The Arab Gulf states consider Israel an ally against the Iranian threat, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Fox News last night.
In a 40 minute interview during which the prime minister spoke of Israel’s key political and economic challenges, when questioned as to whether Israel had seen warmer relations with countries in the Gulf, Netanyahu replied: “That’s definitely right.”
“I think there are two processes, one is they [the Gulf states] recognise that Israel is not a threat, but actually a vital ally in countering the Iranian threat,” he explained. “Over time they get to understand what Israel is about; its technology, its capacity to help them in civilian areas and they are interested in that too.”
“So as a result of these two forces – security on the one side and civilian technology on the other – there has been a dramatic change … between Israel and most of the Arab world.”
Netanyahu spoke at length of the threat posed by Iran, whom he said wanted to build an empire, starting with the current land corridor of sympathetic governments it has built to the Mediterranean via Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
“And you know who agrees with me on that, just about everyone in the Middle East, just about all the Arab governments, it’s a big change, so I think this is the number one challenge that we have,” he stressed.
When probed as to how the peace process to end the conflict with the Palestinians was progressing, Netanyahu said only that the final deal would take some time, adding: “Israel now gives a high priority to its new relations with the Arab countries.”
The prime minister’s comments come amid further revelations that Saudi Arabia and Israel have been coordinating on a range of regional issues, including Iran and the Palestinian cause. According to Israel Hayom newspaper, the two countries have exchanged letters related to the “Iranian threat” indicating their similar positions on the issue.
Saudi Arabia and the “moderate” Arab states which include Egypt, Jordan and the UAE are also reportedly interested in achieving the American proposed peace plan for Palestine, even without the agreed prior understandings as required by the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah.
Rumours of Saudi Arabia normalising relations with Israel were brought to the fore once again in November after Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz confessed that Tel Aviv had covert contacts with Riyadh amid common concerns over Iran.
Just days before, Saudi news agency Elaph, which is close to the decision-making circles in Riyadh, published an interview with the Israeli army chief of staff, Gadi Eisenkot; a step described by Israeli sources as a move to bring Saudi and Israeli relations into the public sphere.
The reports reignited the controversy in September when Twitter whistleblower Mujtahidd leaked reports stating the alleged desire of the Kingdom to accept Israel “as a brotherly state”.
The Saudi public have strongly rejected any attempts at normalising relations with Israel in the past, and such reports prompted concern among many.
Saudi officials have maintained that any relations with Israel hinge on Israeli withdrawal from Arab lands captured in the 1967 Middle East war, territory Palestinians seek for a future state.