Tunisia says to coordinate Arab response to U.S. move on Israel, Golan

Flags are pictured before a preparatory meeting between Arab foreign ministers ahead of the Arab summit in Tunis, Tunisia March 29, 2019. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi

TUNIS (Reuters) – Tunisia will coordinate with fellow Arab countries to contain any fall-out from the U.S. decision to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, Foreign Minister Khemaies Jhinaoui said on Friday.

He was speaking to a meeting of Arab foreign ministers on the eve of the annual Arab League summit, hosted this year by Tunisia and likely to focus on Washington’s Golan decision and its earlier move to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“We will work with fellow Arab countries and the international community to contain the expected repercussions of this decision in the various regional and international forums,” Jhinaoui told the meeting in Tunis.

He did not elaborate, but Arab countries want Washington to retract its decision and stop other countries following suit.

Arab states, which consider the Golan Heights captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war as occupied Syrian land, have condemned last week’s decision by U.S. President Donald Trump to recognize the plateau as Israeli territory.

Trump also angered Arabs by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv last year.

But a person familiar with the matter said Washington’s Golan and Jerusalem decisions did not appear to have blocked behind-the-scenes security contacts developed in recent years between Israel and the United States’ Gulf Arab allies over their common enemy, Iran.

Tunisia currently holds the rotating presidency of the Arab League and is vying for one of the rotating non-permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council.

Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria and Arab East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed both in moves not recognized internationally.

SAUDI SEES IRANIAN THREAT

Saudi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf told the gathering that Saudi Arabia considered the Palestinians’ quest for statehood in Israeli-occupied territory – peace talks have been stalled for five years – to be the central cause for all Arabs.

But Assaf singled out what he described as the Iranian threat as the main challenge facing Arabs, calling for action to confront Tehran.

“One of the most dangerous forms of terrorism and extremism is what Iran practices through its blatant interference in Arab affairs, and its militias…the Revolutionary Guards in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen, which requires cooperation from us to confront it,” he said.

Iran has denied posing any such threats.

Assaf said Arabs needed to work to stop Iran’s ballistic missile programme, saying the Islamic Republic was supplying Yemen’s Houthi movement with rockets to attack Saudi cities.

Saudi Arabia is leading a Sunni Muslim coalition that intervened in 2015 in Yemen’s war against the Houthis to restore the internationally recognized government ousted from power.

Assaf also voiced Saudi support for Syria’s territorial integrity and a political solution to its war based on dialogue between the opposition and government but said a unified Syrian opposition should emerge before the start of any dialogue.

Syria’s membership of the Arab League had been suspended since the country descended into violence in 2011 after Arab Spring protests.

President Bashar al-Assad’s government, backed by Russia and Iran, has regained control over most of the country after years of fighting that has killed hundreds of thousands of people.

Five sources told Reuters last month that the United States has been lobbying Gulf states to hold off restoring ties with Syria, including the UAE which has moved closer to Damascus to counter the influence of its rival Iran.

(Reporting by Maher Chamytelli in Dubai and Omar Fahmy in Cairo; Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Netanyahu meets Omani foreign minister , hints other Arab states warming to Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem February 10, 2019. Gali Tibbon/Pool via REUTERS

WARSAW (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Oman’s foreign minister on the sidelines of a U.S.-sponsored Middle East conference in Warsaw on Wednesday and hinted that other Arab countries represented there were engaging with Israel.

“Many are following this (Omani) lead, and may I say, including at this conference,” a video released by Netanyahu’s office showed him telling Yousuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah, whose Gulf state hosted the Israeli leader in October.

Oman does not formally recognize Israel. Nor do Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, which share Israel’s concerns about Iranian actions in the region and also sent envoys to Warsaw.

Speaking to Netanyahu, bin Alawi said: “People in the Middle East have suffered a lot because they have stuck to the past. Now we say, this is a new era, for the future.”

The United States hopes the Warsaw gathering will ratchet up pressure against Iran despite concerns among major European countries about heightened tensions with Tehran.

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller, Alison Williams, William Maclean)