Israel to host historic summit with four Arab foreign ministers

The event,  known as the Negev Summit, will take place Sunday and Monday in Kibbutz Sde Boker, which was the home and is also the burial place of Israel's first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion.

 Foreign Minister Yair Lapid at the Knesset, March 6, 2022.  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid at the Knesset, March 6, 2022.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Israel will for the first time in its history host four Arab foreign ministers, in an event that highlights Israel's new role as a public diplomatic player in the Middle East and will include the participation of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The event,  known as the Negev Summit, will take place Sunday and Monday in Kibbutz Sde Boker, which was the home and is also the burial place of Israel's first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion.

This will be a "historic summit," Foreign Minister Yair Lapid tweeted on Saturday night. He will be joined at the summit by his counterparts, Blinken of the US, Sameh Shoukry of Egypt, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed of the United Arab Emirates, Abdullatif Al Zayani of Bahrain, and Nasser Bourita of Morocco. As of Saturday night, Jordan was not expected to attend.

The meeting comes after another historic parley, in which Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met with the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohammed bin Zayed and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. 

The meeting highlights Israel's strengthening normalized relations with its neighbors under the rubric of the Abraham Accords. The UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco formalized diplomatic ties with Israel in 2020. Egypt has had a peace deal with Israel since 1979, with Jordan following in 1994.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz reviews an honor guard in Rabat during his visit to Morocco last week. (credit: DEFENSE MINISTRY)Defense Minister Benny Gantz reviews an honor guard in Rabat during his visit to Morocco last week. (credit: DEFENSE MINISTRY)

The meeting of the Arab ministers is also seen as an important show of regional solidarity against the Iranian nuclear threat and regional aggression.

"The concept of new alliances comes from the fact that we need a long-standing stability regardless the current American administration is good to us or mediocre," a source in Abu Dhabi said.

On Saturday European Union foreign policy chief  Josep Borrell said Saturday that the US and five world powers were "very close" to an agreement on reviving their 2015 nuclear deal, which would curb Tehran's nuclear program in exchange for lifting tough sanctions.

Israel and its Arab neighbors fear the deal will increase rather than decrease the danger of a nuclear Iran.

Israel has, in the past, hosted diplomates from Abraham Accord countries, but never three at the same time. The meeting is also the most significant face-to-face meeting of the Abraham Accords that includes high-level representation from the Biden Administration.

Blinken did host a virtual meeting with representatives of the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco in September to mark the one-year anniversary of the accords, brokered in 2020 by former US President Donald Trump.

The meeting this week will build on the Sharm meeting as well as build on Israel’s movement to US CENTCOM. This is important because Israel has taken part in new military exercises in the region, such as IMX, which also included Arab states. Israel will soon take part in Iniohos 22, a military drill in Greece. 

The US, Italy, Cyprus and France will also take part. Reports say that Albania, Egypt, Austria, North Macedonia, United Kingdom, India, Canada, Croatia, Kuwait, Morocco and Saudi Arabia will send observers. This illustrates that Saudis may be observing the drills that Israelis take part in.  

In addition, there have been other recent important military drills, such as Blue Flag in Israel, Noble Dina, and Red Sea drills involving the US, Israel, Bahrain, and UAE back in November. 

The clear message is that the Abraham Accords countries are coming together, with US backing.

 The visit by the Moroccan delegation this week also comes after Israel announced that “the Head of the Strategic Planning and Cooperation Directorate Maj. Gen. Tal Kelman, the Head of the International Cooperation Division, Brig. Gen. Effie Defrin and the Head of the Intelligence Directorate’s Operations Division, completed the IDF’s first official visit to the Kingdom of Morocco on Thursday.” 

The IDF noted that “the visit took place in Rabat, Morocco’s capital city. The IDF officials met with the Inspector General of the Royal Moroccan Armed Forces, Lieutenant General Belkhir El-Farouk and senior members of Royal Moroccan Armed Forces General Staff, including the heads of the Moroccan Intelligence and Operations Directorates.” Israel’s Defense Minister was in Morocco last year. 

While in Israel Blinken will meet with Bennett and Defense Minister Benny Gantz. He will also travel to Ramallah for a conversation with Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas. Blinken will then travel to Morocco and Algeria before returning to Washington.

Lahav Harkov and Reuters contributed to this report.