Credit…Pool photo by Jacquelyn Martin
SDE BOKER, Israel — At a groundbreaking summit in Israel on Monday, the top diplomats of Israel, the United States and four Arab countries discussed how to coordinate against Iran; the importance of Washington’s remaining engaged in the region; and the need to maintain calm over the next weeks, when a convergence of religious holidays could raise tensions between Israelis and Palestinians.
Several of the Arab participants also publicly pressed Israel on the need to create a sovereign Palestinian state, signaling that while they had normalized ties with Israel, they had not abandoned the Palestinian cause.
But if that created mild tension between Israel and its guests, they appeared united in their shared fears of Iran and its proxies at a news briefing at the summit’s conclusion.
“What we are doing here is making history — building a new regional architecture based on progress, technology, religious tolerance, security and intelligence cooperation,” said the Israeli foreign minister, Yair Lapid, who organized the conference.
“This new architecture and shared capabilities we are building,” Mr. Lapid added, “intimidates and deters our common enemies — first and foremost Iran and its proxies.”
The historic summit was the first Arab-Israeli diplomatic meeting on Israeli soil, and several of the attendees did not hide their enthusiasm.
“This is our first time” in Israel, said Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Emirati foreign minister, in his closing statement. “If we are curious sometimes, and we want to know things and learn, it’s because although Israel has been part of this region for a very long time, we’ve not known each other. So it’s time to catch up.”
In that spirit, the participants confirmed that they would try to meet in a different country every year — and that they hoped to welcome more countries to the gatherings in the future.
The summit brought together Mr. Lapid with the foreign ministers of Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates, along with the U.S. secretary of state, Antony J. Blinken. It reflected how Israel has cemented its partnerships with parts of the Arab world. Bahrain, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates all normalized diplomatic ties with Israel in 2020, while Egypt was the first Arab state to sign a peace treaty with Israel, in 1979.
A terrorist attack that killed two people on Sunday night in northern Israel, just as the ministers were gathering in the south, was a reminder of how Israel’s acceptance by some Arab states has done little to resolve its primary challenge: the conflict with Palestinians.
The summit took place in Sde Boker, a small desert town in southern Israel that was the final home of David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister.
Credit…Nasser Nasser/Associated Press
The meetings provided a forum to discuss disagreements and shared concerns about the war in Ukraine and gave Mr. Blinken a chance to encourage Washington’s Middle Eastern allies to align with efforts to isolate Russia.
Though the United States helped Israel broker the deals with Bahrain, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates, the summit was an indication that Israel could now itself act as a public conduit between Washington and some Arab countries.
By hosting, Israel brought together Mr. Blinken and his Emirati counterpart, Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, at a time of friction over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The United Arab Emirates has so far dodged U.S. demands to increase its oil production to help American allies find alternatives to Russian gas.
The foreign ministers met as American-backed efforts to secure a new nuclear deal with Iran reach a climax. The meeting gave participants the chance to express concerns to Mr. Blinken about aspects of the proposed deal that they deem too lenient.
It also gave the Emirates and Bahrain an opportunity to encourage a distracted Washington to play a more active role in the region — a demand that they consider particularly urgent after recent attacks on Emirati and Saudi infrastructure by an Iranian-backed militia in Yemen that is fighting Saudi-led forces.
Small groups of protesters, standing on a hill opposite the hotel where the summit was held on Monday morning, attempted to draw attention to the Palestinians. One group held both a Palestinian and an Israeli flag. Another held a banner that said: “Isn’t someone missing?”