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Netanyahu: Israel in Contact with “Half a Dozen Important Arab and Muslim Countries”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a speech Tuesday that the Jewish State is in contact with “half a dozen important Arab and Muslim countries that until recently were hostile to Israel,” The Jerusalem Post reported [1].

Speaking at the state memorial ceremony for former Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, Israel’s prime minister during the Six Day War, Netanyahu described the rapprochement with the Arab Muslim world as a process of “accelerated normalization,” of which only part is taking place in public.

Netanyahu added that these developments are an “important message for the vision of peace – peace through strength.”

In recent months, several Arab states – including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Oman – developed closer ties with the Jewish State. Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the UAE rejected [2] a clause in a statement by the Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union, which called for a stop to normalization with Israel, laying bare a growing divide between Arab governments and individual parliamentarians in their approach to Israel.

In January, seven nations, including Israel, Egypt, and Jordan announced [3] the formation of the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum, a regional group devoted to developing natural gas resources in the region. It marked the first time that Israel participated in a regional alliance with Arab nations.

Israel enjoys unprecedented cooperation with the Arab Muslim world as a result of shared security interests and changing dynamics in the region, including the desire to contain Iran’s illicit nuclear and non-nuclear activities.

“We are continuing to take vigorous action against Iran’s attempts to entrench militarily in Syria,” Netanyahu said in his speech. “We are also doing so in the face of the aggression of Hezbollah and Hamas, whose tunnels we are systematically dismantling,” the prime minister added.

In May, Bahrain officially supported [4] Israel’s right to defend itself against Iranian aggression. In December, Bahrain’s foreign minister, Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, reiterated the position and said [5] that the kingdom supported the Jewish State’s operation to expose and destroy Hezbollah’s cross-border tunnels.

In 2016, Bahrain and several other Gulf states declared [6] Hezbollah a terrorist organization and ordered their nationals to leave Lebanon immediately, after determining that the Iranian-backed group controls Lebanon’s political leadership.

Netanyahu’s speech reflected assessments made by other government officials in 2016.

In an August 2016 interview with the Financial Times, then-Israeli Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold explained [7] 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 [8] 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.

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