Israel hosts its first summit with top Arab diplomats

Foreign ministers of UAE, Morocco, Egypt and Bahrain at the summit in Israel during US Secretary of State Antony Blinken's visit

Israel is hosting the foreign ministers of the UAE, Morocco, Egypt and Bahrain on Sunday during US Secretary of State Antony Blinken's visit to the region.

The Arab dignitaries landed on Sunday in Israel for an unprecedented regional summit between Israel and its neighbours, hosted by Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid in the southern Negev Desert.

Mr Blinken was also set to attend after finishing his meetings in Jerusalem.

The UAE's Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, said in a tweet addressed to Mr Lapid that he was "happy with the friendship and working towards peace and development".

This is Sheikh Abdullah’s first visit to Israel. He held a meeting with Mr Lapid on Sunday, the UAE state news agency Wam reported.

They discussed “issues of mutual concern” on the regional and global stage including the crisis in Ukraine.

Sheikh Abdullah thanked Israel for the “warm welcome and stressed the joint will between the two countries to strengthen the relationship and expand their partnership” in line with Abraham Accords.

He also repeated the need for reinforcing regional peace and stability.

The UAE’s ambassador to Israel, Mohamed Al Khaja, also attended the meeting.

Iran was expected to dominate the summit's agenda as regional powers are looking to increase their defence and security co-ordination.

Israel fears that a nuclear deal with Tehran will strengthen Iran's destablising hand in the region.

The summit reflects the geopolitical changes in the region after the Abraham Accords, in which the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco made peace with Israel in 2020.

It fosters a new diplomatic front in the face of increasing regional threats.

On Monday, the foreign ministers will hold bilateral working meetings focused on security co-operation.

Mr Blinken repeated on the eve of the summit that Iran will not be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon and that the security of the Middle East is best served with Iran tied into a deal that ensures such goal.

A revived nuclear deal “is the best way to put Iran’s nuclear programme back in the box that it was in but has escaped from since the United States withdrew from that agreement” in 2018, Mr Blinken said in Jerusalem.

“But whether there’s a [nuclear deal] or not, our commitment to the core principle of Iran never acquiring a nuclear weapon is unwavering.”

Iran with a nuclear weapon “would become even more aggressive and would believe it could act with a false sense of impunity”, he said, alongside Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.

On Saturday, the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said he believed a deal could be struck in “a matter of days”.

“Now we are very close to an agreement and I hope it will be possible,” Mr Borrell said.

Iran’s neighbours fear any relief from economic sanctions could embolden the regime to step up its attempts to destabilise the region through its proxies.

Israel believes the deal does not include enough protection against Iran developing nuclear weapons.

Updated: March 28, 2022, 9:24 AM