Netanyahu: Closer ties to Arab world are the silver lining of ‘bad’ Iran deal

In new year address to Foreign Ministry diplomats, PM hails era of Israel’s ‘diplomatic flourishing’

Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the Foreign Ministry on September 3, 2018. (Amos Ben-Gershom / GPO)
Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the Foreign Ministry on September 3, 2018. (Amos Ben-Gershom / GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that closer ties between Israel and the Arab world were a silver lining of the otherwise “bad” Iran nuclear deal.

The 2015 pact was a “bad agreement in every respect except for one – it brought us closer to the Arab world on a scale that we never knew, and one of our goals is that it continues,” he said.

“Another important thing is, of course, the fact that there is a gradual normalization with leading countries in the Arab world,” Netanyahu added.

The prime minister, who is also acting foreign minister, was addressing diplomats at the Foreign Ministry during an event marking the Jewish new year.

He also said that Israel’s standing in the world was improving, a process he predicted could lead to peace.

“We are in the midst of a diplomatic flourishing,” he said. “We are also in a struggle for justice and truth, and I think that we are in a process of gradual normalization that in the end heralds a genuine opening for peace.”

In May, US President Donald Trump withdrew from the Iran deal, which had been signed by his predecessor Barack Obama and other world powers, and began restoring US sanctions. The move has exacerbated a financial crisis in Iran that has sent its currency tumbling.

Netanyahu has repeatedly stated that he can see a path to peace with Palestinians through the “normalization” of relations with Arab states, which, like Israel, oppose Iran.

“Many Arab countries now see Israel not as their enemy but as their indispensable ally in pushing back Iranian aggression,” Netanyahu told Lithuania’s LRT public broadcaster.

“This has created normalization which can lead to peace. I believe that if we have peace with the broader Arab world, it will help us get to peace with the Palestinians,” he added in the interview, which was taped during a visit to the Baltic state.

Both Israel and Saudi Arabia have opposed the Iran nuclear deal and pushed for tougher action against Iran’s spreading influence in the Middle East.

Israel has peace treaties with just two Arab countries, Egypt and Jordan, while others insist on an agreement with the Palestinians as a prerequisite that would pave the way to formal relations.

Israel and Saudi Arabia have no official relations and the kingdom does not recognize the Jewish state. Still, Israel has hinted at clandestine ties with Saudi Arabia in recent years, stressing the two countries share an interest in countering Iran.

The rumors of covert relations have been denied by Saudi officials. Still, a Saudi general visited Jerusalem in 2016 and met with Israeli lawmakers, and Saudi officials have met with Israeli officials on several occasions in public. Saudi Arabia also last recently allowed Air India to fly to and from Tel Aviv via its airspace.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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