Could ISIS Threats Cause Israel To Partner With Arab Nations?
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Let's follow up on a statement by the prime minister of Israel. Benjamin Netanyahu said on this program yesterday that the Middle East is changing. And in one way at least, he says the change is good for Isreal. He says the threats from Iran and ISIS are driving Arab nations to see that their interests match up with Israel's interests.
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PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: These countries no longer view Israel as an enemy, but as a potential partner. I think the task right now in the Middle East as a whole and in the peace process itself is to harness this historic change.
INSKEEP: Historic change, he said. We're going to talk through Netanyahu's statement with Lina Khatib. She is director of the Carnegie Middle East Center. Welcome to the program.
LINA KHATIB: Thank you.
INSKEEP: So is it true that there are some Arab Nations that are beginning to see the world as Israel sees it or at least see the threats in the region as Israel sees them?
KHATIB: Actually, Arab nations are rather skeptical about Netanyahu's position that Israel can now be a potential partner vis-a-vis Iran. If anything, I think the Arab world is moving in a direction that's bringing Arab rivals of Iran closer to Tehran.
INSKEEP: What do you mean by that?
KHATIB: What we're seeing is that Arab nations and Iran all view ISIS as a threat, and this is an opportunity that they are beginning to look at as a way to bring Iran more in line with their strategic interests.
INSKEEP: Israel would like to be with those other Arab nations fighting ISIS in Iran, but you're saying what's actually happening is the other Arab nations are joining up with Iran against ISIS?
KHATIB: Benjamin Netanyahu's statement that the current situation presents an opportunity for partnering with Arab countries is mainly aimed at attempting to detach Arab countries from Iran. Really, to be honest with you, Netanyahu is so scared that Iran is going to, you know, have rapprochement with the Arab world and with the West, and Israel would be left behind. And that's why he made that statement, but he's still not seeing where the wind is blowing, basically, in the region.
INSKEEP: Let me ask about something else that Prime Minister Netanyahu said. The prime minister said that in the past, there's been a theory that if Israel were to resolve its conflict with Palestinians, that would pave the way for better relations with other Arab peoples. He suggested it should work the other way, that increasing friendship between Israel and the Arab world could lead Arab nations to help solve the Palestinian conflict.
KHATIB: I would say Arab states, especially today, after the Gaza crisis of the summer, are viewing Israel more skeptically when it comes to the peace process. Arab nations need to see that Israel is serious before they are willing to engage with it on any (unintelligible) level.
INSKEEP: Is there one way that the peace process actually is creating shared interests between Israel and the rest of the Arab world? - because of course the situation involves Hamas, an enemy of Israel and also a group that is not very well-liked in Egypt or Saudi Arabia or other places.
KHATIB: There is currently a move towards Palestinian national reconciliation that would bring Hamas more in line with the Palestinian Authority. And this is a positive move that many Arab states support because they see it as a way toward stability in the region. However, Israel seems to be nervous about Palestinian nationalistic reconciliation and this is something that is blocking the peace negotiations from going forward.
INSKEEP: Lina Khatib is the director of the Carnegie Middle East Center. Thanks very much.
KHATIB: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.