An unprecedented gathering of foreign ministers from Israel, the US and four Arab states in the Israeli Negev desert has concluded with a message of unity to combat Iranian aspirations in the region.
Israeli foreign minister Yair Lapid told the gathering that co-operation between Israel, the US, Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) should strike fear in Iran.
“The shared capabilities we are building intimidates and deters our common enemies, first and foremost Iran and its proxies,” he said. “They certainly have something to fear.”
The way to stop those enemies, he said, “is not hesitation and being conciliatory; rather, it is determination and strength”.
The foreign ministers gathered after Israel and Gulf Arab states had expressed concern over the possibility that a new nuclear deal with Iran was close and Washington would remove Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from its list of terrorist groups as part of such a deal.
Behind closed doors, US secretary of state Antony Blinken said it is still not clear if the negotiations in Vienna will result in a resumption of the nuclear deal with Iran and he clarified that Washington has not made a final decision regarding the removal of the IRGC from its terror list.
The 2015 nuclear deal placed curbs on Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief. The Trump administration withdrew from the deal in 2018.
The gathering, dubbed the Negev summit, marks another milestone in Israel’s integration in the Middle East, following the signing of the Abraham Accords two years ago, when the UAE and Bahrain established diplomatic ties with Israel, followed by Morocco.
The foreign ministers pledged to continue to develop the partnership and similar gatherings will be held once or twice a year in different locations. Palestinian representatives will be invited to future gatherings, Mr Lapid said, to work towards a “shared future of progress and success”.
The Palestinians were conspicuous by their absence at the Negev summit although all the Arab foreign ministers and Mr Blinken expressed the desire for a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
The Palestinian foreign ministry in Ramallah called the summit “a harsh attack against the Palestinian people” and the Palestinian leadership continues to oppose normalisation with Israel until a Palestinian state is established.
As the foreign ministers gathered for the opening of the summit on Sunday night, two Israeli Arab gunmen opened fire on passers-by in the northern Israeli city of Hadera, killing two policemen and wounding six people before being shot and killed by security officers.
The two attackers were linked to the Islamic State group,which claimed responsibility for the attack – the second fatal attack by an Isis-linked assailant inside Israel in a week.
"Our presence today is, I think, the best response to such attacks," said Morocco's foreign minister Nasser Bourita.