While the U.S. is pressing Israel to make peace with Palestinian leaders, it is missing the much bigger story of the Jewish State improving relations with several Muslim nations in the Middle East, according to a top Israeli official.
Outlining the fast-developing relationship between Israel and other Sunni states in the region, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Turkey, the official went beyond earlier comments by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and expressed Israel’s dismay at U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.
“We have the chance now to make a coalition with Saudi Arabia, North African states, the Gulf States, and Turkey,” Ayoob Kara, Israel’s deputy minister for regional cooperation, told FoxNews.com. “We need the U.S. with us, but … they first want the Palestinians to become partners with Israel. We could be waiting another 50 years. Why do we have to wait?”
“I think we now have the chance to open a new relationship with what is referred to as the Saudi [Sunni] coalition.”
- Ayoob Kara, Israeli deputy minister for regional cooperation
The force driving Israel and Sunni Muslim nations together is Iran, the Shia Muslim power that constantly reiterates its official goal of wiping Israel off the map. Israel has long been wary of Iran, and the recently implemented nuclear inspection deal that dropped international sanctions and freed up more than $100 billion in assets for Tehran has given its Sunni adversaries cause for concern.
Kara, Israel’s most senior Druze politician and a member of the Likud-led coalition government, spoke even as Netanyahu was meeting world leaders, including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. Kara blasted the nuclear deal championed by the Obama administration as well as the White House’s focus on settling the Palestinian issue ahead of arguably more pressing regional concerns.
Harmony between Israel and regional Muslim powers could “encourage the Palestinians to stop the violence [and] stop the terror,” he said, as well as aligning key players against ISIS and other terror groups.
U.S. support for the Iran deal is viewed by many states in the region as likely to usher in further destabilization as Tehran, flush with cash, continues its sponsorship of regional terrorist organizations. Even while nuclear negotiations were ongoing, Iran stepped up its expansionist forays into Iraq, Yemen, and Syria. In response, it appears that countries that once had little or no dialogue with Israel – official or unofficial – are now, according to Kara, rushing to engage with the Jewish state.
“Over the last month I have received many messages from Arab states that they need a closer connection to Israel,” Kara said. “In the past this was not the case.
“I think we now have the chance to open a new relationship with what is referred to as the Saudi [Sunni] coalition,” he added. “We have a chance to change the region, and we have economic, security, and other [mutual interests].Their enemy is our enemy, and I think much can be done on this issue.”
Earlier Thursday, Netanyahu hailed what he called Saudi Arabia’s change of heart over Israel.
"Saudi Arabia recognizes that Israel is an ally rather than an enemy because of the two principle threats that threaten them, Iran and Daesh [ISIS]," Netanyahu stated in a television interview. “Obviously Israel and the Sunni Arab states are not on opposite sides. There is a great shift taking place.”
Regional observers have noted that a potential deal or understanding with Saudi Arabia could offer the possibility of Israel using Saudi Arabian airspace as a direct line to attack Iran - should it ever be deemed necessary. This would be a major boost to Israeli military options and give serious pause to Tehran should the hardline regime renege on its pledge not to pursue nuclear weapons.
Although there has been no official comment from Saudi leader King Salman on the Israel issue, there have been encouraging signs from some in the Saudi hierarchy.
“Wherever the Iranians are present, they create militias,” Brig. Gen Ahmed al Aseer, a Saudi military spokesman said in September. “In Lebanon, they have created Hezbollah, which is blocking the political process and has conducted wars against Israelis, destroying Lebanon as a result. And in Yemen, they have created the Houthis.”
In a poll of members of the Saudi Arabian public conducted jointly in June last year by Israel’s Interdisciplinary Center and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, only 18 percent said Israel was the country’s main adversary. Some 53 percent fingered Iran.
Turkey, with whom Israel has endured turbulent relations over recent years, has been more forthcoming in its desire to reinstate what was once a powerful regional alliance with Israel.
“President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for the first time in many years declared last week that Turkey needs Israel as a friend in the region,” Turkish newspaper the Daily Sabah reported earlier this month. “Second, Erdoğan strengthened his country's alliance with Saudi Arabia by establishing a strategic partnership council between the two countries.”
That analysis of the potential for a new order in the region was echoed by Kara.
“I really believe we have a chance to make peace around us with all those in the region who oppose Iran,” he said.