by: Ilse Strauss
Monday, 27 June 2022 | Top defense officials from Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates [UAE], Bahrain and Jordan sat down for a secret summit convened by the US in Sharm el Sheikh in March, the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday. The subject matter under discussion during the clandestine get-together? The central threat facing the Middle East: regional bully, Iran.
According to the report, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi represented Israel, alongside his Saudi Arabian counterpart Fayyad bin Hamed Al-Ruwaili. Qatar, Egypt, the UAE, Bahrain and Jordan allegedly sent top military officials to attend the talks.
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.
The meeting comes in the context of Tehran continuing to flex its regional muscles. Increased Iranian rocket and drone attacks, an unchecked race toward the nuclear finish line and the nuclear negotiations in Vienna going nowhere have prompted Israel and the Gulf states to put their heads together to devise a strategy for a joint defense against the common Iranian threat.
According to sources in the know, the participants agreed in principles on the procedures for rapid notification of aerial threats via phone lines and computer communications. They also strategized a way forward for making decisions on which country’s forces would respond to incidents.
What makes this meeting a first of its kind is the fact that the mix of participants would have been impossible as little as three years ago, with Israel’s Arab neighbors steadfastly refusing to grasp Israel’s outstretched hand of friendship. Yet changing regional and political tides have also made for a change of heart. The growing concern over Iran’s ambitions of Middle Eastern hegemony and the inking of the Abraham Accords have turned former foes into friends—or at least partners seeking a mutual goal.
While most certainly a step in the right direction, the decisions taken during the March summit are not binding. Moreover, according to sources familiar with the summit, the participants have not reached a point of operational alliance.
“It’s still a work in progress. It’s a mechanism that’s being built,” an Israeli official told the Wall Street Journal.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz last week confirmed the way forward when he said that a regional air defense agreement was underway and that Iranian attempts to target Israel have already been foiled.
Whether Iran will manage to fulfill any of its ambitions remains to be seen. One thing is sure though. The Islamic Republic’s aggression has managed to unite Israel and its once hostile Arab neighbors, something that years of diplomacy could not do.
Posted on June 27, 2022
Source: (Bridges for Peace, June 27, 2022)
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