Israel opposition sees Saudi-Iran deal as Netanyahu failure
Restoration of diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran represents a failure of foreign policy by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his opponents charged on Friday.
They said he has neglected the country’s external relations to focus on domestic judicial reform, a project which has split the country and brought tens of thousands of protesters into the streets against what they see as a threat to democracy.
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It is “a total and dangerous foreign policy failure of the Israeli government,” opposition leader Yair Lapid said on Twitter, echoing the sentiments of other key opponents.
Three years ago, however, foreign policy was Netanyahu’s triumph.
He hailed “a new era” in relations between Israel and the Arab world – most of which views Israel as a pariah – when his country and the United Arab Emirates agreed to normalize ties.
Under the US-brokered Abraham Accords, a similar deal was reached with Bahrain, and later Morocco.
Since the start of that process Netanyahu never hid his ultimate aim: to bring the world’s major Sunni Muslim power, Saudi Arabia, into the accords as part of a regional alliance against Israel’s enemy Iran.
That has not happened.
Instead, Riyadh and its regional rival, Iran, on Friday said they had agreed to restore ties and reopen diplomatic missions in a surprise, Chinese-brokered announcement.
Contacted by AFP, Israel’s foreign ministry had no immediate comment.
But several Israeli opposition figures viewed the Riyadh-Tehran rapprochement as a failure for Netanyahu, the country’s longest-serving prime minister.
He returned to power in December in a coalition with ultra-Orthodox Jewish and extreme-right allies.
“It’s a collapse of the regional defense wall that we began to build against Iran,” Lapid continued.
“This is what happens when you are occupied all day by an insane legal project instead of handling Iran.”
Israel’s entire political elite sees an existential threat in Iran’s controversial nuclear program. Tehran denies seeking to acquire an atomic weapon.
Justice Minister Yariv Levin, named to Netanyahu’s new cabinet in December, announced measures which would give more weight to the government in the committee that selects judges, and would deny the Supreme Court the right to strike down any amendments to Israel’s quasi-constitution.
Netanyahu staged his comeback to head the government 18 months after his ouster following 12 continuous years in office.
During his record term as premier, Netanyahu was a strong opponent of easing pressure on Iran.
Former defense minister Benny Gantz accused Netanyahu and his cabinet of a “coup d’etat” while “the enormous security challenges confronted by the State of Israel increase.”
Rightist ex-prime minister Naftali Bennett meanwhile called the Iran-Saudi agreement “a political victory for Iran,” a fatal blow to efforts at building a regional coalition against it, and an “astounding failure of the Netanyahu government.”
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