Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said he was relishing sharing a session, unprecedentedly, with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at the high-level Munich Security Conference on Sunday, and that he hoped Zarif would stay in the room to hear him denounce Iran for its efforts “to blow up every state” in the Middle East.
The two men are set to take part in a discussion entitled “Old Crises, New Middle East.” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu are the other two participants.
There is no recent precedent for serving senior Israeli and Iranian ministers to share a public platform in this way. Iran repeatedly encourages the demise of what it calls the Zionist regime.
“I hope Foreign Minister Zarif will be in the hall when I speak,” Liberman told Israel’s Channel 2 from the conference on Friday evening, “and that he hears exactly what I think about the ayatollahs’ regime in Tehran.”
The defense minister said he intended to tell the session exactly what he had been telling the series of defense ministers he had already been meeting at the conference: that Iran is the greatest threat to Middle East stability.
Liberman said he discussed the threat posed by Iran with the defense ministers of the US, Canada, Britain and Singapore, as well as NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
“I told them all the same thing: The biggest danger to the stability of the entire Middle East is Iran. Iran with all its nuclear plans, and its attempts to blow up every state, and to harm the stability of every country – it doesn’t matter if it is Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, or Israel.
Each of his interlocutors understood the message, Liberman said.
The annual weekend gathering is known for providing an open and informal platform for allies — and adversaries — to meet in close quarters.
Liberman’s office said the defense minister would “be speaking before the Iranian.” And Israel Radio said there would be no dialogue between the two.
But the conference program indicates that the session is intended to involve a discussion between the participants, listing the BBC’s chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet as the moderator.
— ערן סיקורל | Eran Cicurel | عيران شيكوريل (@EranCicurel) February 17, 2017
Earlier Friday, Liberman held his first meeting with US Secretary of Defense James Mattis on the sidelines of the conference, and told him that Israel has “three main problems that it is dealing with: ‘Iran, Iran and Iran.’”
Following their meeting, the two agreed to work “with determination against Iran,” according to Liberman’s office.
In the meeting — their first since Mattis took up his position last month — Liberman called for the creation of a “real and effective” anti-Iran coalition that will tackle “the terrorism that [Iran] sends out to the world, the missile development it has been working on and its race to nuclear armament,” according to a statement from his office.
Liberman said Iran and North Korea, which has its own nuclear program, are part of the same “axis of evil” that also includes “Hezbollah and the [Bashar] Assad regime in Syria.”
The defense chiefs said they intended to have “open and frank” lines of communication to improve cooperation, according to Liberman’s office.
Liberman and Mattis had previously spoken only by phone. The two spoke on January 26, soon after Mattis was confirmed by the US Senate as secretary of defense. Then too they spoke about the need to “advance the US-Israeli defense relationship” and also to “protect Israel’s qualitative military edge.”
The scheduled onstage meeting between Liberman and Zarif comes as Israel and Iran have accused each other of threatening world peace.
In an interview Thursday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was speaking up on behalf of the whole region that is threatened by a malevolent Iran, and that this is bringing Israel and its Arab neighbors closer together.
Netanyahu told Fox News’s Sean Hannity that although he was the most outspoken against the Iran nuclear deal, Arab nations, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, were quietly saying the same thing.
“The Arab countries sort of whisper things in the dark; they wouldn’t say it outright,” he said. “I had to sort of speak out for everyone in the region.”
“Iran has become more aggressive, more deadly, sponsoring more terrorism,” Netanyahu, who was visiting the US, told Hannity. “With more money. And people are saying ‘wait a minute, this roaring tiger, if it’s not stopped, it will devour all of us.”
Meanwhile, Iran on Thursday said Israel’s reported nuclear arsenal was the biggest threat to world peace. Israel is the “biggest threat to the peace and security in the region and the world,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said, quoted by state news agency IRNA.
Much of the attention at this year’s meeting has focused on world leaders getting their first opportunity to meet with members of the Trump administration amid concerns over the new president’s commitment to NATO and posture toward Russia.
Vice President Mike Pence, Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly are leading the US delegation to the conference, which opened Friday.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, European Council President Donald Tusk and NATO’s Stoltenberg are among the group of more than 30 heads of state and government, 80 foreign and defense ministers and other officials expected to attend.
Others expected to be on hand include Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
AP contributed to this report.