Four ministers from Arab countries are traveling to Israel for a historic meeting. With it, they are allying themselves not only against Iran, but also against the U.S.
It hardly gets more symbolic than this. In Sde Boker, deep in the Negev Desert, an illustrious group will meet on Sunday and Monday. Foreign ministers from four Arab nations — the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Egypt — have traveled to Israel to convene with the Israeli foreign minister, Yair Lapid, and their American patron saint, Antony Blinken. There has never been an event like it, and at least for romantics, it appears to fulfill a dream that the founder of the Israeli state, David Ben-Gurion, once had. As the 1948 Declaration of Independence declared, Israel will “extend our hand to all neighboring states and their peoples in an offer of peace.”
Sde Boker was once Ben-Gurion’s home in the desert. He lived here in the kibbutz and is buried here. And it is from here that the message should be broadcasted that Israel is no longer surrounded only by enemies. It is perfectly staged. It is by no means the only message that this Negev Summit is supposed to convey, however.
Of course, the goal of this last-minute reunion is to strengthen the Abraham Accords that were concluded in 2020, as well as to revive earlier peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan. But the intended strengthening is certainly directed not only within the group. Indeed, it is aimed above all outside the group — toward Iran.
Iran As a Common Threat
The threat of the Shiite regime in Tehran is what brings Israel and its Sunni Arab neighbors together in the Negev. Here, they want to strengthen their shared opposition to the new nuclear deal that the U.S. administration aims to conclude with Iran and put pressure on U.S. Secretary of State Blinken with an oppositional front that is as united as possible.
The revised version of the nuclear deal that Donald Trump ended in 2018 is not only suspicious in the eyes of these states. They also consider it to be an existential threat — because lifting sanctions after a deal is concluded would pour billions into Tehran’s coffers, and this money would definitely not be used only for charitable and civil purposes. With it, Iran would resume pursuit of its claim to regional power and, on top of that, arm its lackeys in Yemen or Lebanon.
Iranian drones and rockets threaten Abu Dhabi just as much as they do Tel Aviv. The other foreign ministers will thus not only want to receive updates from Washington’s emissary Blinken on the state of negotiations. They will also demand wide-ranging security guarantees. Despite all the symbolism, the meeting in Negev is not, after all, a peace conference; instead, it is something of a war council.
The Exclusion of Palestinians
Something else makes it clear that this is not about Middle Eastern peace deals — an empty chair. As was the case with the Abraham Accords, the Palestinians are being shut out from Sde Boker, too. They are not represented and are not on the meeting agenda. But the fact that they, and with them the Middle East’s core conflict, have not disappeared is apparent from another meting that is occurring in Ramallah, parallel to the Negev Summit. There, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is meeting with the Jordanian King Abdullah.
The Jordanians have taken it upon themselves to pull the Palestinians out of their increasing isolation, and Israel’s government would do well to not boycott their efforts. This is because there can only be peace in the Middle East when a settlement has been reached with the Palestinians. Only then can there also be a truly united and strong front against Iran — together with powerful Saudi Arabia, which is still making the normalizing of its relations with Israel contingent on an implementation of the two-state solution.