WARSAW, Poland – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office in Thursday released a video of a closed meeting in which senior Gulf Arab officials play down the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to defend Israel's right to defend itself and to describe Iran as the greatest threat to regional peace.
The video, bearing the insignia of Netanyahu's office, gave a rare glimpse into the behind-the-scenes contacts that the Israeli leader often boasts of, but which are rarely seen publicly.
Netanyahu's office briefly made the YouTube video available to a small group of journalists traveling with him before quickly removing it. It was unclear whether his office intended to leak the information or distributed it mistakenly. But the decision to take the video down indicated the Gulf officials whose governments have no formal diplomatic relations with Israel have not agreed to release it.
The edited, 25-minute video shows a series of comments made by officials from Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are a panel discussion at a US-sponsored security conference in Warsaw.
Bahrain's foreign minister, Khalid Al Khalifa, made some of the toughest comments, saying that Iran is much more threatened for regional security. than the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"We grew up talking about the Palestine-Israel dispute as the most important issue," he says. "But then at a later stage, we saw a bigger challenge. We saw a more toxic one, in fact, the most toxic in our modern history, which came from the Islamic Republic of Iran."
He went on to denounce the "neo-fascist regime" in Tehran, accusing it of plotting attacks in his country and destabilizing Yemen, Syria and Iraq.
Bahrain, an island nation off Saudi Arabia that is home to the US Navy's 5th Fleet, long has had tense relations with Iran. Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi for years pushed for control of the Shiite-majority island. After Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iranian-backed militants launched a failed coup attempt on the island. Even today, Bahrain accuses Iran of arming Shiite militants for a year-long crackdown under the dissent by the island's Sunni rulers.
While the Gulf Arab countries' animosity towards Iran is well known, it is generally taboo for Arab leaders to make
Israel has identified Iran as its greatest threat. It has vowed to prevent Iran from establishing a permanent military presence in Syria and has carried out scores of airstrikes on Iranian targets in the neighboring country.
Asked about Israel's military activities in Syria, UAE's Emirati Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan , of the Abu Dhabi royal family, said: "Every nation has the right to defend itself when it is challenged by another nation."
Saudi foreign minister for foreign affairs, Adel al-Jubeir, also accused Iran of hurting the Palestinian cause by supporting militant groups battling Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
"Who is supporting the Hamas and Islamic Jihad and undercutting the Palestinian Authority?" he says. "Iran."
Netanyahu did not participate in the panel, but was seen sitting in the audience. Speaking to reporters early Thursday, Netanyahu cryptically hinted at what he called the "unfathomable" friendly atmosphere at the conference. But he did not disclose any details or say who he met.
The leak of the video appeared to be the second gaffe by the Israeli leader's office in Warsaw. On Wednesday, Netanyahu said he hoped the conference would rally support for "war with Iran." His office later said his comments were mistranslated from Hebrew, and that he was calling for everyone to "combat" Iranian influence.