JERUSALEM – When he attends a summit on Sunday aimed at unity in the Middle East, Foreign Minister Antony J. Blinken will ask some of the region’s top diplomats to join forces with another goal: Ukraine to help Russia’s ward off invasion.
The hastily arranged summit in the Negev desert has been heralded as a historic event designed to demonstrate the growing diplomatic and economic ties between some Arab states and Israel, which Mr Blinken called “unthinkable only a few years ago.” But his main thought was the modest support for Ukraine from countries in the region that also have ties to Russia.
“This is an important part of the conversation we had today, and I will have it during my visit here, including with our partners,” said Mr. Shine in Jerusalem on Sunday during a press conference with Israeli foreign countries. minister, Yair Lapid.
“We will be talking all the time about the different forms of support that Israel and other countries can give to Ukraine,” he said. “That will be a conversation that’s going on during this trip.”
Mr Blinken praised Israel’s humanitarian aid to Ukraine, including by helping refugees and sending a field hospital to the conflict area. Mr Blinken also pointed to Israel’s role in trying to negotiate with Russia’s President Vladimir V. Putin – one of the few countries that can still do so – to end the crisis, even though it has it condemned the invasion.
But so far Israel has not sent weapons to Ukraine, nor has it joined a broad coalition of countries around the world, including the seven largest industrialized countries, by imposing harsh economic sanctions designed to isolate Russia and hinder the position of war.
Israel buys about $1 billion worth of Russian coal, wheat, diamonds and other goods annually, and sent about $718 million worth of agricultural products to Russia in 2020, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Observatory of Economic Opportunity. Israel is also coordinating with Russia to avoid getting into direct but unintentional military conflict in neighboring Syria, where Iranian soldiers or their proxy fighters try to threaten the Jewish state.
Mr Lapid called US-Israel relations “unbreakable” but noted disagreements over the Biden administration’s attempts to return to a nuclear deal with Iran and open a diplomatic consulate for Palestinians in Jerusalem. While Israel has not imposed sanctions on Russia, it is working to prevent Moscow from evading economic sanctions, Mr Blinken said.
Mr Lapid said: “I think there is no doubt, as our team presented this to the US delegation, that Israel is doing everything it can to be part of the effort.”
In trying to maintain relations with Russia against the backdrop of war, Israel is not alone in the Middle East.
Russia exports even more goods to Morocco than to Israel, worth about $1.35 billion worth of coal, petroleum and chemicals in 2020. Morocco, which will attend the summit on Sunday and Monday honoring the so-called Abraham Agreements with Israel, has tried to remain impartial since the invasion and insists it wants to help mediate the crisis by continuing to communicate openly with both Russia and Ukraine.
Morocco also wants to prevent Russia from directly arming the Polisario Front, the pro-independence group in Western Sahara.
“Morocco’s relations with Russia are very old and go back several centuries,” Ahmed Faouzi, formerly a high-ranking Moroccan diplomat, said in an interview. He also noted “good relations” with Ukraine and defended Morocco’s neutrality in the war as “positive”.
“The idea is not to aggravate the situation,” Mr Faouzi said. “It is necessary that other countries find common ground. A full-fledged war benefits no one.”
Mr Blinken will travel to Morocco later this week, his first visit there as State Secretary. While there, he is also expected to meet with United Arab Emirates Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, who late last month refused to denounce the Russian invasion by abstaining from a US-backed Security Council resolution. of the United Nations.
War between Russia and Ukraine: important developments
Biden’s journey comes to an end. President Biden offered a message of unity and support to Ukraine during a speech in Warsaw as he completed a three-day trip to Europe. The speech came amid reports that the Ukrainian city of Lviv had been hit by rockets just over the Polish border.
The Persian Gulf nation has also sidestepped US requests to increase oil production for European markets that relied on Russian energy. The Emirates buys military weapons from Moscow and has sheltered Russian oligarchs and others closely associated with Mr Putin, who have moved to Dubai to escape the bite of international sanctions.
The disconnect with Russia is the latest sign of shaky relations between Washington and the Emirates, which began to cool when President Biden made it clear that the Middle East would not be a top foreign policy priority for his administration. It has instead sought to focus on the United States’ complex relations with China and, more recently, deterring Russia.
This month, the Emirati ambassador in Washington described a “stress test” underway between the UAE and the United States, triggered in part by the Biden administration’s renegotiations over a nuclear deal with Iran and a dispute over an arms sale. of $23 billion that would have led to advanced US fighter jets sent to the UAE. The ambassador, Yousef al-Otaiba, described “strong days when the relationship is very healthy and days when the relationship is questionable”.
Bahrain, one of the original signatories to the Abraham Accords, has also attempted to traverse a border between Russia and Ukraine. The energy-rich kingdom voted in favor of the Security Council resolution denouncing the invasion. But it also continues to talk with Russia in hopes of finding a way out of the war, including in a telephone conversation between Mr Putin and King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa two weeks ago.
An analysis published this month by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy found that the Russian invasion could have wide-ranging economic consequences for the region, from demands to export more oil and gas to Europe to possible shortages of wheat and other products from Ukraine. It concluded that much of the Middle East “could find itself in the middle as the conflict in Ukraine unfolds”.
“Further precipitation could increase instability in the region and beyond,” the analysis concluded. “Amid widespread concerns that Washington might reduce its focus on the Middle East, the US response to the crisis in Ukraine could affect the perception of US interests in the region.”
In Jerusalem, Mr Blinken acknowledged rising bread prices in the Middle East caused by the wheat shortages, describing the effects of the war as “hit the most vulnerable people the hardest”.
He said his travels this week, including to Algiers, Algeria and Ramallah in the West Bank, would look “to lighten some of the burden this puts on people, including across the Middle East.”
Patrick Kingsley contributed to reports from Sde Boker, Israel, and Aida Alami from Paris.