Israeli, Iranian officials face to face in Munich conference

The Israeli delegation to the U.N. walked out when Iran's new president gave his address in September

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Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon did not walk out at a Munich Security Conference session when Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif took the stage on Sunday.

The gesture has made headlines in Israel, with some observers saying that the move or lack of it as a way to “send a clear message to the world,” that “Israel will not boycott Iran – unlike Iran, which choose to boycott Israel,” one Israeli official speaking on the condition of anonymity told the Hebrew-language Maariv newspaper.

The incident is a far cry when Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Ron Prosor, left the U.N. General Assembly when Iran's then-newly elected President Hassan Rowhani arrived to make his address in September.

“It seems to me that Israel made a public outreach to Iran,” Meir Javedanfar wrote on Sunday in The Iran-Israel Observer, a blog dedicated to relations between the two countries.

Meanwhile, the diplomatic correspondent for The Times of Israel, Raphael Ahren, wrote on the same day: “Even Israel’s top officials were being relatively nice to the Iranians.”

Ahren added: “Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and the other Israeli delegates who were still in Munich…remained in their seats when Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif took the stage at one session.”

The correspondent described some of happenings in the hall.

He recounted that one official from Iran’s foreign ministry was feeling “clearly uncomfortable with the presence of three Israelis.”

To no avail

“The other Israelis tried to strike up conversations with him soon after, to no avail. After about 15 minutes, the Iranian diplomat got up and fled, finding a seat at a different, presumably Zionist-free, table.”

But he also reported that another Iranian has approached him quickly as he was not authorized to talk to Israelis.

The correspondent said the Iranian told him “it made me happy to meet you. After all, we’re all human beings.”

“Then he quickly backed away, leaving no papers behind.”

On Sunday, Zarif made a major statement - defining his more moderate tone in comparison to his hardline predecessor Ahmadinejad - when he backtracked Tehran’s previous denial of the extermination of Jews during World War II as part of its efforts to normalize ties with the West.

Zarif said the killing of Jews by the Nazi regime was “tragically cruel and should not happen again."

“We have nothing against the Jews. We do not feel threatened by anyone,” Zarif added. But he noted that “the rights of the Palestinians have been violated by Israel for 60 years.”

In September, when the Israeli delegation walked out, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “When Iran’s leaders stop denying the Holocaust of the Jewish people, stop calling for the destruction of the Jewish state and recognize Israel’s right to exist, the Israeli delegation will attend their addresses at the General Assembly.”

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