Israel says close to forging new ties across Arab world

JERUSALEM Mon Apr 14, 2014 9:06am EDT

Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman speaks to the media before the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem December 16, 2012. REUTERS/Gali Tibbon/Pool

Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman speaks to the media before the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem December 16, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Gali Tibbon/Pool

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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel is holding secret talks with some Arab states that do not recognize it, looking to establish diplomatic ties based on a common fear of Iran, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Monday.

Amongst the countries he was in contact with were Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, Lieberman told newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth - the first such disclosure by a senior Israeli official.

The two nations swiftly denied the existence of any talks with Israel.

Both these states, along with most other Arab nations, have traditionally been highly hostile towards Israel, which has only signed peace deals with two neighbors - Egypt and Jordan.

However, anti-Israeli sentiment was being superseded by a growing concern over Iran's nuclear program, Tehran's regional allies, and the menace of Islamist militancy, Lieberman said.

"For the first time there is an understanding there that the real threat is not Israel, the Jews or Zionism. It is Iran, global jihad, (Lebanese Shi'ite guerrilla group) Hezbollah and al Qaeda," the foreign minister said.

"There are contacts, there are talks, but we are very close to the stage in which within a year or 18 months it will no longer be secret, it will be conducted openly," added Lieberman, who is a far rightist in the coalition government.

Lieberman said he was in touch with "moderate" Arabs - a term Israelis often use for Sunni states in the Gulf and elsewhere in the Middle East that align with U.S. interests. He also said he would have no problem visiting Saudi Arabia or Kuwait.

"I have spent more than a few years of meetings and talks with them. As far as they are concerned, there is only one red rag and that is Iran," he said.

A spokesman for Saudi Arabia's Foreign Ministry said: "There are no ties or talks with Israel at any level." In Kuwait, Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Khaled al-Jarallah said: "It is not true, we don't have these kind of talks."

FULL RELATIONS

Yedioth paraphrased Lieberman as saying some new Israeli-Arab peace accords would be signed in 2019.

"I'm certain that by then we will have a situation in which we have full diplomatic relations with most of the moderate Arab states. And you can count on my word," he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long hinted that Israel and the Gulf states share a similar goal in halting Iran's nuclear program, saying they all saw a mortal threat in its ambitious atomic drive.

Iran denies that it is planning to build nuclear weapons.

Senior Israeli officials have also said that like themselves, moderate Sunni states are worried that Washington was not taking a tough enough line with Tehran.

However, analysts have scoffed at the idea that ties between Israel and much of the Arab world could be normalized while the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remained unresolved.

U.S.-brokered peace talks between the two are floundering, with no indication that a resolution is anywhere in sight.

"To Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, the cost of open relations with Israel at this time may be higher than the benefit, given the position of the Arab street," Israeli think tank, the Institute for National Security Studies, said in a report in December.

Lieberman, who has worked hard in recent months to soften his hardline international image, suggested Arab nations were as eager as Israel to be open about their shared interests.

"I think that they too are stewing in their own juice and reaching an awareness that there will be no choice but to move from the secret stage of the dialogue between us to the open stage of the talks," he said.

(Additional reporting by Angus McDowall and Sylvia Westall; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Alison Williams)

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Comments (3)
jbsds wrote:
Looks like Israel has now been given the right to join the oil club with their and the Palestinian gas reserves. Strange how money and oil,grease the wheels of diplomatic relations. Too bad the Israel government isn’t about to give Palestine the same stature. What I have been reading of the gas deal with Gaza goes like this. 1/2 to the developers of the gas, 1/2 of the money will go into Israel’s pockets(just because) and then the Palestinians will get their 1/4 in goods and services from Israel. Seems Palestine just can’t handle real money. And people wonder why Israel and Palestine can never sign a peace deal. I guess it is a bit hard to sign an agreement while one is getting screwed at the same time.

Apr 14, 2014 10:41am EDT  --  Report as abuse
mils54 wrote:
Supprised that the Palistinians are not looking to improve their standing faster, They are right in the middle of ground zero!.

Apr 14, 2014 10:50am EDT  --  Report as abuse
VultureTX wrote:
@jbsds – ever read the corruption reports on “Palestine” on HAMAS in particular, no they can’t be trusted with money, they steal aid money from their own people. They tax on smuggled goods
and they don’t pay their fueld bills to Egypt or Israel in full. So yeah they get paid in goods and services like any other debtor group.

/btw if you own a gas field in the Americas, do you get 1/4 of the gross. nope you get maybe 3%, because the cost is in getting it out and to market, not sitting on top of a natural resource.
//Well I guess HAMAS could engineer a tuneel to the gas fields, it is in tunneling where they use most of the concrete in Gaza.

Apr 14, 2014 11:20am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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