Following op-ed by Ronald Lauder in Saudi paper, PMO says its ‘not confirming report, but we are always interested in upgrading ties with our Middle East partners.’
By LAHAV HARKOV
MARCH 1, 2021 18:07
Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain discussed expanding cooperation in facing its common enemies, an Israeli official with knowledge of the matter said on Monday.
The matter is being “informally discussed,” the source said, pointing out that the countries are American allies. All four view a nuclear Iran as a major threat, and have been eyeing the Biden administration’s plan to rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal with concern.
“There is much to be gained by expanding cooperation,” the source said.
The remarks came following an article by World Jewish Congress President Ron Lauder in Arab News calling for a “NATO of the Middle East.” Saudi Arabia does not have a free press, and Arab News is owned by Prince Turki bin Salman Al Saud, a son of King Salman and brother of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, and is seen as reflecting the Saudi government’s official views.
Lauder wrote that his contacts in Arab states viewed Israel as the only reliable ally against Iran, and vice-versa. He said they are “contemplating, aghast, the West’s inability to halt these belligerent, dangerous developments” of Iran resuming uranium enrichment and limiting International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors’ access to nuclear sites.
“Facing the accelerating threat of a malevolent Iran and the weakness of a coronavirus-hit world, the path toward self-reliance seems also to be the only path forward,” Lauder wrote. “Israelis and Arabs should seize the opportunity to work together to save the Middle East from the looming catastrophe of extremism and nuclearization.”
Last week, i24 News reported that Israel is in talks with the three Gulf states about a defense alliance.
The Prime Minister’s Office said it is “not confirming the report, but we are always interested in upgrading ties with our Middle East partners.”
One early indicator of a possible defense alliance is that Israel did not object to the US selling F-35 fighter jets to the UAE, after the countries normalized ties as part of the Abraham Accords last year. Under US law, Washington must make sure its weapons sales in the Middle East do not threaten Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region; following meetings between Defense Minister Benny Gantz and his US counterpart at the time, Jerusalem gave the green light to sell the planes to Abu Dhabi.
Israel still does not have official ties with Saudi Arabia. Israel grew closer with the three Gulf states with which it is discussing further security cooperation in the aftermath of the 2015 deal between world powers and Iran, which they felt does not prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon once the agreement expires.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and MBS, as the Saudi crown prince is known, secretly met in Neom, a planned futuristic-Saudi city on the Red Sea, in November of last year.
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi spoke with Omani Foreign Minister Badr Albusaidi on Monday.
“Views were exchanged on a number of issues of common interest, as well as the importance of supporting all efforts aimed at achieving peace and stability in the region,” Ashkenazi said. “We agreed to maintain our direct channel of communication and to further enhance cooperation.”
Israel does not have official diplomatic relations with Oman, but Netanyahu led a delegation to the country in 2018.