Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon on Sunday said Sunni Arab states are “frustrated and furious” at the West for a “lack of support” in dealing with Iran, and joined widespread criticism of the Western approach to Syria.
The defense minister, who spoke at the Munich Security Conference, also maintained that there were open channels between Israel and other Arab states, but the “sensitive” situation prevents him from shaking Arab officials’ hands in public. He later publicly shook the hand of Saudi Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud.
Turki has met with a number of Israeli officials in the past.
Israel’s covert ties with Sunni Arab states are such that while they cannot display signs of cordiality in public, “we can meet in closed rooms,” said Ya’alon.
“But we do have channels to speak with our Sunni Arab neighboring countries. Not just Jordan and Egypt — Gulf states, North African states,” he said. “For them, Iran is an enemy.”
Israel has long maintained there are back-channel talks between Jerusalem and Sunni states, which share the common enemy of Iran.
Ya’alon, speaking in English, maintained that the Arab states are “frustrated and furious from the lack of Western support.”
He also fiercely criticized the Western approach to stopping the fighting in Syria and battling the Islamic State terror group
Referring to statements by Russia’s prime minister that the conflict constituted a new “cold war,” Ya’alon said: “For war you need two parties. There is one, very active, very proactive in the region today, Russia. On the other side, it is missing — whether it is the United States or Europe.”
The West needs a “grand strategy” and “moral clarity” and “this is absent,” he said. “I claim that you are lacking a grand strategy.”
The defense minister said he agreed with the approach of Jordan’s King Abdullah that the rise of the Islamic State marks the beginning of a third world war. “I can’t disagree with him,” he said.
But he seemed to indicate that Israel preferred the Islamic State in southern Syria over Iranian-backed militias, though he called them both “bad alternatives.”
Ya’alon has previously said that he would prefer the Islamic State on the northern front over Iranian-backed proxies.
“In the last two years, we didn’t absorb even one Daesh terror attack,” he said, using an Arabic name for IS, while noting that Israel was attacked some 10 times by Iran-backed forces. “It might happen, Daesh is an enemy. They should be defeated — they will be defeated I am sure. We have too many enemies in the region.”
In the interim, the defense minister said, Israel was providing aid to embattled Syrian villages across the border.
“We provide humanitarian support to the.. Sunni villages across the border. We provide them medical support.We hospitalize them in our hospitals. We can’t be blind to the tragedy,” he said.
In his address, Ya’alon divided the primary actors in the Middle East into the Iranian axis, including Hezbollah, the “global jihad camp,” and the Muslim Brotherhood supporters.
In the latter camp, the defense minister included Hamas, Qatar “which is playing a tricky game, we don’t have time to elaborate,” and Turkey.
The comments came days after the defense minister lashed out at Ankara for allowing Hamas operatives to work in Istanbul.
Regarding Israel’s strategy with Syria, Ya’alon said: “We decided from the very beginning not to intervene” unless there was a threat to Israeli sovereignty or weapon transfers to terror groups.
“We said from the very beginning, we don’t tolerate any violation of our sovereignty, and when it happened, we act,” he said, referring to periodic Israeli strikes on Syrian territory.