Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had an unusual run-in with a United Arab Republic ambassador, other representatives of Israel’s Arab neighbors, and the Bahrain ambassador.
He and his wife were savouring their Frittura Di Calamari Con Zucchine Croccanti at Cafe Milano, the very upscale Georgetown restaurant frequented by powerful Washingtonians, from Barack Obama to Trump Cabinet members when an unexpected request came his way.
By coincidence, the Emirati ambassador to the U.S. was there too doing a bit of business with a State Department heavy along with Bahrain’s ambassador, and a group of journos living it up on expenses, and pretending to get inside news.
One journo recognised Netanyahu and his wife, had a word with the ambassadors and the State Dept. heavy, spoke to the owner of the restaurant, who then addressed Netanyahu with the request that the party would appreciate the couple coming over for a minute or two to say hello.
Officially, their governments don’t speak. The United Arab Emirates doesn’t even formally recognize that Israel exists, they don’t show it on their maps.
Well, as it turned out, the Netanyahus finished off their Caffe E Mascarpone –
mascapone bavarian on coffee sponge with crunchy chocolate feuilletine, caramel sauce and armagnac sauce – and it wasn’t long before Netanyahu and his wife came over to say hello on their way out. They lingered, answering a few questions from the group about Iran and other issues. There were smiles, a few laughs about the oddity of the situation, and Netanyahu shook hands with the two ambassadors before leaving the restaurant.
Neither the Israelis nor the Emiratis publicly disclosed the encounter, but it was described to The Associated Press by six people who either attended the dinner or were briefed on it. The individuals who attended spoke on condition of anonymity because the dinner’s ground rules were that it be considered off the record.
The Israeli and Emirati embassies in Washington declined to comment.
In and of itself, the interaction does not signal any historic establishment of ties between Israel and the UAE or any other country. Yet it casts light on how friendly cooperation between the Jewish state and the Arab Gulf nations, until recently kept behind the scenes, are creeping into public view.
It’s become an open secret, even not a secret at all, demonstrated in public ways that are taboo-breaking and important in beginning a process of preparing the Arab public to share the Arab leadership’s view that Israel is a strategic partner.
What is driving the shift — until recently unimaginable in the Arab world — is a growing alignment between Israel and the Sunni Arab nations against Shiite Iran.
Saudi Arabia and its allies in the region, including the UAE, share a view that Iran now presents more of a threat to the region than Israel, whose thriving economy and prosperous tech sector have become attractive models for other Middle East nations to emulate – they have to look ahead to the time when everybody has oil and they are only one of many producers.
Obviously there’s a big problem in moving too fast. After all, Arab leaders have spent the past 70 years teaching their populations that Israel must not be allowed to exist, that Jews are horrible, that the Palestinians are victims and that it is a good idea to kill one or two Jews on the way to work.
Those leaders have common ground with the Israelis, but the Palestinian issue is a problem – who do you toss overboard? The Saudis are making fed-up noises but that is all so far.
Netanyahu frequently mentions growing, discreet cooperation with moderate Arab countries but doesn’t identify them by name, so we can’t either – well it’s the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
The Saudis, for instance, recently agreed to allow Indian flights to Israel to pass through Saudi airspace, cutting the trip by several hours. The Saudi crown prince, Mohammad Bin Salman, met with pro-Israel Jewish American leaders during his recent high-profile trip to the U.S., during which he was had a few words to say about the Palestinians.
And the Emirati Embassy in Washington is planning an interfaith Iftar — the meal eaten by Muslims to break the Ramadan fast — that will include a U.S. rabbi.
Two bob each way Qatar allows an ambassador to stay in Israel and to work with Israeli military officials while overseeing Qatari-funded construction projects in Gaza. They also hosted prominent Jewish-American leaders for a visit to Doha where they met with the emir.
Bahrain late last year sent an interfaith delegation including Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus and Jews to Israel, in what was perceived as testing the waters for what might happen if the nation were to recognize Israel.
Which seems to have worked becaus its foreign minister, Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, stunned Israelis and Arabs this past week when he tweeted support for Israel’s self-defense after Israel retaliated for an Iranian rocket barrage by attacking suspected Iranian targets in Syria,
“Any state in the region, including Israel, is entitled to defend itself by destroying the sources of danger,” he twittered.
Twittered? Like Trump?
All this since Trump was elected?
MM’s ambassador to Cafe Milano has been recalled and we are considering relocating her to the Al Orjouan restaurant in Riyadh as soon as we can get some male to cover the expenses and accompany her to the dinner table.