Israel should not be forced to pay a diplomatic price for security cooperation with moderate Sunni states in the region, former minister Gideon Sa’ar said Tuesday at an international conference on Strategic Challenges in the Eastern Mediterranean,organized by the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies and B’nai B’rith International, at Bar-Ilan University.
The statement was seen as critical of those who have called for a regional approach to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, opposition leader Isaac Herzog and Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid.
“The joint strategic goal of Israel and moderate Arab regimes must be to build a joint security effort that would create a wide regional front against Iran and Islamic terrorism,” Sa’ar said. “This front will cooperate with Western forces under the leadership of the United States. It would be a strategic change in direction that would answer the needs of the times and bring about strategic cooperation between Israel, moderate Arab states, the United States and Europe.”
Sa’ar said the effort would be based on overlapping interests on the security level and that the Arab regimes depend on such cooperation no less than Israel does.
Therefore, he said there was no reason for Israel to have to give up anything on the diplomatic front to persuade them to take part in the effort.
“Not only will adding a diplomatic political component not strengthen the security structure, in some ways it could harm it,” Sa’ar said “One way or another, Israel does not have to pay a price for this cooperation with fundamental concessions that harm our essential interests on the Israeli- Palestinian front. A diplomatic aspect can only exist if moderate Arab countries are interested in cooperating, in solving the conflict and not in placing the responsibility for solving it and putting all the pressure on Israel.”
He added that the establishment of a Palestinian state that would be “another non-functioning Islamist state, near Bar-Ilan and Tel Aviv,” would be a bad idea, whether it happened in a regional process or in direct talks.
Sa’ar went head to head at the event with the new Turkish ambassador to Israel, Kemal Okem. “Turkey is no longer a stabilizing force in the region,’’ he said. “It is not, today, a democracy.”
Sa’ar said there is a need to strengthen minorities in the Middle East, like the Kurds, in order to contain radical Islam in the region.
“Even if Mr. Erdogan won’t like this, I think it is important to support the Kurds,” he said.
A Panels Research poll broadcast Tuesday on the Knesset Channel found that Sa’ar was one of the top choices of the general public and right-wingers to replace Netanyahu if he is forced to step down due to criminal investigations.
Among self-proclaimed right-wingers, Sa’ar would tie with Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett with 21%, defeating the five other candidates: Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, Transportation and Intelligence Minister Israel Katz, Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi.
Among the general public, Sa’ar would win with 29%, much more than six other candidates.