Diplomacy

Experts: Israeli Ties with Arab Countries Improving Due to Iran Threat

The praise offered by both Israel and Saudi Arabia to President Donald Trump for his speech on October 13 outlining a new United States policy towards Iran, Agence France-Presse reported Friday, is the latest outward sign that “shared concerns over Iran are indeed nudging” Israel and much of the Arab world closer together.

The AFP report was carried by both The Times of Israel and Arab News.

AFP quoted Netanyahu who said “When Israel and the main Arab countries see eye-to-eye, you should pay attention, because something important is happening,” and, who, last week, called Israel ties with Arabs the “best ever.”

While AFP observed that no Arab leaders have publicly echoed Netanyahu’s sentiments, they haven’t contracted him either.

In 2015, Israel opened a diplomatic mission in Abu Dhabi as part of a United Nations body dealing with clean energy.

Uzi Rabi, a Tel Aviv University professor and expert on Saudi Arabia, told AFP that there are indications of “coordination” between Israel and Saudi Arabia concerning the threat both face from Iran.

“There are Saudis meeting Israelis everywhere now, functioning relations based on shared interests,” Rabi observed.

“For several of the Sunni Arab states in the region, particularly in the Gulf, there is a growing sense that the major contemporary faultlines in the region now revolve around the perceived threat from Iran and militant Islamism,” Kristian Ulrichsen, a professor focused on Gulf affairs at Rice University told AFP. “And on both these issues there is a certain convergence of interest with Israel.”

Ulrichsen expected that in the coming years, economic and security ties between Israel and the Arab world will become more open.

Change in Israeli-Saudi relations has been slow but persistent. Anwar Eshki, a former general who has served in senior positions in the Saudi military and foreign ministry, visited Israel in July as part of a delegation of Saudi academics and businessmen. In 2015, then Israeli Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold gave an interview to a Saudi website, and Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer has also been interviewed by the Saudi media. Gold and Eshki brought the Israeli-Saudi relationship to the forefront when they publicly shook hands in June 2015.

In addition to improving relations with Saudi Arabia, Israel has also experienced a warming of ties with Egypt, and opened a diplomatic mission in the United Arab Emirates.

In an August 2016 interview with the Financial Times, Gold explained that moderate Sunni Arab states “increasingly see the Middle East through the same prism as Israel.” About the same time, Ayoub Kara, a Druze politician from the Likud Party and Israel’s leading envoy to the Arab world, told Tablet Magazine that “our relations with our neighbors are the best they’ve ever been.” Kara said that he could even envision Israel joining a mutual defense pact with the eight members of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

[Photo: GermanMarshallFund / YouTube]