What the Warsaw Conference Tells Us about US-European and Israeli-Arab Relations

U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo participates in the Warsaw Summit in Warsaw, Poland on February 14, 2019 [State Department photo/ Public Domain via Flickr]

U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo participates in the Warsaw Summit in Warsaw, Poland on February 14, 2019 [State Department photo/ Public Domain via Flickr]

President Trump has with no doubt made his aggressive position towards Iran very clear. He pulled out of the Iran deal last May, re-imposed harsh economic sanctions toward the Islamic Republic on November 5th (and announced them with questionable Game of Thrones inspired “memes”), and publicly attacked the Iranian regime on several occasions. On Monday February 11, a day which marked the 40th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution, the POTUS tweeted again, both in English and in Persian, to label the Iranian regime as “40 years of corruption, repression, terror” and overall “failure”.

Iran has been a major concern for the United States, and it won’t cease being so anytime soon - especially given the U.S. decision to pull out of Syria by April and the dangerous vacuum, which Iran could fill, that will follow.

Moreover, the IRGC recently inaugurated a surface-to-surface ballistic missile with a range of 621 miles, as reported by news. Iran claimed it has missiles with range upward of 2000 km, which threatens US and Israel military bases in the region, all within its reach. Although Tehran has labeled its missile development program as “purely defensive”, the US condemned the Islamic Republic and vowed to remain “relentless” in pressuring and confronting the country’s “malign behavior”.

To discuss the future of the Middle East, and in particular to counter and isolate Iran, the Trump administration recently held a conference in Warsaw, Poland.

The meeting took place on February 13-14, and was led by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Vice President Pence, who both argued how peace in the Middle East cannot be achieved without confronting Iran. In the light of the Iranian threat, he said, it’s time that the European states join the U.S. and the Iranian population against the evil Shi’a regime. “Time has come for our European partners to withdraw from the Iran deal and join with us as we bring the economic and diplomatic pressure necessary to give the Iranian people, the region, and the world, the peace, security, and freedom they deserve,” said Pence.

Europe seems in fact to be split between anti-JCPOA and pro-JCPOA (France, Germany, UK), with the latter faction being the preeminent one. The very fact that the meeting was held in Poland suggests that the East European states share general US view on the issue, or, at least, that it doesn’t necessarily agree with the mainstream European point of view.

However, France, Germany, and UK are strong supporters of the Iranian Deal. Although they officially attended the meeting, the three key European states sent only low-level diplomatic staff to Warsaw. This was meant to send a political message: they don’t support what Trump is trying to do, they believe that coercing and threatening Iran is not going to cause anything but war, and they want to avoid a conflict with the Islamic Republic.

Vice President Pence harshly criticized the G3’s pro-JCPOA position, and said how “some of our leading European partners […] have led the effort to create mechanisms to break up our sanctions,” referring to Instex, the new financial mechanism promoted by France, Germany and Great Britain. Instex, acronym for Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges, enables trade between Iranian companies and foreign companies bypassing the American banking system (and thereby Trump-imposed sanctions). This new economic tool suggests how the three major European countries are seeking to avoid a war in the Middle East and to preserve Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA - which, according to the latest IAEA report, is still enduring - at all costs. Overall, the Warsaw conference and its main purpose, condemning and isolating Iran, were viewed by the major European states as unproductive and simplistic.

However, although no concrete solution was found nor common ground to counter Iran was met between US and Europe, the Warsaw conference was extremely significant for the Arab and Israeli representatives attending. Both representatives from Israel and from the Gulf states, in fact, expressed the common interest of countering Iran. “Everyone”, as the Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs Adel al-Jubeir said, agreed on the Islamic Republic’s “role in destabilizing security and stability in the region”. The Israeli PM and foreign ministers of Arab countries "stood together and spoke with unusual force, clarity, and unity against the common threat of the Iranian regime”, as Netanyahu himself told reporters.

Just a few days before the conference, on the 40th anniversary of the Iranian Islamic Republic (Monday February 11th), an IRGC commander said Iran would destroy Tel Aviv and Haifa if the US attacks Iran. Netanyahu replied by saying that attacking any cities in Israel would mark Iran’s last revolution anniversary, and that Israel is aware but not intimidated by the threats Iran poses to their security. Israel is committed to opposing Iran with all its means. 

Bahrain’s foreign minister, in a video leaked by Netanyahu’s press office, is heard saying how Iran is currently much more of a concern than Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories, a “bigger challenge, more toxic”. He also added how Iran undermines the PA by supporting Hamas, and thereby identified the Islamic Republic as a major obstacle to peace and regional stability.

Along the same lines, in another clip, the Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, is heard denouncing Iran for “building ballistic missiles and giving them to terrorist organizations”.

Saudi Arabia and Bahrain officially don’t recognize Israel, yet at Warsaw they sat next to Israeli PM Netanyahu, held private meetings with him, and agreed on the necessity to counter the Iranian threat.

The dynamics observed at the conference suggest that an anti-Iran joint force between Israel and Gulf States is not such an absurd hypothesis. Many Arabs, including both PA and Hamas, have indeed accused the participants of Warsaw of promoting normalization with the Zionist enemy, viewed as a form of treason. However, Saudi Arabia reiterated how the conference dealt with the Palestinian issue too, despite the Palestinians’ refusal to attend. Saudi minister Jubeir tweeted that the Kingdom’s firm position on the Palestinian question “is based on the Arab Peace Initiative”. Based off the Warsaw summit, how Iran’s threat to Middle East stability will be addressed is yet to be clear, but one thing is sure: the Arab-Israeli conflict already is, and will not cease to be, directly affected by the Iranian issue.