Minister says Israel caught off guard by Iran alliances

Chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, Avi Dichter, seen during a committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on July 12, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, Avi Dichter, seen during a committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on July 12, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter says Israel has been caught off guard by Iran’s recent activities.

“I admit we’ve all been surprised” by Iran’s new alliances, says Dichter, the former head of the Shin Bet security agency and a member of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud party.

Dichter cites Iran’s “alliance with China, agreements with the Saudis, agreements soon with the Gulf states.”

“This is a new story,” he says in an interview with Channel 12 news.

Iranian and Saudi diplomats met in Beijing yesterday, after the two rival Middle Eastern powers announced a Beijing-brokered agreement to restore relations last month, seven years after they severed ties. Israel has long sought relations with Saudi Arabia.

Earlier today, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi in a phone call that “the Islamic world should be united against Israel’s attacks in Palestine.” The stance represents an apparent shift for Erdogan, who had been leading a policy over the past year that has seen Turkey warm its ties with Israel.

Iran also supports the Hamas, Hezbollah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror groups. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh arrived in Beirut for what Hamas sources called a “private visit” this week. Media reports said he was meeting with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. Hamas launched volleys of rockets at Israel this week from both Gaza and Lebanon.

Dichter also says that if there had been fatalities at the Temple Mount this week, “we’d have been in a completely different situation.” Images of Israeli police fighting with Palestinians at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount were viewed widely in the Arab world this week, sparking outrage.

Dichter says it will be hard to ensure calm for Jews at the Western Wall next week. The wall is the holiest site for Jews where they are allowed to openly pray and is a part of the Temple Mount, located beneath the esplanade that houses Al-Aqsa.

Next week is the Priestly Blessing ceremony, known in Hebrew as the Birkat Hacohanim, which sees thousands pray at the Western Wall. The ceremony happens twice a year, including during this week’s Passover holiday.

Dichter also says he still sees Yoav Gallant as the defense minister, even though Prime Minister Netanyahu announced Gallant’s firing late last month. Gallant has not been formally fired and remains in his position.

Dichter says Netanyahu never offered him the defense post, after media reports at the time said Dichter was a candidate for the job.

Dichter says he tried to mediate between Netanyahu and Gallant.

When asked what would happen if Gallant was ousted from office, Dichter says, “We’ll talk,” because Israel cannot be left without a defense minister.

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