by: Ilse Strauss
Tuesday, 28 June 2022 | Three months after the landmark Negev Summit in March saw the foreign ministers of Israel and its Arab allies sit down for a historic get-together to discuss regional cooperation, high-ranking delegations representing the six countries that participated—Israel, the US, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco and Egypt—convened in Manama, Bahrain yesterday for the first Negev Forum Steering Committee meeting.
The Negev Summit’s first follow-up initiative was aimed at adding additional structure to the already blossoming ties of friendship between the Jewish state and its Arab neighbors that the Abraham Accords formalized and the March summit ratified. Participants reportedly agreed to step up efforts to improve security, stability and prosperity in the Middle East—and began laying the foundation to do so.
The Negev Summit in March set up six working groups—regional security; food and water security; energy; health; education and tolerance; and tourism. At the Negev Forum Steering Committee meeting yesterday, participating nations went a step forward to assign each of the six countries to head up one of the working groups, agree on specific group goals and determine parameters—and then commit their decisions to a core document. Once all six countries have approved the document, it will reportedly be released.
“It was an important milestone,” an Israeli diplomatic official said yesterday after the meeting.
“It is part of an ongoing effort to build what we like to call a regional architecture, which is both military and civilian in its character, with a meaningful American presence,” he added.
Yesterday’s meeting in Manama comes a day after a report in the Wall Street Journal that top defense officials from Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, the UAE, Bahrain and Jordan sat down for a secret summit convened by the US in Sharm el Sheikh in March to discuss the central threat facing the Middle East: regional bully, Iran.
The summit, which the report described as the initial steps towards regional defense cooperation, brought together a significant collection of nations, and marks the first time such high-ranking officials from the Jewish state and Arab countries sat down together at the behest of the US military. Israel has diplomatic ties with Egypt, Jordan, the UAE and Bahrain, but not with Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
It also comes two weeks ahead of US President Joe Biden’s scheduled visit to the region next month. According to the Foreign Ministry’s Deputy Director-general Oded Joseph, the timing is no coincidence. He hailed the get-together as a “milestone” ahead of the US president’s trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia, especially in light of “America’s commitments to widen the circle of peace.”
Discussing Biden’s trip, a senior US official implied last week that more Arab nations might join the growing Middle Eastern circle of friendship with Israel.
“We are working, in the space that is not in the public domain, with a couple of other countries. And I think you’ll see some interesting things around the time of the president’s visit,” US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf told a congressional subcommittee.
Israel—and the US—are particularly eager for Saudi Arabia to be next in line for peace with its Jewish neighbors. Despite some positive overtures and Biden being expected to announce steps forward during his visit, Jerusalem and Riyadh are, however, not expected to go as far as normalizing ties just yet.
The Negev Summit in late March saw Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid hosting his counterparts from the US, the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Egypt in the Negev town of Sde Boker for a historic forage into a regional cooperation on defense, energy, food, security and water initiatives that seemed unthinkable three years ago.
Posted on June 28, 2022
Source: (Bridges for Peace, June 28, 2022)
Photo Credit: Zairon/wikimedia.org
Photo License: Wikimedia
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