This week, at the luxurious hotel of Kibbutz Tzde Boker, where historic Israeli leader David Ben-Gurion lived out his last years, the foreign ministers of the United States, Israel, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Morocco, and Bahrain formalized a key alliance. Without participating directly, the summit was also supported by Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Since 1979, when Cairo and Jerusalem broke the taboo of the impossible peace, signing an agreement that after four decades proved its solidity, the acceptance of the Hebrew state as a permanent regional actor has gained ground in the Arab world. Without haste, but without pause. And the threat of Iran, with its aggressive expansionism, has consolidated this position.
There is evident conjunction of interests between the two sides, consisting of maintaining stability and preventing the Persian Islamic theocracy from obtaining nuclear weapons. The real concern is not Iran’s internal repression—after all, there are no democracies in the Arab world—but its drive for regional dominance. At the same time, the enormous military and technological superiority achieved by the Hebrew state in the last decade logically influence this renewed Arab policy. Israel is one of the few nuclear powers on the planet, although it has never declared this.
The foreign ministers discussed security, economic, and energy challenges at a time when the Russian invasion of Ukraine has shaken the world map of interests, forcing alliances to be built. But the “Negev Summit” was not caused by the actions of Moscow but of Tehran.
“Ben-Gurion said that history is made. What we are doing here today is history. Building a new regional architecture based on progress, technology, religious tolerance, security and intelligence cooperation,” said Yair Lapid, Israel’s foreign minister. He sent a direct message: “The shared capabilities we are building intimidate and deter our common enemies – first and foremost Iran and its related organizations – who have much to fear. What will stop them is not hesitation, but firmness.”
The importance of the meeting lies in the implicit message of the joint photo of the United States and five Middle Eastern and African countries, at the same time that there were attacks by pro-Iranian Houthi rebels against Saudi Arabia and the UAE, as well as several terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians. In the latter attacks, 11 people were killed, and among the victims were a Christian and a Druze citizen. It should not be forgotten that the citizens of the Jewish state include 20% Muslims, Christians, and Druze. And the latter two groups actively participate in the national defense.
An annual forum
Bahrain’s foreign minister stated that “the need for cooperation and security has become more urgent due to Houthi attacks on civilians and energy infrastructure, the continuing threat from terrorist groups such as Hezbollah, and the need to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue.” Bahrain supports a NATO-style regional defensive alliance to combat Persian maritime and aerial drone attacks.
Lapid and his Arab colleagues expressed their concern to Blinken about the way he is trying to resurrect the nuclear deal with Tehran, after its abandonment by Trump in 2018, and especially about his intention to remove the Revolutionary Guards from the list of terrorist groups under it. On the latter issue, Premier Naftali Bennett told him personally in Jerusalem: “I hope you will listen carefully to the voices of concern from Israel and the countries that want peace in the region.”
If in the past Washington mediated between Israel and Arab countries, today Israel mediates between the United States and several Muslim nations which, according to The Wall Street Journal, did not accept President Biden’s proposal to increase their oil sales to reduce dependence on Russia. Many allies consider the current U.S. foreign policy in the area to be erratic and weak, an idea that gained momentum after the chaotic withdrawal from Kabul.
“Our presence here is the best response to the attacks of murderous terrorists that we condemn,” declared Moroccan Nasser Bourita on his first visit to Israel. Like the other Arab representatives, he called for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel has maintained since 1967 that the borders must be secure and defined between the two sides. In 2001 and 2008, Arafat and Abu Mazen, respectively, rejected concrete offers to sign a final peace and form a real country for their people. Analysts consider these rejections as the loss of an unrepeatable historic opportunity. The map presented by the Trump administration is considered by Jerusalem as the most realistic option for an agreement with the Palestinian “cousins”.
Israel has been deepening its relationship with Egypt, the first Arab country with which it signed peace, as well as with those with whom it normalized relations (Bahrain, UAE, and Morocco) through the Abraham Accords of 2020. “When 43 years ago Israel and Egypt signed peace, we, unfortunately, wasted these 43 years to get to know each other better,” the Emirate foreign minister lamented.
Hezbollah and Hamas, the Iranian-backed, violence-supporting groups that control southern Lebanon and the Gaza Strip respectively, have condemned the conference. They are consistent, no doubt.
The meeting in the Negev was organized in the “Israeli way”. That is to say, at the last minute, improvised and thanks to an opportunity. Yair Lapid proposed the summit taking advantage of the visit of the American Secretary of State to Egypt. Undoubtedly, and in spite of the obstacles, a new reality has arrived in the Middle East with firm chances of staying, and of adding new partners in the short term.