Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday that the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain will be responsible for any “consequences” resulting from their normalisation of relations with Tehran’s arch-foe Israel.
The remarks came a day after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the foreign ministers of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates signed agreements establishing full diplomatic ties at a ceremony at the White House.
Speaking at a cabinet meeting, Rouhani said Israel was “committing more crimes in Palestine every day”.
“Some of the region’s countries, their people are pious Muslims but their rulers neither understand religion nor (their) debt… to the nation of Palestine, to their brothers speaking their language,” he said in televised remarks.
“How could you reach out your hands to Israel? And then you want to give them bases in the region? All the severe consequences that would arise from this are on you.”
US President Donald Trump said similar Washington-brokered deals were close between Israel and several Arab countries, including Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia.
“After decades of division and conflict we mark the dawn of a new Middle East,” Trump said.
An aide to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday that some Gulf states had become “puppets” of the US and Israel in the “vain hope” of getting their support.
“They have pinned their hopes on nothing and built a house on water, and they will pay for this cowardly act,” foreign affairs adviser Ali Akbar Velayati was quoted as saying by Tasnim news agency.
The remarks were made during a meeting of the council of the “International Society for the Islamic Awakening”, Tasnim said.
Iran had previously warned Bahrain that its deal made it a partner to Israel’s “crimes” and accused the UAE of betraying the Muslim world.
In 2016, Bahrain cut diplomatic ties with Iran and the UAE downgraded relations amid rising tensions between Saudi Arabia and the Islamic republic.
Sunni-ruled Bahrain has faced long-running unrest among its large Shiite community that it has consistently blamed on Iran.
The National Bank of Dubai, the largest banking group in the emirate, signed a memorandum of understanding Monday with Israel’s Bank Hapoalim, on the eve of the UAE-Israel normalisation accord signing.
“It is a great honour to be the first bank to sign such an agreement that will contribute to the establishment of the relationship between the two countries,” Bank Hapoalim’s CEO, Dov Kotler, said in a statement issued by NBD.
It said the MoU was “part of a broader engagement between the UAE and Israel to further peace, dialogue and stability and establish cooperation to promote sustainable development”.
An Israeli business and banking delegation arrived in Dubai last Tuesday on the first such visit since the August 13 announcement of a normalisation of ties between the Jewish state and the United Arab Emirates, of which Dubai is a member.
On Tuesday in Washington, both the UAE and fellow Gulf state Bahrain are to sign normalisation accords with Israel.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Friday hailed the “historic” normalisation deal between Israel and Bahrain.
“I hail this important step aimed at consolidating stability and peace in the Middle East, which will achieve a just and permanent solution to the Palestinian cause,” Sisi said in a tweet.
Sisi also thanked “all those who helped achieve this historic step”. Egypt was the first Arab country to sign a peace deal with Israel in 1979, followed by Jordan in 1994, while the UAE announced it was normalising ties with the Jewish state on August 13.
US President Donald Trump announced Friday a peace deal between Israel and Bahrain, which becomes the second Arab country to settle with its former foe over the last month, reinforcing an ambitious White House push to redraw the conflicts of the Middle East.
Calling it a “truly historic day,” Trump said Israel and Bahrain were establishing full diplomatic and commercial relations.
“They will exchange embassies and ambassadors, begin direct flights between their countries and launch cooperation initiatives across a broad range of sectors, including health, business, technology, education, security and agriculture,” he told reporters in the White House.
Bahrain said in a joint statement it had agreed to formalize the deal with Israel at a ceremony next Tuesday in the White House, where the United Arab Emirates will also sign off on its own thaw with Israel announced in mid-August.
According to the statement, Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Trump talked earlier Friday before announcing the new breakthrough.
Bahrain said that during the phone call, the king “stressed the need to reach a just and comprehensive peace as a strategic option, in accordance with the two-state solution and relevant resolutions of international legitimacy.”
A senior official in Manama, the capital of Bahrain, said the deal would boost regional “security, stability, prosperity.”
Until now, Israel has been able to strike only two similar peace accords with Arab countries — Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994 — and Trump is hoping that the diplomatic successes will give him badly needed momentum going into the November 3 presidential election.
At the White House, Trump celebrated, calling the progress “very, very important for not only the Middle East, but for the world.”
He said it was “so interesting” that he was able to make the announcement on the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks against the United States.
“When I took office the Middle East was in a state of absolute chaos,” Trump said.
In Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the agreement.
“Citizens of Israel, I am moved to be able to tell you that this evening, we are reaching another peace agreement with another Arab country, Bahrain. This agreement adds to the historic peace with the United Arab Emirates,” Netanyahu said in a Hebrew-language statement.
In the UAE, Hend Al Otaiba, director of strategic communications at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, sent congratulations to Bahrain and Israel.
“Today marks another significant and historic achievement which will contribute enormously to the stability and prosperity of the region,” she said.
Trump redraws the lines
Trump said more Arab nations could also open their doors to Israel.
“I am very hopeful that there will be more to follow. I can tell you there’s tremendous enthusiasm on behalf of other countries to also join,” Trump said.
The Republican businessman has styled himself as the most pro-Israeli US president in history.
He has taken a string of decisions highly beneficial to Israel, from recognizing disputed Jerusalem as the country’s capital to tearing up an international accord meant to end Iran’s isolation in return for verified controls to prevent militarization of its nuclear industry.
At the same time, Trump has pushed to wind down the United States’ own military footprint after decades of bloody entanglements in Iraq and elsewhere. His earlier success in getting an Israel-UAE normalization prompted a right-wing Norwegian member of parliament to nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize.
The UAE’s announcement broke with years of Arab League policy on the Middle East conflict, prompting angry pushback from the Palestinians and Iran, who both termed the deal a betrayal.
The Palestinians, who see Arab support as crucial to their limited power in resisting Israeli occupation, quickly condemned the Israel-Bahrain deal as well.
The agreement was “a stab in the back of the Palestinian cause and the Palestinian people,” Ahmad Majdalani, social affairs minister in the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, told AFP.
Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, said it was an “aggression” that dealt “serious prejudice” to the Palestinian cause.
Trump, who has made crushing sanctions and diplomatic pressure on Israel’s arch foe Iran a priority of his administration, predicted however that there would be a “very positive” development in the standoff with Tehran.
“I can see a lot of good things happening with respect to the Palestinians,” he added, arguing that the Palestinians would end their conflict with Israel once enough Arab countries had taken the initiative.
“As more countries normalize relations with Israel, which will happen quite quickly we believe, the region will become more and more stable, secure and prosperous,” he said.
“In the meantime, we’re pulling our soldiers out, so we’re doing it the opposite way. They were doing it with nothing but fighting and blood all over the place,” Trump said. “The sand was loaded up with blood. And now we can see that a lot of that sand is going to be loaded up with peace.”
A US-Israeli delegation including White House advisor Jared Kushner took off Monday on a historic first direct commercial flight from Tel Aviv to Abu Dhabi to mark the normalisation of ties between the Jewish state and the UAE.
The word “peace” was written in Arabic, English and Hebrew on the cockpit of the plane of Israel’s national carrier El Al that took off around 11:20 am (0820 GMT) and was expected to land in the Emirates in the afternoon.
“While this is a historic flight, we hope that it will start an even more historic journey in the Middle East and beyond,” Kushner, who is President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and a key architect of his Middle East policy, said before boarding.
“The future does not have to be predetermined by the past. This is a very hopeful time.”
The flight number El Al 971 is a reference to the UAE’s international dialling code, and the return flight, set to leave Abu Dhabi on Tuesday morning, is El Al 972, matching Israel’s dialling code.
The Israel-UAE agreement to normalise ties was announced by Trump on August 13, making the UAE the first Gulf country and only the third Arab nation to establish relations with Israel.
Unlike Egypt, which made peace with its former battlefield enemy in 1979, and Jordan, which followed in 1994, the UAE has never fought a war with Israel.
The unprecedented flight also passed through Saudi airspace, according to data from the specialist website FlightRadar24, and marked the most concrete sign yet that Israel’s thaw with major Arab powers is taking hold.
Israeli National Security Advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat, who was also on the flight to the UAE, said “our goal is to achieve a joint working plan to advance relations in a very broad range of areas.
“This morning, the traditional blessing ‘go in peace’ receives special meaning for us,” he was quoted as saying in an English-language government statement.
– ‘Sparks fly’ –
The talks in Abu Dhabi aim to boost cooperation between the two regional economic powerhouses in areas including aviation, tourism, trade, health, energy and security.
An Israeli government statement said there would be “working meetings of joint teams on a range of issues ahead of the signing of cooperation agreements in the civil and economic spheres”.
The visit will also include a trilateral meeting between Kushner, Ben-Shabbat and UAE National Security Advisor Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed, it said.
Israel’s health ministry had late Sunday updated its list of “green countries” with low coronavirus infection rates to include the UAE and eight other countries.
The change meant the Israeli officials and journalists travelling to Abu Dhabi would be exempted from a 14-day quarantine upon return.
Since the agreement between the UAE and Israel was unveiled, there have been phone calls between their ministers, and on Saturday the Emirates in a new milestone repealed a 1972 law boycotting Israel.
“It will be permissible to enter, exchange or possess Israeli goods and products of all kinds in the UAE and trade in them,” read a decree issued by UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking alongside Kushner in Jerusalem on Sunday, praised “the swift pace of normalisation” between his country and the UAE.
Noting the UAE’s Saturday move, Netanyahu said it “opens the door” for “unbridled trade, tourism, investments, exchanges between the Middle East’s two most advanced economies”.
“You will see how the sparks fly on this. It’s already happening,” he said, predicting that “today’s breakthroughs will become tomorrow’s norms. “It will pave the way for other countries to normalise their ties with Israel.”
“There are many more unpublicised meetings with Arab and Muslim leaders to normalise relations with the state of Israel,” Netanyahu said without naming any countries.
As part of the normalisation agreement, Israel agreed to suspend its planned annexations in the occupied West Bank, although Netanyahu quickly insisted the plans remained on the table in the long run.
The Palestinians dubbed the UAE’s agreement with Israel a “stab in the back” as it opens parts of the Arab world to the Jewish state while their own conflict remains unresolved.
Saudi Arabia, in keeping with decades of policy by most Arab states, says it will not follow the UAE’s example until Israel has signed a peace deal with the Palestinians establishing an independent Palestinian state.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that Israel views with “great gravity” the latest flare-up on the Lebanese border and pledged a tough response in the event of further incidents.
“We shall react forcefully to any attack against us,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “I advise Hezbollah not to test Israel’s strength. Hezbollah is once again endangering Lebanon due to its aggression.”
Israel and Hezbollah fought a devastating month-long war in 2006.
Israel said earlier it had launched air strikes against Hezbollah observation posts in Lebanon after shots were fired from across the border towards its troops the previous evening.
The border flare-up came hours after Lebanon rejected an Israeli call to reform the UN peacekeeping force which patrols the border ahead of a UN Security Council vote to renew its mandate.
The Israeli army had said earlier that a “security incident” was unfolding near Manara, a kibbutz near the UN-demarcated border between the two countries, and urged residents to take shelter.
It reported no Israeli casualties.
Manara was quiet on Wednesday morning, an AFP journalist reported. The army told residents they could come into the open and resume work in the fields.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun, ally of Israel’s arch-foe Hezbollah, seemed to leave the door open to eventual peace with the Jewish state, in an interview with French news channel BFMTV.
Lebanon has technically been at war with neighbouring Israel for decades, with tensions sporadically flaring in the border area in Lebanon’s south, stronghold of the Shiite Muslim Hezbollah movement.
Asked in an interview on BFMTV on Saturday whether Lebanon would be prepared to make peace with Israel, Aoun responded: “That depends. We have problems with Israel, we have to resolve them first.”
His statement came in the wake of an announcement Thursday that Israel would normalise relations with the United Arab Emirates, only the third Arab state to establish full diplomatic ties with Israel since its creation in 1948.
“It’s an independent country,” Aoun said of the UAE.
Aoun’s Christian Free Patriotic Movement has for years been politically allied with Hezbollah, enabling them to dominate parliament and the government, which resigned on Monday amid outrage over negligence that led to the deadly explosion at Beirut’s port that devastated the capital.
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said on Friday of the Israel-UAE agreement that “it’s a betrayal of Jerusalem and the Palestinian people. It’s a knife in the back.”
A key point of contention between Lebanon and Israel concerns oil and gas resources in the eastern Mediterranean, where both countries have sought bids for exploration in their exclusive economic zones.
The maritime border between the countries is disputed.
Aoun’s interview was aired in the aftermath of the Beirut blast on August 4 that killed 177 people and wounded at least 6,500 more, with many blaming systemic corruption and negligence of the entrenched political class for the disaster.
Many Lebanese have demanded the ouster of the entire ruling class, dominated by ex-warlords from the country’s 1975-1990 civil war, including of Aoun.
Asked by the BFMTV journalist if he had thought of stepping down, Aoun said, “it’s impossible, there would be a vacuum”.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed “a new era” between Israel and the Arab world on Thursday following a historic US-brokered deal to normalise ties with the United Arab Emirates.
The pact first announced by President Donald Trump includes an agreement from Israel to “suspend” its plans to annex Jewish settlements and territory in the occupied West Bank.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas called an “urgent meeting” of his leadership team before announcing the Palestinian Authority’s reaction to the deal.
Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip, rejected the Israel-UAE pact as “a reward for the Israeli occupation and crimes” and said it “does not serve the Palestinian people”.
Speaking after Trump’s announcement, Netanyahu said he had agreed to delayed annexation plans, but that the project remained “on the table”.
“I will never give up our rights to our land,” the right-wing premier said.
Netanyahu told a televised news conference: “Today a new era began in the relations between Israel and the Arab world.”
Netanyahu, like many in the Jewish state, refers to the occupied West Bank as Judea and Samaria and claims the territory as part of the historic homeland of the Jewish people.
Israeli plans to annex roughly 30 percent of the West Bank, as outlined in a Trump Middle East peace proposal unveiled in January which triggered global outcry and threats of retaliation against the Jewish state, including from the European Union.
Israel’s alternate prime minister and Defence Minister, Benny Gantz, called the agreement “important and significant”.
“I call upon other Arab nations to advance diplomatic relations in additional peace agreements,” he said.
Once the deal is signed, the UAE will become the third Arab nation to have full diplomatic ties with Israel, following Israeli peace deals with Egypt and Jordan.
US President Donald Trump on Thursday made the surprise announcement of a peace agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.
The normalization of relations between the UAE and Israel is a “HUGE breakthrough” Trump tweeted, calling it a “Historic Peace Agreement between our two GREAT friends.”
Speaking to reporters later, Trump suggested more diplomatic breakthroughs between Israel and its Muslim neighbors in the region were expected.
“Things are happening that I can’t talk about,” he said.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described it as “a historic day and a significant step forward for peace in the Middle East.”
“The United States hopes that this brave step will be the first in a series of agreements that ends 72 years of hostilities in the region,” Pompeo said.
In a joint statement, Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan said they had spoken on Thursday “and agreed to the full normalization of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.”
Israeli and UAE delegations will meet in the coming weeks to sign bilateral agreements regarding investment, tourism, direct flights, security and the establishment of reciprocal embassies, they said.
“At the request of President Trump with the support of the United Arab Emirates, Israel will suspend declaring sovereignty over areas outlined in the President’s Vision for Peace and focus its efforts now on expanding ties with other countries in the Arab and Muslim world,” the statement said.
“The United States, Israel and the United Arab Emirates are confident that additional diplomatic breakthroughs with other nations are possible, and will work together to achieve this goal,” it added.
“We won’t leave until Bibi leaves.” Israel’s struggle to contain the coronavirus has stirred deep-seated resentment towards Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and protests demanding his resignation are growing by the week.
As the Shabbat rest-day was ending on Saturday evening, thousands of demonstrators headed towards Netanyahu’s Jerusalem residence, the main site for protests that have taken place in multiple cities.
Some demonstrators branded Netanyahu — who has been indicted with bribery, fraud and breach of trust — as corrupt, while others condemned a lack of coherence in the government’s response to the pandemic.
For Tamir Gay-Tsabary, who travels each day to the Jerusalem protests with his wife Tami from southern Israel, coronavirus was “a trigger” that brought renewed focus to Netanyahu’s leadership faults.
The pandemic made people “understand that he doesn’t care (about) Israel, he just cares for himself,” the 56-year-old sales manager told AFP.
Netanyahu won praise for his initial response to the virus.
His government’s quick decisions in March to curb travel and impose a lockdown brought the daily case-count to a trickle by early May.
But an economic re-opening that began in late April has led to an explosion in transmission in the country of about 9 million people, with daily COVID-19 tallies ranging between 1,000 and 2,000 cases in recent weeks.
Anti-government protests that initially included a few hundred people in Tel Aviv, now regularly count several thousand there and in Jerusalem.
Reflecting on the movement, Einav Schiff of the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper said it began in response to “a premature victory celebration for having defeated the coronavirus”.
That false victory “morphed into a healthcare and economic failure, which has left a severe crisis of confidence between the public and the government in its wake,” he said.
In response to rising cases, Netanyahu’s centre-right coalition has re-imposed economically painful restrictions, including targeting shops and markets.
It has also approved additional relief measures, notably cash deposits to all citizens.
Protester Amit Finkerstin said the government’s recent moves reveal it does not “have any plan,” making it impossible for people to prepare for the future.
The 27-year-old waitress, currently unemployed because of the pandemic, pointed to restaurant closures as evidence of the policy chaos.
On July 17, the government announced restaurants would mainly be limited to delivery and takeaway.
Four days later, parliament overturned that decision. Then the government passed a law allowing it to bypass parliament on coronavirus restrictions, casting further uncertainty over the sector.
“One day yes one day no,” Finkerstin said. “People can’t earn any money.”
The government’s plan to send at least 750 shekels ($220) to every citizen has been criticised by some economists as a knee-jerk response to mounting economic suffering in the place of smart, targeted aid.
Finkerstin accused the government of giving everyone cash “just to shut our mouth up.”
‘Something is happening’
Netanyahu has taken responsibility for re-opening the economy too soon but said he was seeking a tricky balance between protecting livelihoods and limiting viral transmission, a challenge faced by many leaders.
He has also acknowledged the financial pain felt by many in a country where unemployment currently exceeds 20 per cent, compared to 3.4 per cent in February, when Israel recorded its first COVID-19 case.
But, in a series of tweets, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister has also sought to undermine the protests as a product of the “anarchist left” and accused the media of exaggerating their size.
In a July 19 tweet that dismissed the protests as an “embarrassment and a disgrace,” Netanyahu highlighted the presence of a Palestinian flag at one rally, saying “the secret is out,” about the movement.
Despite those dismissals, Schiff insisted that “something is happening” in the protest movement known as “black flag”.
“We can all hear, see and mainly feel it,” he wrote on Sunday.
“It isn’t clear yet whether this is a full-fledged earthquake or whether it is merely a tremor that will ultimately pass, but it’s everywhere.”
Israel’s last major protest movement — 2011 demonstrations over the rising cost of living — fizzled without large-scale impact.
Iran on Monday executed a former translator convicted of spying for the US and Israel, including helping to locate a top Iranian general killed later by the Americans, the judiciary said.
The killing of Major General Qasem Soleimani in a US drone strike near Baghdad airport in January brought decades-old arch-enemies Iran and the United States to the brink of conflict.
The judiciary’s Mizan Online website said Mahmoud Mousavi Majd’s death “sentence was carried out on Monday morning over the charge of espionage so that the case of his betrayal to his country will be closed forever”.
Its spokesman said earlier this month that Majd had been sentenced to death for spying on “various security fields, especially the armed forces and the Quds Force and the whereabouts and movements of martyr General Qasem Soleimani”.
Majd had been found guilty of receiving large sums of money from both the US Central Intelligence Agency and Israel’s Mossad, said the spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili.
Soleimani headed the Quds Force, the foreign operations arm of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Iran retaliated for his death by firing a volley of ballistic missiles at US troops stationed in Iraq, but US President Donald Trump opted against responding militarily.
While the attack on the western Iraqi base of Ain Al-Asad left no US soldiers dead, dozens of them suffered brain trauma.
Majd was arrested some two years ago and was not directly involved in the killing of Soleimani in Baghdad, according to a statement the judiciary issued in June.
Majd had migrated to Syria in the 1970s with his family and worked as an English and Arabic language translator at a company, Mizan said.
When war broke out, he chose to stay in the country while his family left.
“His knowledge of Arabic and familiarity with Syria’s geography made him close to Iranian military advisers and he took responsibilities in groups stationed from Idlib to Latakia,” the site added.
Majd was not a member of the Revolutionary Guards “but infiltrated many sensitive areas under the cover of being a translator”.
He was found to have been paid “American dollars to reveal information on adviser convoys, military equipment and communication systems, commanders and their movements, important geographical areas, codes and passwords” until he came under scrutiny and his access was downgraded.
He was arrested in October 2018, Mizan said.
Iran said last week it had executed another man convicted of spying for the CIA by selling information about Iran’s missile programme.
Reza Asgari had worked at the defence ministry’s aerospace division for years but retired four years ago, after which he sold “information he had regarding our missiles” to the CIA in exchange for large sums of money.
Iran in February handed down a similar sentence for Amir Rahimpour, another man convicted of spying for the US and conspiring to sell information on Iran’s nuclear programme.
Tehran announced in December it had arrested eight people “linked to the CIA” and involved in nationwide street protests that erupted the previous month over a surprise petrol price hike.
It also said in July 2019 that it had dismantled a CIA spy ring, arrested 17 suspects between March 2018 and March 2019 and sentenced some of them to death.
Trump at the time dismissed the claim as “totally false”.
Israel launched a new reconnaissance satellite early Monday, the defence ministry said, its latest asset to be deployed against arch-enemy Iran.
“The Israel Ministry of Defence and Israel Aerospace Industries have successfully launched the ‘Ofek 16’ reconnaissance satellite” at 4:00 am local time (0100 GMT), the ministry said in a statement.
The “electro-optical reconnaissance satellite with advanced capabilities… will undergo a series of tests,” it added.
Minister of Defence and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz hailed the development.
“The successful launch of the ‘Ofek 16’ satellite overnight is yet another extraordinary achievement” for Israel’s defence sector, he said.
“Technological superiority and intelligence capabilities are essential to the security of the State of Israel… We will continue to strengthen and maintain Israel’s capabilities on every front, in every place.”
Neither statement gave further details on the satellite’s mission, but Israeli public radio said it would be used to monitor Iran’s nuclear activities.
Israel has long sworn to prevent its nemesis from obtaining atomic weapons.
The Islamic republic denies its nuclear programme has any military dimension.