Netanyahu, rivals trade accusations over 'dangerous' Iran-Saudi detente

Netanyahu, rivals trade accusations over 'dangerous' Iran-Saudi detente
Benjamin Netanyahu is on the receiving end of intense criticism from his political rivals, following Iran and Saudi Arabia's restoring of diplomatic relations - which was announced on Friday.
3 min read
11 March, 2023
Netanyahu's predecessors have labelled the rapprochement between Saudi Arabi and Iran as a "dangerous failure of the Israeli government's foreign policy" [Getty]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been accused by rivals of failing to protect Israel's interests, after Iran and Saudi Arabia restored diplomatic ties on Friday.

Former caretaker prime minister Yair Lapid accused Netanyahu’s government of "neglecting diplomacy", and described the rapprochement between Tehran and Riyadh as "an abject and dangerous failure of the Israeli government's foreign policy," according to The Times of Israel. He also said that the move was "a dangerous development that strips Israel against its regional defensive wall" against Iran.

Lapid further lashed out at Netanyahu, accusing him of focusing too much on the ongoing judicial reforms that have sparked widespread protests in Israel.

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"This is what happens when you’re busy all day with a crazy bill instead of taking care of Iran," he said.

Benny Gantz, who served as the minister of defence between 2020 and 2021, also chimed in, and said: "The enormous security challenges facing the State of Israel are increasing, and the prime minister and his government are busy carrying out a coup".

Gantz who leads the Blue and White Party, also served as deputy prime minister between 2021 and 2022.

Meanwhile, Naftali Bennett, who served as prime minster from June 2021 to June 2022, said the rapprochement is the result of a "combination of diplomatic neglect, general weakness and internal conflict in the country".

"The restoration of relations between the Saudis and Iran is a serious and dangerous development for Israel that represents an Iranian diplomatic victory. It represents a critical blow to efforts to build a regional coalition against Iran," he said on his official Twitter account.

In retaliation, Netanyahu placed the blame on the previous government – led by Lapid and Bennett – for the Chinese-brokered rapprochement.

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Netanyahu reportedly said that the previous government did not "take a firm enough stance" when talks between Riyadh and Tehran began a year ago, and that the rapprochement occurred due to the US and Israeli government's perceived "weakness", according to Haaretz, citing a senior Israeli official.

"The ones that accuse us should ask themselves how this happened on their watch, and how things advanced so far on their watch. Western and Israeli weakness leads to increased recognition of Iran," he was quoted as saying.

Some experts say that Saudi Arabia and Iran’s restoring of diplomatic ties may result in a blow to Israel’s attempts to normalise relations with the Gulf kingdom.

Tel Aviv’s efforts to establish relations with Riyadh are largely motivated by wanting to form an alliance against apparent Iranian threats in the region.

The same official, however, said that Israel's efforts to normalise its relations with Saudi Arabia will not be "affected" by the latter's rapprochement with Iran.

Regional rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed to restore ties on Friday following a seven-year-long dispute.

The two nations will now re-open diplomatic missions within the next two months, a joint statement said.

Saudi Arabia initially cut ties with Iran following Iranian protests against Saudi diplomatic missions in the aftermath of Riyadh's execution of prominent Saudi Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr in 2016.

In Friday's statement, the countries said they "thank the Republic of Iraq and the Sultanate of Oman for hosting the talks held between the two sides in 2021 and 2022 as well as the leaders and government of the People's Republic of China for hosting and supporting the talks held in that country".