Mike Pompeo in Israel on day one of Middle East tour

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JERUSALEM | US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday began a tour of the Middle East in Israel to try to convince Arab countries to normalize their relations with the Jewish state in the wake of an agreement with the United Arab Emirates.

Arrived in Israel with his face barred by a sanitary mask in the colors of the American flag, Mr. Pompeo began his talks in Jerusalem with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which were to focus on Iran and “deepening” relations between Israel and Arab countries according to its spokesperson in Washington.

He is also due to meet with his counterpart Gabi Ashkenazi and Minister of Defense Benny Gantz.

Since the announcement on August 13 of the UAE-Israel normalization agreement, concluded under the aegis of the United States, speculation has been rife on other possible candidates for normalization with the Hebrew state: Bahrain, Oman, Sudan?

After Israel, Pompeo is due to travel to Khartoum to “express his support for a deepening of Israel-Sudan relations” and for the political “transition” in this country which turned the page in 2019 of three decades under the autocracy of Sudan. ‘Omar al-Bashir, according to the American spokesperson.

Then he has to go to Bahrain and the Emirates.

“There are many countries with possibilities (for peace). I don’t want to name any one in particular (…), but we hope for developments very quickly, in the weeks or months to come, ”Ron Demer, Israeli ambassador to Washington, said this weekend on Al-Arabiya channel. .

Thanks to normalization, Israel and the Emirates have said they want to increase trade, the sale of Emirati oil to Israel and Israeli technology to the Emirates, in addition to boosting the tourism sector, with plans for direct flights between Tel -Aviv and Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Netanyahu said he wanted the flights to pass through Saudi Arabian airspace, but the Saudi kingdom has ruled out any deal with Israel before an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement.

“Break the silence”

The Trump Middle East plan announced in January provides for cooperation between Israel and Arab countries hostile to Iran, the sworn enemy of the Jewish state, as well as the annexation of parts of the West Bank by Israel.

The Emirates assure that the agreement with Israel provides for “putting an end to any additional annexation” in the West Bank, Palestinian territory occupied by Israel since 1967. Mr. Netanyahu says that the annexation is simply “postponed”.

The Palestinian leadership denounced a “stab in the back” after the agreement reached by the Emirates.

Palestinians, from the secular Fatah of Mahmoud Abbas to the Islamists of Hamas, are trying to mobilize regional powers to stand in the way of normalization.

In power in Gaza, a Palestinian territory of two million inhabitants, Hamas called on regional leaders to “break the silence” and put pressure on Israel to “end” the blockade imposed on this enclave.

The “normalization” with Israel contributes to the “maintenance of crimes and violations” against the Palestinians, he argued, after further exchanges of fire with the Israeli army in and around Gaza.

Normalization “will make it possible to change the trajectory of the region, from a past of hostilities and conflicts to one of hope, peace and prosperity”, pleaded Youssef al-Otaïba, ambassador of the Emirates in Washington, in a letter published last week in the front page of the newspaper Yediot Aharonot, the most sold in Israel.

But he also warned that “difficulties” could arise, without however calling into question the agreement.

Technological superiority

One subject remains particularly sensitive for Israel: the possible sale of F-35 fighter jets by the United States to the Emirates.

The latter have about sixty Mirage 2000s, a multi-purpose fighter plane, but according to the New York Times the Trump administration has “stepped up” its offensive to sell new generation F-35s to the Emirates.

Historically, Israel has opposed the sale of F-35s to other countries in the Middle East, including Jordan and Egypt – countries with which it has signed peace agreements – because it wants to maintain its superiority. technology in the region.

Mr. Netanyahu argued that the deal with the Emirates did not include a clause regarding the F-35.

“The Emiratis say there was a promise, Israel says no (…), but there are arrangements that can be made to satisfy Israel,” Joshua Teitelbaum, a Gulf specialist in the United States, told AFP. Israeli Bar-Ilan University.

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