Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states have been sending overtures to Israel and US Jews in a campaign aimed at countering Iran's rising sway in the region and denting its nuclear program, USA Today reported Monday.
Saudi Arabia is keen on shoring up its influence in the Middle East by brokering a unity deal between rival Palestinian factions and defusing tensions between the Hizbullah-led opposition and the western-backed government in Lebanon. Preventing Iraq from sliding into an all-out civil war is also on the agenda.
Prince Turki meeting Jewish leader in Washington (Photo: www.col.org.il )
The most evident sign of rapprochement came in the form of the attendance of Saudi Arabia's outgoing ambassador to the US to a ceremony in Washington held by American Jewish organizations in honor of a State Department official appointed to fight anti-Semitism.
William Daroff of the United Jewish Communities told USA Today that Prince Turki al-Faisal's presence at the reception was "unprecedented."
The paper reported that Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates have made similar outreach gestures towards Israel and American Jews.
US blessingThe overtures have been blessed by the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who has said that six Gulf states, alongside Egypt, Jordan and Israel form a new moderate alignment to counter Iran and Syria, whom Washington accuses of supporting extremist groups like Hizbullah and Hamas.
Jamal Kashoggi, an aide to Prince Turki, told USA Today that the overtures were part of efforts to revive the long-stalled peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.
Judith Kipper, a Middle East expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, told USA Today, "What really concerns pro-US Arab states is that Iran is setting the political agenda in the region."
Clandestine contacts between Israel and Gulf states were reported decades ago but have never been so public.
Vice Premier Shimon Peres met with the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Tani after holding a televised debate with Qatari students in Doha.
In September last year it was reported that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with Saudi National Security Advisor Bandar bin Sultan in Jordan.
The United Arab Emirates recently invited a delegation from the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations.
Egypt, Jordan and Mauritania are the only three of the 21 Arab states to recognize Israel.