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Israel and the Arab States

 
Filed under: Israel, Saudi Arabia, The Middle East

An Insider’s View of Israeli Diplomacy

Dore Gold at the Hudson Institute, November 27, 2018

Walter Russell Mead: You’ve been involved I think in some of the conversations between Israelis and Saudis. Can you shed some light for the group here on how that relationship has developed and what you’ve seen?

Dore Gold: I had a dialogue which I initiated back in 2015 with Saudi Major-General Anwar Eshki and we met repeatedly in Rome with his team and with my team and we found enormous common language. They were very curious about Iranian intervention that we had experienced and how it works with Hizbullah and what Hizbullah can do and what they were doing. For example there’s a concept of Iranian encirclement which we of course saw in our relations with some of our neighbors where the Iranians were deeply involved with Hizbullah in Lebanon and at the same time getting increasingly involved in the Gaza Strip, not just with Hamas but with the Islamic Jihad chiefly. And this kind of encirclement was what they were experiencing. They had the Iranians in Yemen they had Iranian efforts, encroachments in Bahrain and of course you had the Shia militia operating in Iraq. So we compared notes, how they do things and what can be expected. And you know, this gave us a great deal of common ground in terms of our concerns and how we might neutralize those concerns.

It is the fear of the hegemonialism coming from the non-Arab powers in the Middle East, and that gives us and the Arabs a certain common ground to speak about.

Israel in the last five years could have contacts with any Arab state. You could send a high-level person from our security establishment and he could talk to virtually any Arab leader. What was new and what really changes the situation in the region is the willingness to do that in public. That’s the new reality, and if our counterparts feel it’s necessary and it’s important, we obviously have no problem with the public posture of contacts, but as long as people don’t get the wrong idea. These contacts are not directed against anybody. If we can be of help, we will be of help, but we’re not seeking to create a Hebrew Empire, although I think our non-Arab neighbors do have broad ambitions that you have to keep your eye on.

Early on when I was director general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs I went to an Arab state and I brought my foreign ministry team, and when you have a dialogue of directors-general, your team has to prepare for you talking points – ABC what are you going to talk to these guys about. So there I was, I won’t say which state it was, and we sat together on opposite sides of the table in their capital and they said to me, “Dore, why don’t you go first, you read your talking points.” So I started going through ABCD, I had 13 points. And my Arab counterpart who was extremely articulate started smiling, and I though, what did I do, did a offend him? Did I say something wrong? Did I step on somebody’s toes? And I said, so what’s the story? And he says to me, well it turns out your talking points are identical to my talking points. In other words, we’re having a certain kind of strategic alignment where we start seeing things in a very similar way and that certainly can affect how countries look at us.