Ya'alon: Israelis Secretly Meeting With Officials From Gulf States

Israeli defense minister's speech at Munich security conference turned into confrontation with Saudi intelligence chief, who responded: Handshakes with Israelis never helped Palestinians.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
Defense Minister Ya'alon speaks at the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, February 14, 2016.
Defense Minister Ya'alon speaks at the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, February 14, 2016.Credit: Reuters
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

A speech by Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon at the Munich Security Conference in Germany turned into a confrontation between the Israeli minister and former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal. After Ya'alon claimed that Israel was carrying out secret contacts with Arab countries in the Persian Gulf, the Saudi prince took him to task saying that handshakes with Israelis have never helped the Palestinians.

In the course of Ya'alon's speech, the defense minister noted channels of communication that Israelis have with neighboring Sunni Arab countries. "Not only Jordan and Egypt," he noted. "I speak about the Gulf states and North African states too. Unfortunately they are not here to listen. For them, Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood are the enemy. Iran is the bad guy for us and for the Sunni regimes. They are not shaking hands [with Israelis] in public, but we meet in closed rooms."

After the Israeli defense minister concluded his remarks, Saudi Prince Faisal raised his hand and asked for permission to speak. Handshakes with Israelis have not helped the Palestinians much, he said. Ya'alon was correct with regard to his comments regarding the animosity between the Sunni countries on one hand and Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood on the other, Faisal acknowledged, but the Saudi stressed that by the same measure the Sunni Arab countries are furious with Israel over the occupation and its treatment of the Palestinians. "Why should the Arabs feel friendship to you when you do that [to the Palestinians]?" he asked.

In this October 10, 2015 photo, Prince Turki al-Faisal talks to the audience during the opening day of the Beirut Institute Summit in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Credit: AP

Ya'alon rejected the Saudi prince's remarks, saying there was no connection between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and current problems elsewhere in the Middle East. "There is a conflict with the Palestinians – but what is the linkage between this and the Iranian revolution? ISIS [the Islamic State organization] has a connection to the conflict? The civil war in Syria or the uprising in Tunisia? The situation in Yemen or Iraq? There is no connection."

The Israeli defense minister said Israel is not ignoring the dispute with the Palestinians, but he accused Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of responsibility for the absence of progress on the diplomatic front. "Who closed the door to President Obama last year? The Palestinians said 'no' to the Kerry proposal," a reference to a diplomatic proposal by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. The Palestinians, Ya'alon said, are refusing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and prefer to speak about territory since that is an issue on which they would only receive and would not need to make concessions of any kind.

Despite the disagreement between the Saudi prince and Ya'alon, the two shook hands in front of cameras after the defense minister stepped down.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also addressed Israel's relations with Sunni Arab states in a speech to members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, currently visiting Jerusalem. "Most of the Sunni Arab states view Israel as an ally, not an enemy," Netanyahu said. The prime minister added that this phenomenon helps Israel forge new ties, some of them visible but most of them discreet, saying that he hopes and asks for change in this matter.

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