Geopolitics

Obama Lands In Israel: "Peace Must Come To The Holy Land"

YNET, TIMES OF ISRAEL, CHANNEL 2 TV (Israel)

Worldcrunch

JERUSALEM - Barack Obama landed in Israel on Wednesday for his first trip as U.S. president. He was greeted at Ben Gurion Airport by President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

According to the Times of Israel, President Peres welcomed Obama "with open arms," saying: "Thank you Mr. President, thank you America. Thank you for what you are. Thank you for what you do. Thank you for the hopes you carry with you."

Peres added: " A world without America’s leadership, without her moral voice, your moral voice, would be a darker world."

Netanyahu talked of Israel's desire "for a stable and a secure peace," adding, "I look forward to working with you."

Obama started his speech in Hebrew, saying "Tov lihyot ba’aretz" – It's good to be in Israel again. "The United States is proud to stand with you," he said.

The Times of Israel reports that Obama spoke of "the winds of change" and new opportunities in the region. He said the U.S. and Israel "stand together because we share a common story" – share the goals of freedom, the tradition of bringing in immigrants from every corner of the world.

The US President even noted how both countries are leaders in high-tech innovation.

“We stand together because peace must come to the holy land,” he concluded.

Twitter greeted Obama's arrival with the usual high and low:

Obama overheard telling Bibi: good to get away from Congress

— Chemi Shalev (@ChemiShalev) March 20, 2013

Airforce 1 lands in Israel #bbcobama twitter.com/BBCMarkMardell…

— Mark Mardell (@BBCMarkMardell) March 20, 2013

I really think they are all wearing the same tie. #obamainisrael twitter.com/sheeraf/status…

— Sheera Frenkel (@sheeraf) March 20, 2013

According to Ynet, 15,000 police – over half of Israel’s police force – will participate in efforts to secure President Obama, with more than 5,000 officers alone involved in protecting the presidential entourage.

Obama’s three-day visit will include a visit to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and Bethlehem, a visit to the Yad Vashem foundation and laying a wreath at former Prime Minister Ytzhak Rabin’s grave. The president has said he is not going to the region bearing “a grand peace plan.”

In an exclusive interview last week with Israel’s Channel 2 TV, Obama said: “What this trip allows me to do, I think, is once again have a chance to connect with the Israeli people.”

“My goal on this trip is to listen. I intend to meet with Bibi (Netanyahu) … I intend to meet with Fayyad and Abu Mazen (Abbas) and to hear from them what is their strategy, what is their vision, where do they think this should go?

He also said he will tell Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas that he must work with Israel, rather than "trying to unilaterally go to, for example, the United Nations, and do an end run around Israel, is not going to be successful."

"To Bibi (Netanyahu) I would suggest to him that he should have an interest in strengthening the moderate leadership inside the Palestinian Authority ...For example, making sure that issues like settlements are viewed through the lens of: Is this making it harder or easier for Palestinian moderates to sit down at the table," added Obama.

Watch the interview:

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Geopolitics

Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3

-Analysis-

LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.


Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

commons.wikimedia.org

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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