SDE BOKER, Israel -- Top diplomats from four Arab states, Israel and the United States on Monday (March 28) concluded a landmark meeting in Israel in which they vowed to boost co-operation.
The talks brought together for the first time on Israeli soil the foreign ministers of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Morocco and Egypt for a two-day gathering UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan called "historic".
"What we are trying to achieve here is changing the narrative, creating a different future," Abdullah bin Zayed said, hailing the meeting as an opportunity to create a different future "for us and for our kids and grandkids".
"It's time to catch up, to build on a stronger relationship," he said.
"Just a few years ago, this gathering would have been impossible to imagine," said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who attended the meeting.
Blinken departed Monday evening for Morocco, where he is slated to meet with senior officials as well as with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed.
In Morocco, and during a subsequent visit to Algeria, he is expected to focus on the threat from the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) and al-Qaeda affiliates in the Sahel region.
Blinken also is slated to discuss wheat supply shortages stemming from Russia's assault on Ukraine.
New areas of co-operation
Leaders from Israel, Bahrain and the UAE signed normalisation agreements in September 2020, with Morocco and Israel later following suit.
Since then, Blinken said, "once-impossible things have become possible".
Among them: "Prime Minister [Naftali] Bennett becoming the first Israeli prime minister to visit Bahrain and the UAE; and last week, the leaders of the UAE, Israel and Egypt meeting to launch new areas of co-operation."
"We've seen growing economic ties, with Bahrain and Israel signing more than a dozen agreements, including on aviation, on banking, on technology," Blinken said, as well as tourism promotion and a solar energy deal between Israel and Morocco.
"At the heart of these interactions are people, people eager to learn about and from one another," he said, pointing to student and cultural exchanges.
"Hospitals in Bahrain and Israel are teaming up on cancer research," he said. And on Tuesday, "football players from your countries will play in the Abraham Accords festival and games at the Dubai Expo".
"The Abraham Accords are making the lives of people across your countries more peaceful, more prosperous, more vibrant, more integrated," he said.
On Monday, officials from the United States, UAE and Israel launched a Religious Co-existence Working Group to counter intolerance and promote understanding.
"And we'll help widen the circle of friendship to include other countries interested in securing greater peace and prosperity for their own people," Blinken added.
Finally, he said, "as friends, we will also work together to confront common security challenges and threats, including those from Iran and its proxies".
Iran high on agenda
Talks on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal were high on the agenda at the gathering. The efforts to revive the deal have raised concern among US-allied Arab states and Israel, which view Iran as a menace.
Bahrain foreign minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani said the meeting was an opportunity to build on the normalisation agreements, "growing the region's prosperity, safeguarding its security, and realising the aspirations of all its peoples".
"The need to do so is made more urgent by recent developments such as the Houthi terrorist militia's continued attacks on civilian energy infrastructure," the minister said.
He also noted the "ongoing threat from terrorist organisations such as Hizbullah and other proxy groups, and the need to resolve the Iranian nuclear file".
In the face of these threats, he added, "we need to put into practice the principles behind the accords, namely those of dialogue, co-operation and mutual respect".
"We need to establish genuine, sustainable co-existence and interdependence between participants, building genuine networks of co-operation and trust to advance our common security and prosperity," he said.
"By doing so, we will demonstrate to the whole region what can be achieved by working together and show how, collectively, we can overcome shared regional challenges and seize opportunities in a way that would not be possible individually," he added.