Israel, US and Arab foreign ministers hold 'historic' meeting in Negev

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation, says 'we will prevail' against hate and terrorism

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A landmark summit of senior ministers from the UAE, Israel, Bahrain, Morocco, Egypt and the US is set to become an annual meeting to bring together like-minded allies as a counterweight to Iran in the Middle East, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said on Monday.

The meeting, held this year in Negev, southern Israel, will be open "to all the peoples of the region, including the Palestinians" in future, he said.

The Abraham Accords in 2020 opened the way for the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan to establish ties with Israel – joining Egypt and Jordan as the only Arab states to have relations.

Mr Lapid said the ties forged in the unprecedented event create a deterrent against Iran and its proxies.

"This new architecture, the shared capabilities we are building, intimidates and deters our common enemies – first and foremost Iran and its proxies," he said. "They certainly have something to fear."

"Last night we decided to make the Negev Summit into a permanent forum," he said on Monday, alongside partners who included US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

During his first visit to Israel, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the UAE's Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation, said it was time the countries "catch up" after spending decades without formal diplomatic ties.

"Although Israel has been part of this region for a very long time, we haven't known each other so it's time to catch up, to build on a stronger relationship," he said.

"When I see 300,000 Israelis visiting the UAE in the last year and a half, and see 2 million visitors visiting the Israeli pavilion in Expo in only the last six months, it says how curious we are and how much we want to know each other."

Border police carry the coffin of Israeli border officer Yezen Falah, 19, at his funeral in Kisra-Sumei, northern Israel, on Monday, in an attack for which ISIS claimed responsibility. AP

Sheikh Abdullah touched on Sunday's deadly attack that killed two Israeli police officers in Hadera, north of Tel Aviv. ISIS later claimed responsibility for the attack, in which the two assailants were killed.

"It's by us standing together, by our people-to-people relationship and by creating a better environment for our businesses to work with each other – that's the way we can go after the narrative of hate, of incitement of terror," he said.

"We will prevail, no doubt."

Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita offered his condolences to the victims of the Hadera attack.

"Our presence today is, I think, the best response to such attacks," he said.

Foreign ministers of Israel, Bahrain, Morocco, Egypt and the UAE are holding a landmark regional summit in the southern Negev Desert. EPA

The meeting comes after talks in Vienna sought to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which the US pulled out of under former president Donald Trump.

The talks are paused but French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in Doha on Monday that sides are "near an agreement".

One of the concerns of regional allies of the US is that the deal focuses only on Iran's nuclear programme and not its ability to support, arm and carry out attacks using proxies across the region, and the possibility of removing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from the US list of foreign terrorist organisations.

The US had ruled out the prospect of lifting sanctions on the IRGC.

On Sunday, Mr Blinken said that the US and Israel saw "eye to eye" on the most important issue of the deal, which was ensuring that Iran did not acquire nuclear weapons.

With the offer to include Palestinians in future meetings, one US State Department official said that an aspect of the discussions in the Negev had been about how to ensure "that the Palestinians benefit from the energy that is being devoted and created from these normalisation agreements."

Sheikh Abdullah said that the summit had enabled participating countries to exchange views on the latest developments in the regional and international arenas, including the situation in the Middle East, and the Palestinian Cause.

He added that during the Negev Summit, he had reaffirmed the UAE's commitment to supporting the "Palestinian people and their legitimate rights, most notably the establishment of an independent Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital," state media agency WAM reported.

While peace talks have stalled for over a decade, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's broad coalition government has committed to focusing on domestic issues and does not plan to broach negotiations with the Palestinians.

On the Negev summit's second and final day, Israel's ambassador to Manama, Eitan Naeh, told Israel's Army Radio that the country would soon appoint a military attache to the US Navy's Fifth Fleet in Bahrain.

"It is in the midst of various bureaucratic processes," Mr Naeh said.

Mr Lapid said "technology, religious tolerance, security and intelligence co-operation" were being built among the nations attending the summit, some of whom, such as the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco, were meeting together in Israel for the first time.

"Just a few years ago this gathering would have been impossible to imagine," Mr Blinken said.

Also speaking in Negev on Monday, Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani said the principles behind the Abraham Accords should be "put into practice" to confront the threat by Iran.

"We need to establish genuine, sustainable coexistence and interdependence between participants, building genuine networks of co-operation and trust to advance our common security and prosperity."

Earlier on Monday, the office of Mr Bennett, who had met Mr Blinken the previous day, said he had caught Covid-19.

In response, the US State Department said Mr Blinken would undergo "appropriate testing" and follow health guidelines.

Updated: March 29, 2022, 4:44 AM
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