Lapid: Israel hopes for ties with Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, but no deal imminent

Foreign minister also says unnamed ‘smaller countries’ could be in line to join US-brokered Abraham Accords to normalize relations

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid speaking at a faction meeting of the Yesh Atid party in the Knesset, on November 8, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid speaking at a faction meeting of the Yesh Atid party in the Knesset, on November 8, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said on Tuesday that while Israel hopes to expand on the Abraham Accords and establish diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, no deals are imminent.

The US-brokered agreements saw Israel normalizing ties with the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.

Speaking with Army Radio, Lapid said Jerusalem is looking to “expand the Abraham Accords to additional countries.”

“If you’re asking me what the important countries that we’re looking at are, Indonesia is one of them, Saudi Arabia of course, but these things take time,” he said.

Lapid added that “smaller countries” he did not identify could normalize relations with Israel in the coming two years.

His comments followed a report by Army Radio earlier this month that a delegation of Indonesian officials recently made a visit to Israel to discuss coronavirus strategies.

The Indonesian health officials met with Israeli officials in an effort “to learn how to deal with the coronavirus pandemic,” the report said.

The report did not specify when the visit took place, saying it was in “recent weeks.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, and Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi sign a Memorandum of Understanding at the Pancasila Building in Jakarta, December 14, 2021. (Olivier Douliery/Pool Photo via AP)

That reported visit came after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken reportedly raised the idea of the country joining the Abraham Accords during a visit to the Indonesian capital Jakarta last month. The report, by the Walla and Axios news websites, cited Israeli officials familiar with the discussions, who assessed that no imminent breakthrough was likely.

In November, Israel’s chargé d’affaires in Bahrain spoke with Indonesia’s defense minister in a rare public interaction between officials from the countries, which have never had formal diplomatic ties. The encounter between Itay Tagner and Prabowo Subianto took place on the sidelines of Bahrain’s annual Manama Dialogue conference.

Additionally, National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata met briefly during the same conference with Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, exchanging business cards with him, according to Walla.

Also in December, it was confirmed that Lapid and his Saudi counterpart Faisal Bin Farhan participated in a virtual meeting of top diplomats from around the world hosted by Blinken aimed at boosting cooperation to combat the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Saudi Arabia’s Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud waits for the start of a round table meeting at the La Nuvola conference center for the G20 summit in Rome, Oct. 30, 2021. (Andrew Medichini/AP)

Both Lapid and Blinken issued statements afterward, but neither mentioned the presence of Farhan on the Zoom call.

Riyadh has taken a number of steps in recent years toward normalizing relations with Jerusalem. The Saudis were said to have given a behind-the-scenes green light to the United Arab Emirates forging ties with Israel last year, and have since allowed Israeli aircraft to use their airspace for direct flights to Dubai and Abu Dhabi. However, Israel-Saudi ties have remained almost entirely unofficial, and the Gulf kingdom insists that won’t change unless Israel makes peace with the Palestinians.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal Bin Farhan Al Saud arrive to speak to reporters at the State Department in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Pool via AP)

In September, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan reportedly raised the notion of Saudi Arabia normalizing ties with Israel during a meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Red Sea city of Neom.

Bin Salman did not reject the proposal out of hand, according to the Axios report, which cited three US and Arab sources.

The Saudi crown prince in turn presented US officials with a list of steps that would have to take place before such a normalization agreement could move forward, the report said. Those steps included an improvement in bilateral US-Saudi relations, after ties cooled since the election of US President Joe Biden, who has been more critical of Riyadh’s human rights record.

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