Saturday December 09, 2023

Netanyahu claims 'Israel on cusp of Saudi ties', hopes historic Arab-Israeli peace

Benjamin Netanyahu says alarm over Tehran's clerical leaders driving Israel closer to Arab world

By Web Desk
September 22, 2023
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli prime minister speaking at the United Nations General Assembly. — AFP
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli prime minister speaking at the United Nations General Assembly. — AFP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Friday that Israel was "on the cusp" of normalising relations with Saudi Arabia and the Palestinians shouldn't have a "veto" over this decision.

Netanyahu claimed in his speech to the General Assembly in New York that agreements to forge formal connections with three more Arab states in 2020 had already "heralded the dawn of a new age of peace."

"But I believe that we are at the cusp of an even more dramatic breakthrough — a historic peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia."

"Such a peace will go a long way to ending the Arab-Israeli conflict. It will encourage other Arab states to normalise their relations with Israel," he said.

The hawkish prime minister said that alarm over Tehran's clerical leaders was driving Israel closer to the Arab world, with his government on the "cusp" of a historic breakthrough with Saudi Arabia.

Netanyahu, who has repeatedly used the UN stage to issue dark warnings about Tehran, briefly gave pause at the General Assembly when he appeared to threaten a nuclear attack if Tehran pursues its own atomic bomb.

"Above all — above all — Iran must face a credible nuclear threat. As long as I´m prime minister of Israel, I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons," Netanyahu said.

His office soon afterwards said that Netanyahu had misspoken and that his prepared text said "credible military threat" instead of "credible nuclear threat."

"It was misread as credible nuclear threat. The prime minister stands by the original text of the speech," the prime minister´s office said.

Israel has a widely known but undeclared nuclear program. As of January, Israel was believed to possess a stockpile of around 90 nuclear warheads, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Tehran denies seeking a nuclear bomb but has breached limits on uranium enrichment set in a US-brokered 2015 deal following former US President Donald Trump's withdrawal from the agreement and reimposition of sweeping sanctions.

No 'veto' by Palestinians

Netanyahu also said in his speech that Israel and the Arab states were united by feeling a threat from the "tyrants of Tehran" — the Shiite clerics who have ruled Iran since 1979.

Israel, in the year 2020, established relations with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco, which were its first normalisations with the Arab world in decades after making peace with neighbouring Egypt and Jordan.

Saudi Arabia is seen as a particularly big prize as it is home to Islam´s two holiest cities, Mecca and Medina.

He firmly rejected the insistence of Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas, who in his own UN speech on Thursday said that there could be no peace in the Middle East without a Palestinian state.

"We must not give the Palestinians a veto over new peace treaties with Arab states," Netanyahu said.

"The Palestinians could greatly benefit from a broader peace. They should be part of that process. But they should not have a veto over the process."

The Biden administration has been leading talks between Israel and Saudi Arabia, whose crown prince and de facto ruler, Mohammed bin Salman, recently said that the two sides were getting closer.

Netanyahu, a close ally of Trump, went out of his way to praise the diplomacy by Biden, who has criticised the right-wing Israeli leader over a judicial overhaul seen by critics as undermining democracy.