Fear of Iranian expansion brings Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt closer to Israel, pushing the Palestinian cause to the back burner.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Oman's ruler Sultan Qaboos last year in what was seen as part of the Jewish state's growing ties with the Arab world.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Oman's ruler Sultan Qaboos last year in what was seen as part of the Jewish state's growing ties with the Arab world. (AP Archive)

There is little that will make Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as happy as a photo-op with Arab leaders whom he is expected to meet next month in Warsaw, Poland.  

He has reportedly been invited to a February 13-14 gathering of the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA) arranged by the United States.  

The MESA, also dubbed the Arab NATO, is a regional security alliance comprising members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), plus Egypt and Jordan. 

The main purpose of the meeting next month that includes Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates is to build an alliance against their common enemy: Iran. 

For Netanyahu who faces an election in April amid a corruption probe, this could easily turn out to be an opportunity to show-off his leadership acumen, especially when the status of Palestine is not part of the equation. 

Israel is still not recognised by the Arab countries except for Egypt and Jordan.

But a few developments last year indicated that the Jewish state might finally be reaching a rapprochement with its Arab neighbors. In October 2018, Netanyahu traveled to Oman to meet the Sultan and was given a state reception. 

That preceded a visit by Israel's Sports and Culture Minister Miri Regev to Abu Dhabi, where she cried while the Israeli national anthem played at a sporting event. 

What remains unclear is how much of a benefit Arab states stand to draw from their close cooperation with Israel, which shares Saudi Arabia’s unease over Iran’s military expansion in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. 

The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is on a 8-nation tour of the middle east, is also trying to mend differences between the American allies in the region. 

Over the weekend, he flew to Qatar, which is facing an economic and diplomatic blockade from Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. 

"We are all more powerful when we are working together and disputes are limited. When we have a common challenge, disputes between countries with shared objectives are never helpful," he said at a press conference after meeting Qatari officials. 

Riyadh and others accuse Qatar of seeking closer ties with Iran and giving shelter to political activists of the Muslim Brotherhood, which they suspect wants to create discontent in their countries. 

Doha on its part says it’s relations with Tehran are complicated as both the countries share a vast natural gas field. Natural gas has played a vital role in Qatar’s development into one of the richest countries of the world. 

Even Pompeo knows removing the rift isn’t easy. 

It’s “not at all clear that the rift is any closer to being resolved today than it was yesterday, and I regret that,” he told journalists

Pompeo had initially set off on the tour to appease allies about the planned pullout of US troops from Syria – something that Israel fears could allow Iran to cement a foothold in the war-torn country. 

Militias backed by Iran along with Russia have been crucial to the survival of Bashar al Assad's regime in Syria. 

Some experts say the US wants to use the Warsaw meeting to mobilize a predominantly Arab force, made up largely of soldiers from Egypt and Jordan, to act as peacekeepers in Syria. 

On its part, Iranian officials say the conference is just another attempt to pressure the Islamic republic, which has survived harsh US sanctions. 

“Reminder to host/participants of anti-Iran conference: those who attended last U.S. anti-Iran show are either dead, disgraced, or marginalized. And Iran is stronger than ever,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said in a tweet.

Zarif also criticised Poland for hosting the conference, recalling how Iran had given refuge to thousands of Polish people during the Second World War. 

In the midst of this geopolitical shift, what’s not being talked about is the Arab League’s 2002 peace initiative, which offered Israel diplomatic relations only in exchange for its withdrawal from the Palestinian lands.

Source: TRT World