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The Negev Summit

(March 27-28, 2022)

A historic summit meeting was held between Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and his counterparts from Egypt, Morocco, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also joined it. The decision of the Arab leaders to participate in a summit called by Israel and held in Sde Boker demonstrated that the normalization of relations established by the Abraham Accords were more than symbolic.

Writing in Yediot Ahronot, Nahum Barnea highlighted the significance of the meeting:

Israel is not a mistress and not a guest; it has been upgraded to the position of open partner. Its acceptance is not contingent on America’s auspices. Just the opposite, the American secretary of state is Israel’s guest. Another positive aspect is Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s decision to send his foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry, to the meeting ... it’s true that there has been a peace agreement with Egypt for 43 years, but the normalization agreement with the Persian Gulf states has breathed new life into it.

Patrick Kingsley wrote in the New York Times, the summit “is one of the strongest signs yet that the country is beginning to reap the dividends of normalization deals reached two years ago, a profound realignment of Middle Eastern powers that has been accelerated by the war in Ukraine.”

Israel’s primary interest was in creating a united regional alliance against Iran and the Hebrew media framed it as “The summit against Iran.”

“What we are doing here is making history, building a new regional architecture based on progress, technology, religious tolerance, security and intelligence cooperation,” said Lapid. “This new architecture, the shared capabilities we are building, intimidates and deters our common enemies, first and foremost Iran and its proxies.”

Toward that end the Arab and Israeli participants agreed to develop a joint mechanism for detecting and intercepting missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles.

According to the Washington Institute’s David Makovsky, the Gulf “countries tend to see the region through foreign and domestic threats coming from Iran and the Houthis. They perceive Israel as seeing the region through a similar lens.”

The Gulf countries, however, which are closer in proximity to Iran and wary of angering Tehran, were reticent to publicly acknowledge being part of this “new regional architecture.” Anwar Gargash, an adviser to UAE President Khalifa bin Zayed, for example, said, “the UAE’s participation in the ‘Negev Summit’ stems from our belief in adopting a regional approach that deepens economic cooperation in the region and bridges gaps through a discourse of tolerance and communication.”

Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro explained, “If you asked each minister at the table, they might come with a different priority….For the UAE, it might be investment in clean energy; for Bahrain, it might be maritime security; for Morocco, it might be education and agriculture; for Egypt… [it might be] all of those.”

An Arab diplomat told the Times of Israel what was important was that the summit took place. The paper noted this was “a feat unimaginable” before the signing of the Abraham Accords.

Blinken said, “The United States has and will continue to strongly support a process that is transforming this region and beyond,” but his main purpose in attending appeared to be to try to reassure the participants America would assist them in fighting “Iran and its proxies.”

Though it was not a focus of the meeting Blinken and the Arab diplomats made obligatory statements calling for negotiations with the Palestinians to achieve a two-state solution.

The meeting was somewhat overshadowed by a terrorist attack in the Israeli city of Hadera, which resulted in the deaths of two police officers. The foreign ministers of Bahrain and Morocco condemned it.

The success of the summit was reflected by the announcement that the participants planned to hold additional meetings that will rotate between the countries.

Sources: Patrick Kingsley, “Israel Summit Shows Ties With Arabs Moving From Ceremony to Substance,” New York Times, (March 26, 2022).
Shira Hanau, “‘Negev Summit’ to become regular event for Israeli and Arab parties to the Abraham Accords,” JTA, (March 28, 2022)
David Makovsky, “A New Regional Role for Israel, as Washington Shows Signs of Stepping Back,” Washington Institute, (March 28, 2022).
“Morning Brief,” BICOM, (March 28, 2022).
Jacob Magid, “For Israel, the Negev Summit was all about Iran. For other participants, not so much,” Times of Israel, (March 29, 2022).
Yaniv Kubovich, “Israel Summit Spurs Closer Cooperation With Mideast Allies on Iranian Drones,” Haaretz, (March 29, 2022).

Photo: Screenshot of news conference, GPO.