Lapid: 'A collapse of our regional defensive walls'

Bennett: Saudi-Iran deal a failure of Israeli efforts to build anti-Tehran coalition

Opposition puts blame on Netanyahu, saying he neglected Iran with focus on judicial overhaul; Likud MK also calls for internal talks ‘to reunite against the existential threat’

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks at a press conference at the Knesset in Jerusalem on June 20, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/ FLASH90)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks at a press conference at the Knesset in Jerusalem on June 20, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/ FLASH90)

Former prime minister Naftali Bennett on Friday harshly criticized the restoration of ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran, saying it represented the failure of Israeli efforts to create a regional alliance against Tehran and laying the blame squarely on the Netanyahu government.

“The restoration of relations between the Saudis and Iran is a serious and dangerous development for Israel that represents an Iranian diplomatic victory. It represents a critical blow to efforts to build a regional coalition against Iran,” Bennett tweeted after news of the deal was announced.

“This is a resounding failure of the Netanyahu government and is the result of a combination of diplomatic neglect, general weakness and internal conflict in the country,” said Bennett who took a break from politics after the last government collapsed.

“Countries in the world and region see Israel divided with a non-functional government, focused on serial self-destruction. And then those countries chose a side,” said Bennett, referring to the widespread protests and turmoil in Israel against the government’s agenda, which critics say is aimed at installing an authoritarian regime.

“The Netanyahu government is a resounding economic, diplomatic and security failure, end every day it goes on endangers the state of Israel. We are in need of a broad national emergency government that will work to undo the many damages that have been done,” Bennett said.

Opposition leader and former prime minister Yair Lapid also slammed the agreement as “a complete failure” for Israel, calling it “a collapse of our regional defensive walls that we had been building against Iran.”

Opposition leader Yair Lapid speaks at a conference in Tel Aviv on February 23, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

“This is what happens when you are focused on the judicial madness instead of doing the work against Iran and strengthening ties with US,” Lapid said.

Their comments come after regional rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed Friday to restore ties and reopen diplomatic missions in Chinese-brokered talks seven years after relations were severed.

The deal comes even as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has spoken in recent days of his hopes of reaching a normalization deal with Saudi Arabia.

Even MKs in Netanyahu’s Likud party voiced veiled criticism.

“The world does not stop while we are focused on power struggles and head-butting, especially not the worst of our enemies,” said veteran Likud MK Yuli Edelstein.

Edelstein, who has been a rare voice of opposition to Netanyahu in the Likud since being sidelined, said the deal was “very bad for Israel and the entire free world.”

“The time has come to sit and speak and solve the arguments between us in order to reunite against the existential threat against us,” he said.

There was no immediate comment from Netanyahu who was on a trip to Italy.

Riyadh cut ties with Tehran after Iranian protesters attacked Saudi diplomatic missions in the Islamic republic in 2016 following the Saudi execution of revered Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr.

In this photo released by the state-run Saudi Press Agency, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, left, speaks to his father, King Salman, right, at a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, December 9, 2018. (Saudi Press Agency via AP)

Shiite-majority Iran and Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia support rival sides in several conflict zones across the Middle East, including in Yemen where the Huthi rebels are backed by Tehran, and Riyadh leads a military coalition supporting the government.

“Following talks, the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have agreed to resume diplomatic relations and reopen embassies and missions within two months,” Iran’s state news agency IRNA said, citing the joint statement.

The official Saudi Press Agency also published the statement, which said talks took place in Beijing for five days immediately before the announcement.

Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, had traveled to Beijing on Monday for “intensive negotiations with his Saudi counterpart in China in order to finally resolve the problems between Tehran and Riyadh,” IRNA said.

Iraq, a neighbor to both countries, had hosted several rounds of talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia since April 2021.

Those encounters were held at a relatively low level, involving security and intelligence officials.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian had said in July that the two countries were ready to move talks to a higher level, in the political and public spheres.

But no talks had been publicly announced since April last year.

In Friday’s statement, Iran and Saudi Arabia said they “thank the Republic of Iraq and the Sultanate of Oman for hosting the talks held between the two sides in 2021 and 2022 as well as the leaders and government of the People’s Republic of China for hosting and supporting the talks held in that country.”

“The three countries expressed their keenness to exert all efforts towards enhancing regional and international peace and security,” they said.

A supporter of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah group holds a poster of Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman with Arabic words that read: “Bin Salman is a terrorist,” during a conference for Saudi opposition in the southern Beirut suburb of Dahiyeh, Lebanon, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

Other Gulf states had also scaled back their ties with Iran after the 2016 incident.

But in September, Tehran welcomed an Emirati ambassador back after a six-year absence. A month earlier, Iran said Kuwait had sent its first ambassador to Iran since 2016.

Another regional rupture took place in June 2017 when Saudi Arabia and its allies the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut ties with Qatar.

They claimed it supported extremists and was too close to Iran — allegations that Doha denied.

Those ties were mended in January 2021.

On Thursday Amir-Abdollahian was in Damascus where he welcomed Arab outreach to Syria’s internationally isolated government after an earthquake struck Turkey and the war-torn country last month.

He also said Tehran, which has backed Damascus during its 12 years of conflict, would join efforts to reconcile Syria and Turkey, which has long supported rebel groups opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Ties between Riyadh and Ankara have also undergone a rapprochement since the 2018 killing of Saudi journalist and government critic Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has pushed hard to revive bilateral ties, a move analysts describe as largely driven by economic considerations.

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