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Israeli leaders trade accusations over Saudi-Iran rapprochement via China

Coalition and opposition leaders are trading accusations over which government is to blame over the relations-renewal deal between Tehran and Riyadh.
OREN BEN HAKOON/AFP via Getty Images

An unnamed senior Israeli political official blamed former Prime Ministers Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett Friday for the China-brokered deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran renewing diplomatic relations, following criticism from the opposition to the Benjamin Netanyahu government at missing opportunity to improve relations with Arab states.

The official told Israeli paper Ynet that it's perception of weakness by Saudi of the Lapid-Bennett governments, and of US  that drew Saudi closer to Iran via China. "The contacts between the countries started a year ago, during the term of the previous government, because there was a feeling of Israeli and American weakness. Weakness brings rapprochement with Iran, while strength pushes rapprochement away."

"It is important to form a strong position against Iran, both in the United States and in Europe. The Israeli policy of preventing Iran from arming itself does not depend on the support of any country," he added, attempting to defend the Netanyahu who has prioritized his own rapprochement with Saudi

According to the official, efforts will continue for an Israeli rapprochement with Riyadh. "The contacts are frequent and the basic picture did not change. The stronger the Western position against Iran is, the less significant their relations with Saudi Arabia will be."

Lapid's office rejected the accusation. It responded, "These are delusional statements. During the period of our government, an aviation agreement was signed with Saudi Arabia and the tripartite security agreement with Saudi Arabia and Egypt."

He went on to fault Netanyahu for undermining relations with Washington. "All of this came to a halt when the most extreme government in Israel’s history was established here, and it became clear to the Saudis that [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu was weak and the Americans stopped listening to him. Apparently, the Italian wine blurred Mr. Netanyahu's memory."

Earlier on Friday, Lapid warned, "The [Saudi-Iran] agreement is a complete and dangerous failure of the Israeli government's foreign policy." Attacking the coalition on its judicial overhaul plan, Lapid said, "This is what happens when you deal all day long with legal madness instead of doing what’s needs to be done vis-à-vis Iran and instead of strengthening relations with the United States."

Former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett echoed Lapid’s statement, saying, "The renewal of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran is a serious and dangerous development for Israel, a political victory for Iran and a fatal blow to the effort to build a regional coalition against Iran. It is a resounding failure of the Netanyahu government, stemming from a combination of diplomatic neglect with general weakness and internal conflict in the country. "

Bennett added, "The countries of the world and the region watch Israel and see a country in conflict, with a dysfunctional government. And so these countries choose a side. The Netanyahu government is a resounding economic, political and security failure. Every day, its actions endanger the State of Israel."

Senior opposition member Gideon Saar, who is also member of the Knesset’s foreign affairs and security committee, tweeted, "Netanyahu promised peace with the Saudis. But eventually [the Saudis] made peace with Iran."

Chair of the Knesset's foreign affairs and security committee Yuli Edelstein said that the agreement "is very bad for Israel and for the entire free world," adding, "The world does not stop while we are busy here with power struggles and clashes — certainly not our worst enemy."

The news of the agreement came as Netanyahu was in Rome for his meeting with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. Speaking with Italian businesspeople before the publication of the agreement, Netanyahu said, "I think the possibilities will grow beyond imagination if we are successful with another goal that I have, and that is to achieve normalization and peace with Saudi Arabia. One of my central goals is to achieve normalization with Saudi Arabia."

Netanyahu noted that the economic possibilities are obvious, such as a pipeline connecting Saudi Arabia and the Haifa port, and into Europe.

The Israeli press noted that Netanyahu’s optimistic words before the publication of the agreement clearly showed he was out of the loop and that the Saudi decision shows that Riyadh does not believe Israel has a viable possibility of striking the Iranian nuclear plans and destroying the Iranian nuclear program.

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