Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been invited to attend a conference next month being organized by the United States and Poland aimed at rolling back Iran’s regional influence, Israeli television reported Friday.
Netanyahu has not yet decided whether to accept US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s invitation to attend the summit in Warsaw, according to Channel 10 news. Foreign ministers from Arab Gulf states that share Israel’s antipathy to Iran were also invited, among dozens of foreign ministers worldwide. Netanyahu also serves as Israel’s foreign minister.
The TV report specified that the foreign ministers of Egypt and Jordan, with which Israel has diplomatic relations, have been invited, along with those of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and Morocco, with which it does not.
There has been a thaw in Israeli ties to these and several other countries in the region in recent years amid their shared hostility to Iran. Pompeo welcomed this development in a speech in Cairo on Thursday and called for “old rivalries” to be put aside to confront Tehran.
Netanyahu received the invitation two weeks ago, Channel 10 said, and posited that he would be likely to accept, since it would boost his election campaign for him to be seen mingling with Arab leaders — underlining his contention that, under his leadership, Israel is building ties in the region irrespective of the deadlock in Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts. It is not clear whether a Palestinian representative has been invited to the conference.
Israel goes to the polls on April 9, and surveys show Netanyahu on course for re-election, even though he is mired in a corruption investigation.
Pompeo announced the February summit in Poland earlier Friday, as he continued a regional tour aimed at reassuring US allies after President Donald Trump’s shock decision to withdraw all American troops from Syria, which sparked concerns that Iran’s influence could grow. US officials said Friday that the withdrawal had now begun.
“We’ll bring together dozens of countries from all around the world,” Pompeo told Fox News, unveiling the conference.
The participants will “focus on Middle East stability and peace and freedom and security here in this region, and that includes an important element of making sure that Iran is not a destabilizing influence,” the top US diplomat said.
Iran’s foreign minister later criticized the event.
“Reminder to host/participants of anti-Iran conference: those who attended last US anti-Iran show are either dead, disgraced, or marginalized. And Iran is stronger than ever,” Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote in a Twitter post that included a photograph from the 1996 “Summit of Peacemakers” in Sharm el Sheikh in Egypt.
The photo showed Jordan’s King Hussein, Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, US President Bill Clinton, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, among other world leaders.
Reminder to host/participants of anti-Iran conference: those who attended last US anti-Iran show are either dead, disgraced, or marginalized. And Iran is stronger than ever.
Polish Govt can't wash the shame: while Iran saved Poles in WWII, it now hosts desperate anti-Iran circus. pic.twitter.com/iOOvhgtUsL
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) January 11, 2019
Zarif also took aim at Poland for hosting the summit in light of Iran’s hosting of Polish refugees during World War II.
“Polish Govt can’t wash the shame: while Iran saved Poles in WWII, it now hosts desperate anti-Iran circus,” he said.
The event will take place on February 13 and 14.
Pompeo brought the Trump administration’s anti-Iran message to Gulf Arab states on Friday as he continued his nine-nation tour of the Middle East.
He was traveling to Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, where he will call for increasing pressure on Iran and push for unity among Gulf neighbors still embroiled in a festering dispute with Qatar. He’ll also be promoting a US-backed initiative to form what some have termed an “Arab NATO” that would bring the region together in a military alliance to counter threats from Iran.
In Bahrain, the UAE and later Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait, Pompeo will also be making the case as he did on previous stops in Jordan, Iraq and Egypt that Trump’s decision to pull US troops from Syria is not a sign Washington is retreating from the fight against the Islamic State group.
Pompeo kicked off the Gulf portion of his tour after a stop in Cairo, where he delivered a scathing rebuke of former president Barack Obama’s Middle East policies that Obama had outlined in a 2009 address to the Arab and broader Muslim world.
In a speech entitled “A Force for Good: America’s Reinvigorated Role in the Middle East,” Pompeo accused the former president of “misguided” thinking that diminished America’s role in the region while harming its longtime friends and emboldening Iran.
Pompeo blamed the previous administration’s approach to the Mideast for the ills that consume it now, particularly the rise of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria and Iran’s increasing assertiveness, which he said was a direct result of sanctions relief, since rescinded by the Trump administration, granted to it under the 2015 nuclear deal.
Since withdrawing from the nuclear deal last year, the administration has steadily ratcheted up pressure on Tehran and routinely accuses the nation of being the most destabilizing influence in the region. It has vowed to increase the pressure until Iran halts what US officials describe as its “malign activities” throughout the Mideast and elsewhere, including support for rebels in Yemen, anti-Israel groups, and Syrian President Bashar Assad.