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Amid ‘discreet rapprochement,’ popular incitement hovers over Israeli-Arab ties

In Jerusalem, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin meets with group of sheikhs visiting from Jordan, May 17, 2017. Credit: Mark Neiman/GPO.
In Jerusalem, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin meets with group of sheikhs visiting from Jordan, May 17, 2017. Credit: Mark Neiman/GPO.

By Ariel Ben Solomon/

Israel does not deny that it maintains back-channel relations with leaders in several Arab countries, but the visceral hatred for Jews and/or Israel in the Arab street limits the development of these ties.

According to Zvi Mazel, Israel’s former ambassador to Egypt and now a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, “It’s hard to see that Saudi Arabia, whose rule is based on the Salafi Wahabi extremist Islamic school, will have open relations with Israel or that the incitement against Israel will cease.”

Despite the split within the Sunni-led states in the region, Israel still has an interest in maintaining open lines of communications with them, particularly because of the threat of Iranian expansionism, Mazel noted.

“The discreet rapprochement between Israel and the so-called moderate countries is a démarche of realpolitik, but it is unlikely it will lead to a real change in Israel-Arab relations,” he told

Popular antipathy toward Israel and Jews is rampant in Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other “moderate” Arab countries. In July, during a session of the Jordanian House of Representatives, Speaker Atef Tarawneh called the perpetrators of the July 14 Arab terror attack that killed two Israeli policemen near Jerusalem’s Temple Mount “martyrs, who have watered the pure soil of Palestine [with their blood],” and said they were “worthy of pride and glory,” before calling on the lawmakers to “pray for the souls of the martyrs,” according to a video published by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).

There is also swift pushback against those expressing openness to better ties with Israel. According to MEMRI, Sudanese Minister Mubarak Al-Mahdi Aug. 21 said normalization of relations with Israel is not a “big deal” and that Arabs have “peddled in the Palestinian cause ad nauseam.” Yet in a subsequent sermon, a Sudanese cleric responded by saying that “ever since [Jews] existed on the face of the Earth, they have been the head of the serpent…all things evil and all the tragedies on Earth are caused by their schemes, their deception and their wickedness.”

Yet while the incitement persists, Israeli leaders “keep repeating that Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries threatened by Iran have a vested interest to cooperate with Israel and already enjoy solid intelligence relations,” Mazel said. There are also insinuations that the quiet Israeli-Arab cooperation might lead to negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

“A security adviser of the Gulf Cooperation Council even said that they count on Israel because it’s bent on attacking Iran,” said Mazel.

The former diplomat explained that a so-called “anti-Iran coalition,” which included Egypt and was led by the U.S., had already existed since the time of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who served from 1981-2011. Yet former President Barack Obama dismantled the coalition by abandoning Mubarak and current Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, while angering Sunni-Arab states through signing the nuclear agreement with Iran.

“As result of these developments, Egypt turned to Russia and aligned its position on Syria with Moscow, even voting with Russia in the U.N. Security Council against a Western-backed resolution demanding an end to airstrikes on Aleppo, thus infuriating Saudi Arabia,” Mazel said.

Saudi-Egyptian ties recovered after Egypt recently joined Saudi Arabia in its actions against Islamist-supporting Qatar.

Mazel sees President Donald Trump as trying to revive the anti-Iran coalition, but said that so far, the American leader “has failed since Qatar has broken the solidarity of the Gulf countries and Egypt is still aligned with Russia.” He pointed out that Israeli embassies in Egypt and Jordan are now closed—at least temporarily—because of security problems that both countries find difficult to resolve, due to the lack of normalization and the continuation of popular incitement against Israel.

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