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US still wants Israel-Saudi normalization, top envoy says

Amos Hochstein: "Goal is still the same" • Iranian FM warns of "terrible" days ahead for Israel • France working on moving Hezbollah back from border • U.K. defense minister to visit Israel • Putin meets with UAE, Saudi leaders.

U.S. Envoy Amos Hochstein, Feb. 9, 2021. Credit: U.S. Embassy in Lebanon.
U.S. Envoy Amos Hochstein, Feb. 9, 2021. Credit: U.S. Embassy in Lebanon.

Washington still hopes Israel and Saudi Arabia will normalize relations, despite the ongoing war against Hamas in Gaza, a top Biden administration official said on Thursday.

“I think that not every road is a straight road and sometimes it goes in different directions first. But the goal is still the same,” U.S. energy envoy Amos Hochstein told Reuters on the sidelines of an industry event in the United Arab Emirates.

“And we remain as committed to that goal of regional integration, and it’s not just about Saudi Arabia and Israel, it has to be much broader than that,” he continued.

“I don’t think we are changing directions, I don’t think this conflict should do that. In fact, this conflict should be a doubling down on reminding us that if we don’t go towards regional integration, peace and security—this is the alternative.”

The Saudis froze the U.S.-backed normalization negotiations shortly after the Oct. 7 massacre of Israelis by Hamas terrorists and the ensuing war in Gaza.

However, Riyadh’s investment minister said last month that Saudi-Israel normalization “remains on the table” despite the war.

Khalid al-Falih, speaking at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum in Singapore, reiterated Riyadh’s stance that a diplomatic rapprochement with Jerusalem is “contingent on a pathway to a peaceful resolution of the Palestinian question.

“That was on the table—it remains on the table and obviously the setback over the last month has clarified why Saudi Arabia was so adamant that resolution of the Palestinian conflict has to be part of a broader normalization in the Middle East,” the minister said during a panel discussion.

Iran FM warns of ‘terrible’ days ahead for Israel

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian on Wednesday warned of “terrible days” ahead for Israel in its war with the Hamas terrorist organization in Gaza, Iranian state media reported.

The diplomat spoke during a phone call with Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani, according to the pro-regime Tasmin and Fars news agencies.

“Given the current trend, the upcoming days are going to be horrific for the invading Israeli army,” Amirabdollahian reportedly said.

In Moscow on Tuesday, the Iranian foreign minister dismissed plans to replace the Hamas terrorist group as the ruler in the Strip after the war.

“The U.S. and the Zionist regime are incapable of either eliminating Hamas and the resistance or making decisions instead of the people of Palestine and Gaza,” Amirabdollahian said.

France-Hezbollah meeting

The head of French intelligence held a secret meeting with senior Hezbollah officials during a visit to Lebanon and discussed the implementation of U.N. Security Resolution 1701 in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal from the border areas, the Lebanese channel Al Jadeed reported on Wednesday.

According to the report, a French political and security delegation is expected to visit Jerusalem in the coming days to “complete the French effort to stabilize the front in Lebanon.” The delegation is also expected to visit Beirut to promote the plans.

The Hezbollah-affiliated Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar also reported on Wednesday that Arab and other foreign officials delivered messages to Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati about the security situation at the Israeli border during the COP28 U.N. climate conference in Dubai.

Messages were conveyed that the situation changed after Oct. 7 and a new outline based on Resolution 1701 must be established.

European envoys reportedly proposed the creation of a buffer zone to move Hezbollah’s elite Radwan Force from the border with Israel northward towards the Litani River. Lebanon reportedly refused this proposal.

The Iranian-backed terrorist group has increased its attacks on Israel since the Hamas massacre of Oct. 7.

UK defense minister to visit Israel

British Defense Minister Grant Shapps will visit Jerusalem and Ramallah, his office said.

According to his office, Shapps will take the opportunity to press for the speeding up of humanitarian aid to Gaza and allowing its entry via the Mediterranean Sea.

Earlier this week, Shapps said that London is considering sending a Royal Navy ship to the shores of Gaza to deliver medical and humanitarian aid.

Putin meets with UAE, Saudi leaders

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in the UAE on Wednesday, where he met with Emirati President Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Putin was also expected to meet with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in Moscow on Thursday.

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