Bennett, Sisi and MBZ discuss Iran, joint defense strategy

PM Naftali Bennett, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohammed bin Zayed held a joint meeting in Sharm El-Sheikh.

 Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett pose for a photo in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. (photo credit: UAE Ministry of Presidential Affairs/Handout via REUTERS)
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett pose for a photo in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.
(photo credit: UAE Ministry of Presidential Affairs/Handout via REUTERS)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohammed bin Zayed held a joint meeting in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt to discuss cooperation on defense, energy and other issues on Tuesday.

The leaders discussed a joint defense strategy in dealing with the Iranian threat, both nuclear and attacks by its proxies in the Middle East.

The meeting took place as the nuclear deal between world powers and Iran was nearing completion, and Israel and the United Arab Emirates expressed dissatisfaction with American concessions to the Islamic Republic, most recently the possibility that the US may remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from its list of foreign terror organizations.

“The leaders discussed the ties between the three countries on the background of recent developments in the world and the region, and the ways to strengthen [the ties] at all levels,” the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office stated.

Sisi’s office, however, focused on economic matters in the first public statement from the meeting.

 Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohammed bin Zayed held a joint meeting in Sharm El-Sheikh (credit: PMO) Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohammed bin Zayed held a joint meeting in Sharm El-Sheikh (credit: PMO)

“The meeting dealt with discussions on the repercussions of global developments, especially with regard to energy, market stability, and food security, as well as exchanging visions and views on the latest developments of a number of international and regional issues,” Sisi’s spokesman wrote on Facebook.

The UAE released a similar statement to Egypt’s.

Sisi’s office also posted a photo of the three leaders, along with the flags of their countries.

The sides discussed the impact of the war against Ukraine on their countries, including rising wheat prices, and the changing energy market. Bennett told Sisi and MBZ about his efforts to mediate between Russia and Ukraine.

The leaders spoke of their countries’ advantages in the energy sector and how they can work together.

Syrian President Bashar Assad’s visit to the UAE this week also came up in the meeting.

Israel’s economic cooperation with both countries was on the agenda for the meeting.

Jerusalem and Abu Dhabi have been working on a free trade agreement, and Bennett and MBZ agreed to try to accelerate the process to complete it. To that end an Emirati delegation is expected to visit Israel in the coming weeks.

Israel also views economic ties with Egypt as having great potential. A new flight route between Tel Aviv and Sharm El-Sheikh is set to open next month, and Economy Minister Orna Barbivai is expected to visit Cairo to discuss increasing trade.

Bennett’s visit to Egypt was supposed to be secret, but once the press caught wind of it, Sisi’s office did not oppose placing an Israeli flag at the meeting for the photo-op.

Sisi also accompanied Bennett to his plane when he departed Sharm El-Sheikh on Tuesday, after spending the night in the Sinai resort town.

The UAE and Israel oppose the US move toward removing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from its Foreign Terrorist Organizations list.

Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid released a statement on Friday saying they “find it hard to believe that the IRGC’s designation... will be removed in exchange for a promise not to harm Americans.... We believe the [US] will not abandon its closest allies in exchange for empty promises from terrorists.”

Some in the UAE “are in great shock,” and they view the possibility of the IRGC’s designation being removed in the same way as Israel does, a source in Abu Dhabi said this week.

Bin Zayed and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman declined to take calls from US President Joe Biden to discuss energy issues stemming from US sanctions on Russia, because of their dismay with US policy in the Gulf, The Wall Street Journal reported. Prior to that, for the same reason, the UAE and Saudi Arabia did not sign on to a US-backed UN Security Council resolution last month condemning Russia for invading Ukraine.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been repeatedly targeted by the Iran-backed Yemeni Houthi rebels in recent months, and were disappointed with the US response, which they view as too restrained. They are also concerned that the Iran nuclear deal the US is involved in negotiating does not address their security needs.

The US removed the Houthis from its list of foreign terrorist organizations last year.

The US and Iran have been indirectly negotiating in Vienna to rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal for the past 11 months. The deal placed restrictions on Iran’s nuclear development in exchange for the gradual lifting of sanctions.

Most of those restrictions expire at the end of 2025. In addition, in recent years, Iran has far surpassed the deal’s 3.67% uranium enrichment limit, enriching to 60% – weapons-grade uranium is enriched to 90% – and has converted some of it to a format that is hard to dilute or transport.

In addition, critics of the Iran deal point out that lifting sanctions would allow money to flow to the IRGC and its proxies, while placing no limit on their malign behavior in the region or on Iran’s ballistic missile program.