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4 Arabs states in Israel for unprecedented summit: Subtext includes Iran, ‘irritating’ U.S. policies

Flags at Israel's Negev Summit, to be attended by the U.S. secretary of state and the foreign ministers of Israel, Egypt, Bahrain, the UAE, and Morocco, on March 28.
by WorldTribune Staff, March 28, 2022

The foreign ministers of Egypt, Morocco, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates arrived in Israel on Sunday for a historic two-day summit at Kibbutz Sde Boker in Israel’s southern Negev Desert.

The Iran nuclear deal, which is said to be on the verge of being restored, will top the agenda at the Negev Summit which is hosted by Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and is being attended by UAE’s Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Bahrain’s Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani, Morocco’s Nasser Bourita, Egypt’s Sameh Shoukry as well as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The nuclear deal currently being negotiated in Vienna would provide Iran with billions of dollars in sanctions relief.

"Analysts have noted that the deal would provide Iran with a glide path to nuclear weapons at the expiration of the nuclear deal’s terms in just two-and-a-half years," David Isaac noted in a March 27 report for Jewish News Syndicate (JNS).

Israel and its Arab allies view the meeting as a chance to air their concerns to Blinken, who is championing reviving the deal which President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from in 2018.

“They see the upcoming agreement with Iran doesn’t serve their interests. And they are worried,” Yoel Guzansky, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, told JNS. “There is tension between some Arab capitals and the U.S. regarding all kinds of issues that they find irritating about U.S. Middle East policy. They see the U.S. as distancing itself from the region.”

Guzansky noted that in recent weeks the Saudis and Emiratis reportedly declined to take calls from Joe Biden as he has attempted to build international support for Ukraine and lobby the Gulf states to produce more oil to contain surging prices. “They didn’t play along because the Saudis and Emiratis have had a full stomach with the Americans,” he said.

The Arab states were likely to come to the Negev Summit with a list of demands for Blinken, including security assurances and defense materials, said Guzansky, noting that just last Friday, Riyadh was hit by a missile strike from Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in neighboring Yemen.

In one of its first foreign-policy acts, Team Biden removed the Houthis from the Foreign Terrorist Organization and Specially Designated Global Terrorist lists. Placing the Houthis back on the U.S. terror list will be a key Arab demand, said Guzansky, along with keeping the terror designation on Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The United States has suggested it may give into an Iranian demand to remove the IRGC from the designated terrorist list.

The Arab states' foreign ministers will make it clear to Blinken that they’re willing to leverage oil production in their demands, said Mordechai Kedar, a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and a scholar in Arabic culture.

“The Middle East is not something which you push aside in order to deal with other problems,” Kedar told JNS. “Blinken will find a united front before him. It’s going to be a very tense meeting.”

Blinken may become “much more aware of the severity of the problem as a result of this summit. Until now, the U.S. has taken these countries—the Emirates, Bahrain, ourselves [Israel], the Saudis and Egypt—for granted,” said Kedar.

There’s a cultural aspect, too. “In the Middle East, you don’t betray friends. If you do, you’re going to be dismissed, even a superpower like the United States,” he said.

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negev by Jack Guez is licensed under AFP / Getty Images N/A

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