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Amid Warming Trend, Incitement Hovers Over Israel’s Ties With Arab World

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Israeli President Reuven Rivlin meets with group of visiting Jordanian sheikhs in Jerusalem, May 17, 2017. Photo: Mark Neiman / GPO. – Israel admits that it maintains back-channel relations with leaders in several Arab countries. Unfortunately, the visceral hatred for Jews and/or Israel in the Arab street is limiting 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 anti-Israeli views in many of these countries, Israel still has an interest in maintaining open lines of communications with them, particularly because of the threat that Iranian expansionism poses, Mazel noted.

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

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Popular antipathy towards 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 at the Temple Mount “martyrs, who have watered the pure soil of Palestine [with their blood].” He said that they were “worthy of pride and glory,” before calling on the lawmakers to “pray for the souls of the martyrs,” according to a video circulated by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).

In many of these Arab states, there is also swift pushback against those who express an openness to better ties with Israel.

According to MEMRI, Sudanese Minister Mubarak Al-Mahdi said on August 21 that 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. … [A]ll things evil and all the tragedies on Earth are caused by their schemes, their deception and their wickedness.”

Still, 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 [claim that the two countries] already enjoy solid intelligence relations,” Mazel said.

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

The former diplomat explained that a so-called “anti-Iran coalition [in the Gulf],” which includes Egypt and is led by the US, had already existed since the time of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who served from 1981-2011. Yet Mazel claims that former US President Barack Obama dismantled the coalition by abandoning Mubarak during the Arab Spring, 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 UN 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.” Mazel also 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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