FM talks up 'opportunities for cooperation' with Gulf states

At UN, foreign minister urges more pressure on Iran, taunts regime in Persian

Israel Katz, in short speech to General Assembly, says recent attack on Saudi oil facility was on ‘direct orders’ by supreme leader

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz delivers a speech during the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly on September 26, 2019 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. (Johannes EISELE / AFP)
Foreign Minister Israel Katz delivers a speech during the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly on September 26, 2019 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. (Johannes EISELE / AFP)

Foreign Minister Israel Katz lashed out against Iran during an address at the United Nations Thursday, calling the Islamic Republic the world’s greatest sponsor of terrorism and urging the world to join America’s sanctions against the regime.

Katz teased the leadership in Tehran by citing a well-known Iranian adage, in Persian, that implies the regime’s opponents will have the last laugh.

In a relatively brief speech to the UN General Assembly, Katz also called on the Palestinians to resume direct negotiations with Israel, but refrained from endorsing a two-state solution to the conflict or even raising the prospect of a peace agreement with Ramallah. By contrast, he repeatedly stressed Israel’s desire to normalize relations with Arab states in the Gulf.

“The main problem threatening stability and security in the Middle East is Iran, which threatens to destroy Israel, and works against the regimes of many countries in the region,” he said.

Katz, who is also intelligence minister, said a recent attack on Saudi oil facilities was carried out with Iranian missiles with the clear goal of destabilizing world oil supplies.

“This terror attack against Saudi Arabia was done on the direct orders of Iranian [Supreme] Leader Ali Khamenei,” Katz claimed. “Iran is the biggest terror state, and the biggest sponsor of terror in the world.”

Iran denies involvement in the September 14 drone attack on the state-owned Saudi Aramco oil processing facilities in the kingdom’s east. But the US, France, Germany, Britain, Israel and others blame Tehran.

Satellite image from Planet Labs Inc. shows thick black smoke rising from Saudi Aramco’s Abqaiq oil processing facility in Buqyaq, Saudi Arabia, September 14, 2019. (Planet Labs Inc via AP)

“I call on the international community to unite in order to stop Iran. The world cannot allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons. The world cannot allow Iran to develop ballistic missiles, and the world must stop Iran from supporting terror organizations in the region,” Katz said.

Katz, who traveled to New York after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled his appearance at the General Assembly due to the ongoing coalition-building crisis back at home, urged the UN to blacklist Hezbollah, an Iran-backed Shiite group based in Lebanon, and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as terror organizations.

“They promote terror in the Middle East, Europe, Latin America, and all over the world. And the world must stop them,” he said.

Katz further called on the international community to support the US administration’s “maximum pressure policy” against the Islamic Republic, which includes crippling sanctions.

“This is the way to stop them. We must stop Iran today in order to prevent war tomorrow,” he said.

“And to the Iranian leadership I say in their own language: Joojeh’ra akhare paiiz mishmarand. You don’t count the birds till the end of the fall,” he added. “It isn’t over till it’s over.”

Katz went on to talk about “opportunities for cooperation” between Israel and moderate Sunni Arab states, promoting his “Tracks for Regional Peace” initiative, which seeks to connect the Gulf by rail through Jordan to the Haifa port.

“It will provide them a faster, shorter and safer outlet to the Mediterranean. We are also going to connect the Palestinian Authority to this project, and this will boost their economy,” he said.

“Israel has a clear policy to advance ties and normalization with the Arab Gulf states. We have no conflict with the Gulf states, and we have common interests in the field of security against the Iranian threat as well as in developing many joint civilian initiatives.”

Israel has much to offer to the Gulf countries, especially in the fields of hi-tech, agriculture and water technology, while the Gulf states “have a lot of capabilities that can help Israel as well,” the foreign minister said. “I hope that this cooperation will lead to the signing of peace agreements between our countries, as we did with Egypt and Jordan.”

During his 11-minute speech, Katz only brought up the Israeli-Palestinian conflict briefly, saying that his government “wants peace with all its neighbors.”

The foreign minister, a member of Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, then called on the Palestinian Authority “to stop incitement, to stop encouraging and financing terrorism, and to recognize the right of the Jewish people to its own state.”

Katz added: “We call on the Palestinians to come back to direct negotiations without any preconditions.”

He also urged the UN not to allow any country to provide aid to Gaza as long as the Hamas terrorist organization that rules the coastal strip holds onto two Israeli civilians — Avera Mengistu and Hisham Al-Sayed — and the bodies of IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul.

Katz also briefly defended the controversial Jewish nation-state law, declaring that “Israel is a real democracy for all of its citizens, Jewish and non-Jewish alike.”

At the same time, his insisted that “first of all, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people based on thousands of years of Jewish history and the right of the Jewish people to its own homeland.”

Israel’s top diplomat arrived in New York on Monday and conducted several meetings, including with his counterparts from Australia, Brazil, Russia and one unnamed Arab country that does not have formal diplomatic relations with Israel.

Katz also conferred with the US administration’s outgoing Middle East peace envoy Jason Greenblatt and briefly met with President Donald Trump at the sidelines of a reception hosted by the US.

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