Saudi, Israel present united front against Iran

Saudi foreign minister speaking in Munich

Munich: Saudi Arabia and Israel both called on Sunday for a new push against Iran, signalling a growing alignment in their interests, while U.S. lawmakers promised to seek new sanctions on the Shia Muslim power.

Turkey also joined the de facto united front against Tehran as Saudi and Israeli ministers rejected an appeal from Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif for Persian Gulf Arab states to work with Tehran to reduce violence across the region.

Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir told delegates at the Munich Security Conference that he is optimistic that Arabs and Israelis can reach a peace deal in 2017.

Speaking four days after US President Donald Trump and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke about the possibilities of a regional peace agreement, on Sunday that the contours of an Arab Israeli accord were clear, and that Saudi Arabia and other Arab states would work to bring it to fruition.

The biggest challenge facing the region is Iran, he said, echoing comments made earlier in the day by Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman. “Iran remains the single main sponsor of terrorism in the world,” the Saudi minister said. “It’s determined to upend the order in Middle East … [and] until and unless Iran changes its behavior it would be very difficult to deal with a country like this.”

The foreign minister also claimed that the the Iranians took advantage of the good will of the P5+1 nations negotiating the 2015 nuclear deal. They “stepped up the tempo of their mischief” while the negotiations were taking place, he said, and continue to do so today.

“I believe that Iran knows where the red lines are if the red lines are drawn clearly, and I believe that the world has to make it clear to the Iranians that there is certain behavior that will not be tolerated, and that there will be consequences,” Jubeir told the conference. “And those consequences have to be in tune with the financial side.”

Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Iran’s ultimate objective was to undermine Saudi regime, and called for a dialogue with Sunni Arab countries to defeat Iran.

“The real division is not Jews, Muslims … but moderate people versus radical people,” Lieberman told delegates.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also criticised what he called an Iranian “sectarian policy” aimed at undermining Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

“Turkey is very much against any kind of division, religious or sectarian,” he said. “It’s good that we are now normalising our relations with Israel.”

Zarif opened Sunday’s session with the call for dialogue to address “anxieties” in the region. This followed a visit by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to Oman and Kuwait last week to try to improve ties, his first visit to the Gulf states since taking power in 2013.

Asked if Iran’s envisioned regional dialogue could include Israel, Zarif said Tehran was looking at a more “modest” approach. “I’m focusing on the Persian Gulf. We have enough problems in this region so we want to start a dialogue with countries we call brothers in Islam,” he said.

SAUDI’S SEE ARAB-ISRAEL DEAL

Netanyahu rejected a regional peace plan for the renewal of negotiations toward a two-state solution and recognition of Israel as a Jewish state a year ago.

The proposal was the result of months of negotiations led by then-US secretary of state John Kerry and culminated in a secret meeting on February 21, 2016, between Netanyahu, Kerry, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and Jordan’s King Abdullah, according to the Israeli daily Haaretz.

However Saudi foreign minister said: “I believe progress can be made in the Arab Israel conflict, if there is a will to do so.” 

“We know what the settlement looks like, if there is just the political will to do so. And my country stands ready with other Arab countries to work to see how we can promote that.”

Jubeir said the new US administration made him optimistic that this and other regional challenges could be resolved.

“We see a president who’s pragmatic and practical, a businessman, problem-solver, a man who’s not an ideologue,” Jubeir said of Trump. “He wants America to play a role in the world. Our view is that when America disengages, it creates tremendous danger in the worlds, because it leaves vacuums, and into those vacuums evil forces flow.”

Saudi Arabia shared common goals with Trump, he added. “He believes in containing Iran; so do we. He believes in working with traditional allies; so do we.”

In his talk, one of a series of speeches Sunday under the heading “Old Problems, New Middle East?” Jubeir reminded European colleagues who are nervous about the Trump administration that when Ronald Reagan took office in 1981 there was also a lot of concern in Europe, yet Reagan brought stability to the region and ended the Cold War.

Netanyahu held ‘secret meeting’ with Arab leaders

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met secretly with Arab rulers last year to hear then US secretary of state John Kerry pitch a regional peace plan, an Israeli newspaper reported on Sunday.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi also attended the February 2016 talks hosted by King Abdullah II in the Jordanian city of Aqaba, Haaretz said, citing former senior officials in the Obama administration who asked to remain anonymous.

It said Kerry wanted the sides to endorse six principles, which he laid out publicly in a December speech.

They included a call for Israel to vacate territory it occupied during the 1967 Six-Day War, subject to land swaps agreed between the two sides.

Since 1967, Israel has pulled out of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip but annexed east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

It continues to occupy the West Bank, where hundreds of thousands of Israelis live in settlements seen as illegal by the international community.

Kerry’s parameters envisioned a Palestinian state, with Palestinians recognising Israel as a “Jewish state”.

Both would share Jerusalem as the “internationally recognised capital of the two states”.

Israel claims the city as its “undivided” capital. Netanyahu’s coalition government, the most right-wing in Israel’s history, rejects talk of ceding any part of it to Palestinian sovereignty.

“Netanyahu did not accept Kerry’s proposal and said he would have difficulty getting it approved by his governing coalition,” Haaretz wrote on Sunday.

Netanyahu’s spokesman and Jordanian officials refused to comment on the report.

Meeting on Wednesday at the White House, Netanyahu and President Donald Trump each spoke of prospects of a regional Middle East understanding to end the stalemated Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“For the first time in the life of my country, Arab countries in the region do not see Israel as an enemy, but increasingly as an ally,” Netanyahu told Trump.

“We think the larger issue today is how do we create the broader conditions for broad peace in the Middle East between Israel and the Arab countries,” Netanyahu said the following day on MSNBC.

Trump said Netanyahu’s proposal for a regional alliance was something that “hasn’t been discussed before”, adding that it would take in “many, many countries and it would cover a very large territory”.

Egypt and Jordan are the only Arab states to have formal peace treaties with Israel.

Gulf states like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar do not have diplomatic relations with the Jewish State, but they share informal links.