’s July 13-16 visit to Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Saudi Arabia.

Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani, Israeli National Security Advisor Meir Ben Shabbat, Israeli Foreign Ministry Director General Alon Ushpiz, and other Bahraini and Israeli officials attend the signing ceremony peace agreement between Israel and Bahrain, in Manama on October 18, 2020. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Jerusalem)

“We see in this meeting the potential to formulate the regional architecture a little in advance,” he said. “The presence of the American delegation will be very important, as well as the arrival of President Biden in this region, and more particularly his visit to Israel, from our point of view, will be an important part of what has taken shape in the region. since the past one and a half years.”

A senior US official, discussing Biden’s visit, hinted last week that more Arab countries were seeking gestures to improve relations with Israel.

“We are working, in the space that is not in the public domain, with a few other countries. And I think you’ll see some interesting things at the time of the president’s visit,” US Undersecretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf told a congressional subcommittee.

One of the topics of Monday’s meeting in Manama will be regional security, Joseph said. “A lot of the things that were done, including during the years when we didn’t have those diplomatic relations and things were done quietly, were done bilaterally. What we are trying to do now with the Negev Forum is to try to create a situation where there is multilateral activity on this issue.

An official close to Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said at the March summit that Lapid and his Arab counterparts were discussing “advancing a regional security architecture.” The regional architecture will address “air, sea and piracy” threats, the official said.

A report in the Wall Street Journal on Sunday said some defense cooperation may already be underway, detailing a US-sponsored March meeting between defense chiefs from Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates during which they discussed cooperation against Iran.

Last week, during a briefing to lawmakers at the Knesset’s Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that Israel and its regional allies – under the leadership of the United States – were developing a joint defense pact to protect against the drone and missile threat from Tehran and its regional proxies.

Firefighters attempt to put out a fire at an Aramco terminal in the southern border town of Jizan, Saudi Arabia, early March 20, 2022. Yemen’s Houthi rebels unleashed a barrage of drone and missile strikes on the Saudi Arabia that targeted a liquefied natural gas plant, water desalination plant, oil facility and power plant, Saudi media reported. (Saudi Press Agency via AP)

In Manama, the countries will decide on the operation of the six working groups set up at the summit — regional security, food and water security, energy, health, education and tolerance, and tourism — and intend to produce a memorandum detailing what they determine. Monday.

Each of the six Negev Summit countries will lead one of the working groups, which will meet two or three times a year.

“These will become permanent frameworks for cooperation between us and the countries of the region,” Joseph said.

The steering committee itself is supposed to guide the working groups and monitor their ongoing work, and help set the agenda for the annual summit of the six foreign ministers.

Jordan, which declined an invitation to the Negev summit, was not invited to Manama but will be invited to attend next year’s summit, Joseph said.

The Saudis are not participating either. “I guess the Saudis are following closely,” Joseph said.

“Much of what will be done in the working groups is very, very relevant to Palestinians,” he added, although Palestinians will not be invited either.

Still, Joseph said, many countries around the world are interested in participating in the Negev Summit initiatives. He cited Germany’s interest in water security projects as an example.

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