Israel and Saudi Arabia close ranks against Iran
Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, Avigdor Lieberman and the Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir align against Iran, urge the international community to punish its aggression despite the two countries having no formal diplomatic relations; Turkey also joined the apparent united front, with the country’s foreign minister praising normalization with Israel.
Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and the Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir closed ranks, despite their respective countries having no official diplomatic relations, as they rebuffed statements made by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif calling on Sunni Muslim Gulf states to help reduce violence in the area.
Among the accusations levelled against Iran by Israel and Saudi Arabia, who were subsequently joined by Turkey, were its involvement in the Syrian civil war on behalf of the country’s President Bashar al-Assad, its development of ballistic missiles, its funding of Shi'ite rebels in Yemen and its efforts to undermine various regimes in the region.
Al-Jubeir called Tehran the main sponsor of global terrorism and a destabilising force in the Middle East.
He sidestepped a question about Israel's call for concerted action with Sunni Arab states amid growing speculation that the two countries could normalize relations and join forces to oppose Tehran, much as Turkey has done.
The six Arab members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), especially Saudi Arabia, accuse Iran of using sectarianism to interfere in Arab countries and build its own sphere of influence in the Middle East. Iran denies the accusations.
"Iran remains the single main sponsor of terrorism in the world," Adel al-Jubeir told delegates at the conference. "It's determined to upend the order in the Middle East ... (and) until and unless Iran changes its behaviour it would be very difficult to deal with a country like this."
The international community needed to set clear "red lines" to halt Iran's actions, he said, calling for banking, travel and trade restrictions aimed at changing Tehran's behaviour.
Lieberman said Iran's ultimate objective was to undermine Riyadh, and called for a dialogue with Sunni Arab countries to defeat "radical" elements in the region.
"The real division is not Jews, Muslims ... but moderate people versus radical people," Lieberman told delegates.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also criticized what he called an Iranian "sectarian policy" aimed at undermining Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
"Turkey is very much against any kind of division, religious or sectarian," he said. "It's good that we are now normalizing our relations with Israel."
Zarif opened Sunday's session with the call for dialogue to address "anxieties" in the region. This followed a visit by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to Oman and Kuwait last week to try to improve ties, his first visit to the Gulf states since taking power in 2013.
Asked if Iran's envisioned regional dialogue could include Israel, Zarif said Tehran was looking at a more "modest" approach. "I'm focusing on the Persian Gulf. We have enough problems in this region so we want to start a dialogue with countries we call brothers in Islam," he said.
Zarif dismissed any suggestions his country would ever seek to develop nuclear weapons. When asked about the new US administration's tough rhetoric on Iran's role in the region and calls to review the nuclear deal, he said Tehran did not respond well to threats or sanctions.
US Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said he and other senators were preparing legislation to further sanction Iran for violating UN Security Council resolutions with its missile development programme and other actions.
"It is now time for the Congress to take Iran on directly in terms of what they've done outside the nuclear program," he said.
Senator Christopher Murphy, a Democrat and member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Washington needed to decide whether to take a broader role in the regional conflict.