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Iran

Israel and Saudi Arabia meet at anti-Iran conference in Poland

Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu
Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu Gali Tibbon/Pool via REUTERS

Poland today and tomorrow hosts a two-day international meeting on the Middle East, bringing together sixty countries. The meeting was initiated by the US State Department and does not have clearly defined goals. But analysts from opposing sides agree: the meeting clearly shows splits within the European Union.

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The meeting is officially called “The Ministerial Effort to Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East,” and the US State Department lists “regional crises,” “missile development,” “cyber security,” as some of the talking points.

Despite the fact that the main topic is supposed to be “the Middle East,” one of the key countries in the region, Iran, is not welcome.

Most of Europe’s western governments, including those of France, Germany and the UK, have not sent high-level representatives.

“What the US is trying to achieve in that meeting is really to build a coalition against Iran with all the countries that feel threatened by Iran, first and foremost Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States” says Emmanuel Navon, an International Relations Professor at Tel Aviv University.

"Enfant terrible"

“But I think the purpose is also to use divisions within the EU on the Iranian issue and to point out that this actually draws the line for Brussels when it comes to Iran."

Emmanuel Navon says that the meeting, hosted by the EU’s “enfant terrible” – Poland – is intended to “send a message to Brussels, that not everybody within the EU is on board with the attempts by Federica Mogherini to help European companies bypass US sanctions,” referring to the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges, or INSTEX, a mechanism that was set up in January by Germany, France and the UK to allow European companies to continue trading with Iran in spite of US sanctions.

Observers in Tehran, too, think the meeting exposes the EU’s flaws. “The conference that’s being held is an attempt by the US to weaken Europe, to divide Europe,” says Mohammad Marandi, an America specialist at Tehran University.

Europe's weakness

“That’s why I think they encourage Poland to hold this conference. It is another sign of Europe’s weakness in the face of the US. So not only is Europe [ ... ] unable to make independent decisions, but also it is unable to prevent the US from using Europe as an anti-Iranian platform. That’s how Iranians see it,” he says.

The meeting has other layers.

The countries invited include, along with Israel and the US, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Tunisia.

“It is definitely unprecedented for a summit to be attended openly and officially by both sides,” says Navon.

“I think that it [will] show that the tacit, unofficial partnership between Israel and Saudi Arabia against Iran is becoming more and more official, more and more in the open.

“I cannot think that in the past a Saudi leader would have accepted to attend an international summit together with a Israeli Prime Minister, and I think this almost officialises this . . . an official partnership between Saudi Arabia and Israel,” he says.

Difficult position

But Marandi in Tehran thinks that if the rapprochement between Israel and the Saudis continues, it may come with a big price:

“This conference is more about sacrificing the Palestinian cause by bringing the Saudis and the Israelis together,” he says, “rather than a conference about Iran.

“[It is] putting the Palestinian people in a more difficult position.”

But Navon counters that a Saudi-Israeli alliance won’t solve the Palestinian problem immediately, but may help to inspire the Saudis to bring the Palestinians back to the negotiating table. From Israel’s perspective, the meeting could result in

  • closer ties between them and Riyad
  • a stronger anti-Iran alliance
  • a clear demonstration of Europe’s weakness, and
  • a stronger negotiating position vis-à-vis the Palestinians.

But the Palestinians declined an invitation to participate in the Warsaw conference. Given the lack of enthusiasm of most European countries for this meeting, it remains to be seen if any of these goals will be achieved.

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