by Ariel Kahana, News Agencies and Israel Hayom Staff
Saudi FM: "Who is supporting Hamas and Islamic Jihad and undercutting the Palestinian Authority? Iran" • Bahraini FM: Iran is a far bigger threat to regional security than Israeli-Palestinian conflict • UAE FM: Israel justified in attacking Iran in Syria.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sits beside U.S. Secretary of State
Mike Pompeo at the Warsaw summit, Thursday Photo: AP
Israel and Arab states on Thursday made strides in their joint effort to curb Iranian expansion in the region, as Arab foreign ministers attending the U.S. sponsored Mideast summit in Warsaw, Poland, sitting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the audience, lambasted the Islamic republic and the European countries offering it support.
The Prime Minister's Office released a 25-minute video of the closed meeting, in which senior Gulf Arab officials played down the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, defended Israel's right to defend itself, and described Iran as the greatest threat to regional peace.
The video, bearing the insignia of the Prime Minister's Office, was recorded on a mobile device and it was not clear who took it. Netanyahu's office briefly made the YouTube video available to a small group of journalists traveling with him before quickly removing it.
It was unclear whether Netanyahu intended to leak the information or distributed it mistakenly. But the decision to take the video down indicated that the Gulf officials, whose governments do not have formal diplomatic relations with Israel, had not consented to its release.
The edited, 25-minute video shows a series of comments made by officials from Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates on a panel discussion at the security conference. Some 60 nations participated in the gathering, which was focused heavily on countering Iran's growing influence in the region.
Saudi Arabian Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir accused Iran of hurting the Palestinian cause by supporting terrorist groups battling PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
"Who is supporting Hamas and Islamic Jihad and undercutting the Palestinian Authority?" he said. "Iran."
"We cannot stabilize the region without peace between Israel and the Palestinians. We cannot stabilize the region without peace in Lebanon and Syria," Jubeir went on to say, "[but] wherever we go we find Iran's evil behavior. If you want peace and stability in the Middle East, you must make it clear to the Iranians that if they want to be treated like a normal country they must behave like a normal country."
Jubeir also blasted the Iran nuclear deal, which he said allows Iran to acquire nuclear weapons and menace the region because of its so-called sunset clauses.
"When the JCPOA was signed, everyone thought everything would be fine," Jubeir said, referring to the 2015 nuclear pact by its technical name.
"Meanwhile, we in the region are in the brunt, for us 10 years is the blink of an eye. So, Iran ends up with a nuclear weapon – it is theoretically capable of doing one very quickly because no limits on enrichment – who is going to suffer? We are."
"Iran gives ballistic missiles to the Houthis [in Yemen] and Hezbollah [in Lebanon]. Who's going to suffer? We do, in the region. And so people have to be serious about how to deal with the problem of Iran."
Jubeir added: "I wish the Iranians would change, but they aren't there yet. Any attempt to be good with them has failed. They present two faces – a foreign minister [Mohammad Javad Zarif] who speaks nicely and [on the other hand] the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps."
He also had some harsh words for Hezbollah, saying "One of the biggest jokes is when you say Hezbollah has a political wing and a military wing. There is no such thing."
Bahrain's foreign minister, Khalid Al Khalifa, made some of the toughest comments, saying that Iran is a far bigger threat to regional security than the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"We grew up talking about the Palestine-Israel dispute as the most important issue," he said in the video. "But then at a later stage, we saw a bigger challenge. We saw a more toxic one, in fact the most toxic in our modern history, which came from the Islamic Republic, from Iran."
He went on to denounce the "neo-fascist regime" in Tehran, accusing it of plotting attacks in his country and destabilizing Yemen, Syria and Iraq. He also said that "toxic money, guns and foot soldiers of the Islamic republic" have hindered progress in Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.
Bahrain, an island nation off Saudi Arabia that's home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, long has had tense relations with Iran.
If it wasn't for Iran's regional aggression," Khalifa continued, "we would have been much closer today in solving this issue with Israel. But this is a serious challenge that is preventing us now from moving forward anywhere, be it Syria, be it Yemen, be it Iraq, be it anywhere. So this is the challenge we have to face in order to deal with other challenges," he said, referring to Iran.
While the Gulf Arab countries' animosity toward Iran is well known, it is generally taboo for Arab leaders to make such comments about the Palestinians in high-profile public settings.
In the clip, the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, also indicated that Israel was justified in attacking Iranian targets in Syria.
"Every nation has the right to defend itself, when it's challenged by another nation, yes," he answered in response to a question by the panel's moderator, former U.S. Middle East peace negotiator Dennis Ross, about Israeli strikes intended to prevent Iran from entrenching itself militarily in Syria.
Ross later tweeted of the event: "Same room, same views of Iran's aggressive, threatening posture in the Middle East, and unmistakable convergence of what should be done to counter it."
Netanyahu did not participate on the panel, but is seen sitting in the audience. Speaking to reporters early Thursday, Netanyahu cryptically hinted at what he called the "unfathomable" friendly atmosphere at the conference. But he did not disclose any details or say whom he had met.
Hatnuah party leader Tzipi Livni, a political rival, accused Netanyahu of violating standard protocol and leaking the video to boost his campaign ahead of April 9 elections. She called for "external diplomacy, not internal politics."
Ariel Kahana, News Agencies and Israel Hayom Staff
Follow Middle East and Terrorism on Twitter