As news breaks of Hadera attack, mood and attention quickly shift at Negev Summit

While euphoria over historic meeting quickly fades, scheduled talks will still take place to address urgent issues like Iranian threat

Lazar Berman

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (L) welcomes his Bahraini counterpart Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani at Sde Boker in southern Israel on March 27, 2022, ahead of the Negev Summit. (Jack Guez/AFP)
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (L) welcomes his Bahraini counterpart Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani at Sde Boker in southern Israel on March 27, 2022, ahead of the Negev Summit. (Jack Guez/AFP)

SDE BOKER — The afternoon started with a sense of giddiness.

One by one, the top diplomats from Israel’s Arab partners touched down at the Nevatim airbase southeast of Beersheba.

Israeli officials — including its newest diplomats, recently graduated from the Foreign Ministry Cadet’s Course — were on hand to greet the foreign ministers from Bahrain, the UAE, Morocco, and Egypt.

When the envoys arrived at the Kedma Isrotel in Sde Boker, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid was on hand to greet them with a handshake and an embrace.

The Foreign Ministry quickly sent around the photos of the smiling diplomats to the press.

At the impromptu briefings at the press section opposite the hotel entrance, Lapid’s spokespeople emphasized the “incredibly warm and positive conversations” he was having with his Arab counterparts.

Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita arrives at Nevatim Air Base in southern Israel for the Negev Summit on March 27, 2022. (Rafi Ben Hakoun/GPO)

They were slated to dine on slow-cooked lamb from Golan Heights and Jerusalem artichoke soup while they listened to Arab Israeli singer Valerie Hamaty perform “Hallelujah” in English, Arabic, and Hebrew.

All the good vibes came to a sudden end at 8:30 pm, when two Islamic State supporters from Umm al-Fahm opened fire on a main street in Hadera, killing two police officers and wounding several more Israelis.

The musical performance was canceled, and there was no reception in front of the cameras for US Secretary of State Antony Blinken when he arrived well after 10 pm.

The conversation among the journalists waiting in the cold desert night turned immediately away from the historic meeting to the attack.

The Negev Summit, which was designed to lead news programs in Israel for the next two days, fell to the third or fourth item on the hourly radio news updates.

Israeli security forces at the scene of a shooting attack in Hadera, March 27, 2022. (Flash90)

The attack cast a pall over the diplomatic meeting, but the items on the agenda are so pressing that the scheduled conversations were still taking place. Iran and its proxies have escalated the intensity and sophistication of their rocket attacks in recent weeks, while the US appears ready to remove the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps from its terror blacklist. In addition, the twin shocks of COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine have left Egypt and Morocco in dire economic straits.

The Abraham Accords nations and Egypt will together press Blinken to agree to measures to assuage America’s nervous allies in the Middle East. Any concessions made to Iran will have to be matched by regional security measures, and firm indications that the US will continue providing intelligence, weapons, training, and a credible deterrent to Iran and its proxies.

Even if Sunday’s shooting attack ultimately can’t keep the business of the Negev Summit from being addressed, albeit, without much of the pomp and circumstance, it does strike at a core Israeli takeaway from the Abraham Accords.

Israel’s regional standing might be better than ever, and Arab nations might be eager to partner with the Jewish state in a range of fields, but the two lethal terror attacks over the past week are reminders that it cannot wish the Palestinian issue away.

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