‘Confronting Iran’ key to peace in Middle East, Pompeo tells Netanyahu

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meet at the conference on Peace and Security in the Middle east in Warsaw, on February 14, 2019.  (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Leaders meet at Warsaw conference, hailed by PM as a ‘historical turning point’ due to his participation alongside many senior Arab officials

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meet at the conference on Peace and Security in the Middle east in Warsaw, on February 14, 2019. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

WARSAW, Poland — “Confronting Iran” is an essential requirement for achieving peace in the Middle East, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday on the sidelines of an international conference dealing with the region.

“You can’t achieve peace and stability in the Middle East without confronting Iran, it’s just not possible,” he told reporters ahead of a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Islamic Republic is a malign influence in Lebanon, in Yemen, in Syria and in Iraq, the US top diplomat went on.

“The three H’s — the Houthis, Hamas and Hezbollah — these are real threats, and there are others as well. But you can’t get peace in the Middle East without pushing back against Iran,” he said.

Pompeo ignored reporters’ questions about the administration’s planned release of a proposal for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

Netanyahu used the photo op to call on Arab states to continue normalizing relations with Israel, hailing the opening event of the so-called “Ministerial to Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East” as a “historic turning point,” because he was in the same room as the foreign ministers of 10 Arab countries.

“Yesterday was a historic turning point. In a room of some 60 foreign ministers and representatives of dozen of governments, an Israeli prime minister and the foreign ministers of leading Arab countries stood together and spoke with unusual force, clarity and unity against the common threat of the Iranian regime,” Netanyahu said.

“I think this marks a change, an important understanding of what threatens our future, what we have to do to secure it, and the possibilities of cooperation that extend beyond security to every realm of life for the peoples of the Middle East.”

The summit appears to be the first time an Israeli leader and senior Arab officials attended an international gathering centered on the Middle East since the 1991 Madrid peace conference, which set the stage for the landmark Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians.

After the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates addressed the summit’s opening ceremony, held in Warsaw’s historic Royal Castle, Netanyahu spoke as well.

The speeches were not made available to the public.

US peace envoy Jason Greenblatt hailed the event, tweeting: “Clearly Iran’s aggression in the region has brought Israel & the Arab world closer together. We must continue this important conversation. Maybe next time Israel will be on the podium at the same time.”

At the opening session Thursday morning at Warsaw’s PGE Narodowy Stadium, Pompeo, too, noted the significance of the event the previous night.

“Arab and Israeli leaders were in the same region, sharing a meal” and discussing issues of common concern, he said.

The two-day conference, which was originally called with a focus on countering Iran but now carries the toned-down and vague goal of seeking stability in the Middle East, opened Wednesday with a dinner at the Royal Castle in Warsaw’s old town.

US Vice President Mike Pence addressed the guests: “Tonight I believe we are beginning a new era, with Prime Minister Netanyahu from the State of Israel, with leaders from Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, all breaking bread together, and later in this conference sharing honest perspectives on the challenges facing the area.”

Palestinians have been heavily critical of the conference, with officials describing it as an effort by the US to advance anti-Palestinian positions.

Netanyahu expressed sentiments similar to Pence’s when he met earlier in the day with Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah, telling him that the recent rapprochement between the two countries — including his October 2018 visit to Muscat — was “changing the world.”

“It’s paving the way for many others to do what you said — not to be stuck in the past but to seize the future,” he said.

Netanyahu said many Arab countries were following Oman’s lead in moving toward more open interaction with Israel, “including at this conference.”

Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz, US Vice President Mike Pence, Poland’s President Andrzej Duda, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pose for a family photo at the conference on Peace and Security in the Middle east in Warsaw, on February 13, 2019. (Janek SKARZYNSKI/AFP)

However, in a damper on Netanyahu’s efforts, an Israeli TV station broadcast an unprecedented interview Wednesday with a senior Saudi prince who accused the prime of being deceitful in claiming that Israeli ties with the wider Arab world can be warmed without the Palestinian issue being solved.

“Israeli public opinion should not be deceived into believing that the Palestinian issue is a dead issue,” Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud told Channel 13 news in a lengthy interview in London.

“From the Israeli point of view, Mr. Netanyahu would like us to have a relationship, and then we can fix the Palestinian issue. From the Saudi point of view, it’s the other way around,” said the former Saudi intelligence chief and ex-ambassador to the US and UK.