Iran Troubled by Signs of Emerging Israeli-Arab Reconciliation

By Patrick Goodenough | February 23, 2017 | 4:28am EST
Iranian and other participants at the ‘6th International Conference in Support of the Palestinian Intifada’ in Tehran. President Hasan Rouhani told the event Wednesday that Israel was trying to transform its one-time Arab enemies into allies against Iran. (Photo: ABNA)

( – As Israel’s government senses emerging, historic opportunities for understandings with former Arab enemies, the regime in Iran – whose regional actions are seen as a key catalyst in that rapprochement – is deeply troubled by the prospect.

Iran’s “moderate” president tackled the issue head-on at a government-sponsored conference Wednesday celebrating the Palestinian uprisings against Israel.

Rouhani told the gathering that Israel, “in an attempt to normalize its situation, has for the first time referred to certain Arab countries as its allies against the resistance front, instead of describing them as its enemies.”

He said Israel “claims that most of the Arab countries are not the enemies of Zionism or opposed to occupation anymore, but that they share the same phobia about the resistance.”

(“The resistance” or “resistance front” is Iran’s term for an axis, led by Iran, that includes terrorist groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, and Syria’s Assad regime.)

Rouhani warned that the “Zionists” viewed conflicts in the region as a historical opportunity.

“They are trying to change their enemies within the pro-Palestine Arab and Islamic countries into their allies, by … turning them against the resistance and its main supporter, Iran.”

In the light of this “bitter reality,” Rouhani urged the Muslim world not to succumb to “the Zionist plot for establishment of normal relations with Arab countries,” but to come together to focus on “the main problem of the Islamic world” – the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Wednesday touched on the issue of warming ties with Arab states.

Speaking at a synagogue in Sydney, Australia, he described Israel as a “beacon of freedom” in the troubled region, and looked forward to the day when “many Arab countries realize Israel is not their enemy but their vital and indispensable ally in warding off the barbarism that threatens all of us.”

Netanyahu expressed the belief that there was “an opening,” for the first time in his lifetime, “because the Arabs understand that Israel could be a key to their future.”

Iranian policies in the region, along with the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) are widely seen as factors that are chipping away at decades of enmity towards Israel by a number of Arab states.

Iran’s support for its allies in the Syrian and Yemen civil wars has given rise to unprecedented levels of hostility from Sunni Arab nations, a development boosted by their concerns that the nuclear deal negotiated by the Obama administration and partners would enrich and embolden the regime in Tehran.

Last year, Sunni Gulf states secured condemnations of Iran and its Hezbollah ally from the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the Arab League, the pan-Arab parliament and from a majority of members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. The 57-member OIC bloc ended a summit in Istanbul last April with a declaration that “deplored Iran’s interference in the internal affairs of the states of the region … and its continued support for terrorism.”

A commentary in the Saudi daily Arab News Wednesday reflected that deep suspicion of Iran.

“This country, known as the biggest sponsor of terrorism, violates international norms and rules by storming embassies, and undermines other countries’ stability by sowing sectarian strife and harboring terrorist leaders,” wrote Saudi political analyst and international relations scholar Hamdan Al-Shehri.

“We have to act against it quickly, and look regionally for reliable allies that have experience in fighting terrorism and have suffered from it.”

As they unite against Iran, some Arabs are rethinking their approaches towards Israel.

Covert exchanges have reportedly been taking place for some time, but last summer a delegation of Saudi notables, led by a retired army general and former senior advisor to the Saudi government, paid an unprecedented visit to the Jewish state – a visit that could only have taken place with Riyadh’s consent.

In an op-ed in The Hill last October, Saudi American Public Relation Affairs Committee president Salman Al-Ansari raised the prospect of Israel and Saudi Arabia forminga collaborative alliance.”

“Any form of normalization between the two countries is also an Arabic and Muslim normalization towards Israel, which will undoubtedly promote security and weaken extremism in the region,” wrote al-Ansari, whose organization is purportedly independent but generally promotes official Saudi policies.

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