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Saudi Prince, Israel FM Face Off at Manama Dialogue

Saudi Prince, Israel FM Face Off at Manama Dialogue

Gulf, Israeli officials agree: ‘We need to deter Iran,’ Oman refuses to classify the Houthis as terrorists

The annual Manama Dialogue summit of ministers and delegates, held in the Kingdom of Bahrain, witnessed a remarkable debate on Sunday between a powerful member of the House of Saud, Prince Turki al-Faisal, and Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi.

The prince attacked Israel vigorously, stressing that the Arab Peace Initiative, launched by his country in 2002, is the only one capable of confronting Iran.

The prince, who led the kingdom’s intelligence service for more than two decades and served as ambassador to Britain and the United States, said, “Israel is a Western colonial power. It has imprisoned Palestinians in detention camps under the worst security charges, young and old, women and men, who rot there without resort to justice. They demolish homes as they like and kill whomever they want.

“The Israelis want relations with Saudi Arabia, but they send their fierce dogs in the media against us, and an open wound cannot be treated with painkillers, and only with the Arab Peace Initiative will we be able to confront Iran,” Turki said, stressing that “any normalization deals must help the Palestinians obtain their independent state.”

Ashkenazi, who spoke immediately after the prince, said: “I would like to express my regret for the statements of the Saudi representative, and I do not think that they reflect the spirit and the changes occurring in the Middle East.

“We have the option to go into the game of accusations as in the past, or an opportunity that we propose for peace,” he continued.

“And the Abraham Accords [between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain] opened a window to change opportunities, and we hope that Saudi Arabia and the Palestinians will join in order to expand the circle,” Ashkenazi said, considering that “the Abraham Accords are not a closed club, and they are expected to expand, and there is a camp in the Middle East that chose war and violence led by Iran.”

He declared that “the only way to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is through dialogue and the concessions that both sides will make,” stressing the possibility of returning to the negotiating table, and adding that “peace agreements with Gulf states do not come at the expense of the Palestinians, but rather the opposite. It is an opportunity that should not be missed.”

Bahraini Foreign Minister Dr. Abdullatif Al Zayani said that cooperation with Israel was not a response to a threat, nor did it target any country.

The new security partnerships “between Bahrain, the Emirates, Sudan and Israel” should be seen as complementary, not as an alternative, he said.

Al Zayani also spoke during the last session of the summit, on the third and last day of the 16th annual Manama Dialogue regional security conference, along with Ashkenazi and Turki.

The Manama Dialogue is held each year with the participation of a number of prime ministers, defense ministers, foreign ministers, national security advisers, military and security heads and hundreds of participants from around the world, organized by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Al Zayani highlighted the importance of continuing to strive for a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which would solve many other issues in the region, and the need to continue political, economic, commercial and diplomatic support for the broader concept of a safe and interconnected region that enjoys peace and prosperity.

The Bahraini foreign minister did not comment on official Kuwaiti statements which indicated that a Gulf reconciliation with Qatar was imminent, after more than three years of diplomatic and commercial boycott from Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud conveyed in the Dialogue “Saudi Arabia’s commitment to strengthening Gulf security within the existence of a more integrated [Gulf] Cooperation Council and dedicating a strong cooperative framework for the Arab Gulf states as intended, in tacit approval of the Kuwaiti statements.”

Al Zayani revealed the willingness of the Gulf states to sit at the negotiating table with Iran, emphasizing the need to take account of the opinion of the countries of the region before proceeding to any new nuclear agreement.

Ashkenazi said it was important to recognize the scale of Iranian threats in the region, adding that his country was working to stop Tehran’s interference, while noting at the same time the importance of peace agreements for the region’s future.

“The nuclear agreement in 2015 caused Iran to wreak havoc, destruction and misery in the region,” he said, demonstrating the necessity of “being aware of the Iranian threats in the region.”

Turki said that “Israel wants peace without conditions, and we say remove the settlements in order to prove good intentions toward the peace process.

“We look forward to an American role after the election of the new [Biden] Administration to push for the revival of the peace process between the Palestinians and the Israelis on the basis of the two-state solution,” he added.

Earlier in the Dialogue, Omani Foreign Minister Badr bin Hamad bin Hamood Al Busaidi aroused the indignation of other Gulf states, when he announced that “an American official proposed the classification of the [Houthi] militia as a terrorist group during talks in the Sultanate of Oman, and the sultanate did not express its consent to that.”

The Houthi rebels, supported by Iran, are engaged in a civil war in Yemen, where the government is supported by a Saudi-led coalition.

The Omani official did not add further details, and there were no official reactions from the Gulf countries about his statement, but semi-official influencers in social media expressed their resentment at this statement and the announcement.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in the first session in the Manama Dialogue that “the conflict in the Middle East is caused by Iran and ISIS, not between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

“We have seen Iran terrorizing its neighbors and its people, and we have dealt with the commander of the Iranian Quds Force, Qasem Soleimani, the biggest terrorist in the region,” he said.

Maj. Gen. Soleimani was killed by a targeted US drone strike in Baghdad last January.

Gen. Sir Nicholas Carter, chief of the British Defense Staff, sent a message through his speech at the Manama Dialogue that the United Kingdom places a high priority on its relations with the Gulf.

“We were keen on the presence of the Royal Maritime Fleet in the Arabian Gulf to protect the commercial vessels that sail, and those crossing the Strait of Hormuz, and we are ready to deter security threats,” he said, without naming the party threatening this traffic.

Dr. Dore Gold, head of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, and former director-general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, told The Media Line that the parties participating in the Manama Dialogue fully communicate their messages through dialogue, but most important is what happens during the coffee breaks.

He said that now, after peace agreements with some Gulf countries, it is possible for these countries, in cooperation with Israel, to pressure on the incoming American administration to put a stop to Iran’s ambitions, whether in the nuclear sphere or even its interference in the region.

“European countries like to trade with Iran, and prefer the continued flow of money from Tehran to their economies, but the situation is different for the Americans,” Gold said.

Bahraini-British researcher and commentator Amjad Taha, a journalist based in Bahrain and the author of The Deception of the Arab Spring, told The Media Line it is clear from the Manama Dialogue and the statements that emerged from it that the region is heading for a new path of prosperity and peaceful coexistence.

“With regard to the agreements with Israel, there was full support from the various parties participating in the Manama Dialogue for these agreements, and for the path of negotiations between the Palestinians and the State of Israel,” he said.

“It is also clear that everyone wants to combat terrorism and extremism, wherever it is and whatever its source, through peaceful and legal means, and that was clear in the dialogue,” Taha continued.

“It seems that the trend has become clear to have a strong united front on all economic, security, military, cultural, social and political levels against the Iranian regime that supports terrorist militias, whether in Lebanon, Yemen, Gaza or Syria and all areas of tension in the region,” he said.

“Everyone was saying in the Manama Dialogue that all conflict today is coming out of Iran, so the Arab region and the Middle East are united against Tehran, and even Europe has begun to gradually change, to confront Iran,” Taha added.

“Today, even Germany, which was defending Iran, has changed its position, calling for correcting the nuclear agreement with Iran and adding some amendments to it to include ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction that Iran possesses, and that everyone should not interfere with Iran in the affairs of the region,” he said.

Taha expected that a strong coalition will be formed during the coming period to combat terrorism represented by the Iranian regime, as all the speakers at the Manama Dialogue had indicated.

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