Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said it was time for some Arab states with which Israel has covert ties to publicly acknowledge those relationships.
Addressing the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the prime minister maintained that most moderate Arab countries see Israel as their ally, not their enemy, as they share a common struggle against Iran and the Islamic State.
“Major Arab countries are changing their view of Israel … they don’t see Israel anymore as their enemy, but they see Israel as their ally, especially in the battle against militant Islam with its two fountainheads,” he said in English. “Now, this is something that is forging new ties, many of them discreet, some of them open. And I think there too we can expect and should expect and should ask to see a change.”
The prime minister did not elaborate on that issue.
Netanyahu, who was addressing more than 100 leaders from the Conference’s 53 member organizations, thanked the delegates for “taking the message of Israel far and wide” — a reference to recent visits to Turkey and Egypt by Conference members. He emphasized his commitment to the unity of the Jewish people saying, “All Jews must feel at home and welcome in Israel.”
Netanyahu identified two parallel contradictory trends worldwide. On the one hand, there was an ongoing multinational hostility toward Israel at the UN, ICC, and EU, together with what he termed an “obsession” with Israel in international forums. “We’ve had some efforts to change at least the EU,” he said. “But we know that in many of these multinational forums, Israel is singled out. I hope that one day we’ll receive a double standard because right now, we’re not enjoying a double standard; we are suffering a triple standard… There’s one standard for the dictatorships. They’re usually exempt. The other is for the democracies and there’s still a third standard for the democracy called Israel.
On the other hand, he said, countries like China, India, Russia and Japan were warming their ties to Israel because of their concern with militant Islam and the terrorism it produces and to benefit from Israeli operational experience and intelligence in fighting terror as well as Israeli technologies, such as cyber security, improved water management and desalination, agriculture and biotechnology. “We need these countries who are coming to us to change their votes in international forums,” he said.
“We shouldn’t be shy about it. We shouldn’t accept that there is this strange dichotomy and dissonance between the friendship and the alliances that are being built between Israel and the many countries, and the way they vote about Israel in international forums. I think that’s true of the EU; it’s true of the Organization for African Unity; it’s true in Latin America. And I think we should press this point home, because as interests shift, as Israel becomes such an important country internationally, it’s important that this will be reflected in international forums as well.”
Netanyahu’s remarks came the same day as Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said there were open channels between Israel and other Arab states, but the “sensitive” situation prevents him from shaking hands with Arab officials in public. He later publicly shook the hand of Saudi Prince Turki bin Faisal al-Saud.
Turki is the rare Saudi official who has met openly with a number of Israeli officials in the past.
Israel’s covert ties with Sunni Arab states are such that while they cannot display signs of cordiality in public, “we can meet in closed rooms,” said Ya’alon at the Munich Security Conference.
“But we do have channels to speak with our Sunni Arab neighboring countries. Not just Jordan and Egypt — Gulf states, North African states,” Ya’alon said. “For them, Iran is an enemy.”
Ya’alon, speaking in English, maintained that the Arab states are “frustrated and furious at the lack of Western support.”
Saudi Arabia and other Arab states maintain they will only normalize ties with the Jewish state once a peace deal is reached with the Palestinians via a two-state solution.
Israel has long said there are secret back-channel talks between Jerusalem and Sunni states, which share common concerns over Iranian hegemony in the region.
Netanyahu told the conference Sunday that increased ties with the Arab states could help pave the way toward an agreement with the Palestinians, an oft-repeated claim.
“I think that is very clear given the, what I regret to say is the disfunctionality that I often see in Palestinian politics, and I think that the encouragement of Arab states, leading Arab states, for a more realistic position on the part of the Palestinian Authority might contribute to a stabilizing situation and even advancing to a better future,” he said.
He also highlighted the paramount importance of Israel’s ties to the US. “I want to say emphatically that we have no illusions that America remains the best friend of the State of Israel. The United States and Israel are the greatest allies. And I deeply appreciate the support of President Obama, the Congress, the American people. We’re working together today on an MoU (Memorandum of Understanding on security aid),” he noted. “I hope that we can complete it soon, and we certainly will welcome Vice President Biden, who will come to visit us. I think it’s another reflection of this deep friendship between our countries.
“And I think the American people understand that in this turbulent Middle East and this turbulent world, America has no better friend than Israel and Israel has no better friend than the United States of America,” Netanyahu said.