What brought Arab foreign ministers to Sde Boker is the understanding that Shiite terrorism led by Iran is many times more dangerous than Islamic State terrorism. At a moment when countries participating in the summit see how fervent the United States is to sign a nuclear agreement, Israel presents as the only force ready and able to stand up to the Iranian threat.
The murderous attack in Hadera, inspired by the Islamic State group, not only failed to overshadow the summit in the Negev, but in fact highlighted the connection among summit participants. If Israel has anything in common with the four Arab states that came here to attend a public event unlike any other, it’s opposition to Sunni Islamic extremism as embodied by the Islamic State group, and to Shiite extremism as embodied by the emissaries of Iran.
Condemnation of the attack in Hadera expressed by the foreign ministers of Egypt, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain did not merely pay lip service to condemning of the attack. Many hundreds of officers, soldiers and Egyptian citizens lost their lives in the wake of the attacks by the Sinai branch of the Islamic State group, a branch that operates in Jordan and other Arab states. The incident comes at a time when Shiite terrorism is working to overthrow the regime in Bahrain, and the Gulf states are proclaiming Hezbollah to be a terrorist organization.
The Islamic State group, which was defeated by a powerful international coalition, is retreating, but the ideology that drives it is not dead and is successfully organizing attacks around the world. Claims that the murders in Beersheba and Hadera are proof that dozens of Islamic State group sleeper cells in Israel are only now waking to action are apparently exaggerated. This involves several hundred individuals at most who do not have support from among the large Israeli Arab community.
The United States was indeed the driving force behind the Abraham Accords. However, the signatory states to the accords, whose representatives came to the Negev summit, now see Washington in a weakened state. After President Barack Obama, who showed restraint when Russia invaded Crimea, restraint with Russian entrenchment in Syria and restraint when Bashar Assad used chemical weapons against Syrian civilians, President Joe Biden appears to show too much enthusiasm for signing a bad agreement with Iran, one that will only increase the threat to Israel and the Gulf states.
Under these circumstances, the moderate states that came to Sde Boker — and Saudi Arabia, which did not attend but gave the summit its blessing — see in Israel, rightly or wrongly, the only force willing and able to stand up to the Iranian threat. The Saudis also expect Israel, given its relations with the Biden administration, to try to mediate, support and improve turbulent relations between Riyadh and Washington.
What’s more, the Negev summit undoubtedly signals a dramatic change in the map of Middle East interests and Israel’s integration into the region. Although it is true that no decisions were made at the summit, attendees said things that have not been said before. The UAE foreign minister expressed regret that his country failed to make peace with Israel 43 years ago immediately after Egypt did so, and the Moroccan foreign minister asserted that peace with Israel was not a temporary matter but a real turning point. During these difficult and tense moments and amid attacks inspired by the Islamic State group, these words alone are a good reason for optimism.
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