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Regional summit in Israel overshadowed by terror attack

What’s happening: Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid is hosting a historic summit in Sde Boker with four Arab foreign ministers and the US Secretary of State.

  • The summit that began yesterday evening and continues today was interrupted by news of another ISIS-inspired terror attack in Hadera last night.
  • Two Israeli Arab gunmen killed two Israeli border police combatants. Four more were injured, one is in serious condition.
  • Yesterday, before the summit began, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken held a series of meetings with the Israeli leadership, as well as travelling to Ramallah to meet Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Abbas.
  • In their meeting, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett reflected on the summit saying: “The Middle East is changing and it’s changing for the better. We’re cultivating old ties and building new bridges. We’re rejuvenating old peace and charging it with the new energy of the Abraham Accords. We’re working together to overcome the old forces of darkness and build a new future that is better, brighter and promising.”
  • Bennett continued: “We’re concerned about the intention to delist the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. Their proxy, the Houthis, just this weekend carried out a horrific attack on Saudi Arabia. I hope the United States will hear the concerned voices from the region, Israel’s and others, on this very important issue.”
  • Secretary of State Blinken told Bennett, “We appreciate all efforts by allies and partners to stop the catastrophic suffering that Russia’s aggression is causing for the people of Ukraine. And I have to say, we’re also grateful for the Israeli government’s efforts to provide humanitarian aid to Ukraine, including more than a hundred tons of food, medicine, generators and other vital supplies.”
  • Blinken also reiterated his support for the Abraham Accords and normalisation, noting the “recent trilateral summit with President El-Sisi and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, as well as President Herzog’s visit to Turkey … these are just the latest demonstrations of broader engagement that is made possible as normalisation becomes the new normal throughout the region. And again I applaud Israel’s leadership, its engagement, its diplomacy in building these agreements and making them real.”
  • Later in his meeting with Defence Minister Gantz, Secretary Blinken said: “Let me just applaud the work that you’ve been doing to make a meaningful difference in the lives of Palestinians, to give them greater opportunity, greater hope. We continue to believe ultimately that it needs to result in a two state solution but in the meantime the work that you’re doing with the Palestinian Authority creates practical improvements in their lives including the announcement today of 20 thousand work permits is vital and we hope it continues.”
  • The summit that began last night includes Lapid, Blinken and the foreign ministers of the UAE, Egypt, Morocco and Bahrain.
  • The goal of the summit is to bolster the Abraham Accords and provide a united front to the US amid shared concerns about Iran and the anticipated return to the nuclear agreement.

Context: Israel and her regional partners share similar concerns over the Iranian threat and their aggressive regional ambitions.

  • It was thought that the Arab leaders would not have attended a summit in Jerusalem, due to unresolved sensitivities. However, the location of Sde Boker is remote and secluded but holds significant symbolism for Zionism.  Sde Boker was the home of Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, with his gravesite also nearby. Ben-Gurion, synonymous with Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which includes the aspiration that “Israel aims for peaceful relations with other nations and extends a hand in peace to the countries of this region” – this summit connects to that vision.
  • This meeting follows another historic summit last week in Sharm el-Sheikh, where the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi hosted Prime Minister Bennett and UAE Crown Prince Mohammad bin Zayed.
  • Today’s summit will heavily focus on shared concerns over the impact of a renewed nuclear deal with Iran. They are concerned that the removal of US sanctions will bring billions of dollars to Iran, that will fund terror throughout the Middle East.
  • Furthermore, the prospect of Iran’s IRGC being removed from their designation as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation (FTO) has alarmed the participating countries. They are expected to show Blinken a united front on this issues.
  • Among the conversations, the summit is thought to explore the formation of a regional defence pact that would act against Iranian aerial threats (missiles and UAVs) and naval piracy.   
  • Although not attending the summit, the interests of Saudi Arabia (which does not yet have formal ties with Israel) and Jordan are also thought to share concerns.
  • In parallel to today’s summit, Jordan’s King Abdullah II will visit PA Chairman Abbas in Ramallah.  There had been hope / speculation that Defence Minister Gantz would join that meeting, aimed at maintaining calm during the upcoming Ramadan / Pesach / Easter period.

Looking ahead: The Arab foreign ministers could visit Ben-Gurion’s gravesite and pose for a symbolic photo-op.

  • Later today the six foreign ministers are expected to release a joint statement.
  • After the summit, Secretary of State Blinken and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed are due to travel to Morocco with Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita.
  • As a result of the terror attack yesterday the police are raising the level of alert to the highest level. The IDF has also raised state of alert.
  • IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi ordered four battalions to reinforce the troops along the seam-line and in the West Bank.

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