Just before a U.S.-sponsored conference that was supposed to be about Iran but isn’t, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu changed the subject back again. At the conference in Warsaw, he said, Israel would be meeting in public with Arab foreign ministers "to advance the common interest of war with Iran," according to a tweet from his office.
Yikes. Twitter pounced. Headlines blared.
The prime minister’s office swiftly erased the tweet and claimed there was a translation error. A new tweet changed "war with Iran" to "combating Iran."
It’s tempting to think of this as a blunder. A better way to see Netanyahu’s tweet is as a so-called Kinsley gaffe, named for the editor Michael Kinsley: when a politician accidentally tells the truth.
In other words, Netanyahu was right the first time.
Israel and America’s Arab allies are indeed at war with Iran. And despite efforts this week to entice war-weary European allies to join the effort, for Arab and Israeli delegations the conference was a chance to further coordinate their campaign against Iran.
Much of this happened behind closed doors. But in his public speech on Thursday here, Vice President Mike Pence hinted at what was going on. Everyone who spoke at the inaugural banquet, he said, talked about the common threat that Iran posed to the region.
Pence was referring to two panel discussions moderated by Dennis Ross, a former U.S. diplomat. The first panel featured the foreign ministers of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). When one was asked about Israel’s airstrikes in Syria, he responded that sovereign states have a right to self-defense, according to two officials in the room.
A decade ago, it would have been unimaginable for any Arab diplomat to defend Israeli strikes in Syria. To this day, these countries do not formally recognize Israel. But Iranian aggression has given old rivals common cause.
None of this is surprising. Israel has been bombing Iranian and Hezbollah positions in Syria for years. The outgoing chief of staff for the Israel Defense Forces openly acknowledged this campaign in an interview last month with Bret Stephens of the New York Times.
After Syria began collapsing in 2011, and Iran’s regional campaign became more aggressive, Arab states changed their longstanding practice of staying out of the Israel-Iran war. Now Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates bomb the positions of Iran’s Houthi proxies in Yemen.
For a few years, Gulf states funded and armed Syrian opposition groups against Iranian, Russian and Syrian regime forces. The Saudis now boast of their own economic war against Iran’s financial and oil sectors.
All of this relates to "advancing the common interest of war with Iran."
There’s no doubt that Netanyahu’s remarks made European nations that are still trying to keep Iran in the 2015 nuclear deal uncomfortable. Seizing on this disconnect, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted Netanyahu’s deleted message, adding," We’ve always known Netanyahu’s illusions. Now, the world — and those attending #WarsawCircus — know, too."
This kind of messaging only works on the uninformed. The Iranians have been waging war in the region, too, whether in Syria, Yemen or through stealthier means in countries such as Bahrain. What’s more, they have continued to wage this war after agreeing in 2015 to the nuclear bargain from which the U.S. withdrew last May.
Iran’s war has even extended to Europe. Last month, the European Union imposed new sanctions against the country over a series of terror plots it said Iran’s intelligence service orchestrated in 2015 and 2017.
So it’s worth asking which is worse: Netanyahu accidentally acknowledging the Arab-Israeli war against Iran, or European diplomats pretending Iran is not really at war with them?
Eli Lake is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the senior national security correspondent for the Daily Beast and covered national security and intelligence for the Washington Times, the New York Sun, and UPI. To read more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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