Israeli spokesperson Mark Regev underscores Israel’s diplomatic potential in AIJAC webinar

October 16, 2020 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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Peace deals between Israel and the Arab world, Israel’s relations with the UK, the US and the Iranian threat – these were amongst the wide variety of topics discussed by Israel Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s international media spokesman Mark Regev in an online webinar hosted by the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) this week.

Mark Regev    Photo: Screenshot

The Australian-born Regev, who also recently served as the Israeli Ambassador to the UK, was particularly enthusiastic about the recent game-changing peace and normalisation agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. The treaties, he stated, have created unstoppable “momentum” towards similar agreements with other Arab and Muslim nations.

“Israelis,” he said, had been accustomed “to do a situation where when we looked for friends, we looked towards Canada, the United States, Australia, other people in Western Europe. And when we looked in the region, we saw people who didn’t like us, people who didn’t believe we had a right to be here. And for Israel now to be expanding our relations so energetically with Arab countries, with Muslim countries is very, very exciting. It’s the dawn of a new era.”

In response to another question, Regev said that the Abraham Accords, while increasing the Palestinians’ diplomatic isolation, still “makes peace [with the Palestinians] more likely. Because the Palestinians are going through a crisis… if the Arab world is refusing to accept what they’re saying, then who are their natural allies? They really are in a… difficult diplomatic position.”

He concluded, “ultimately, I hope this crisis that the Palestinians are going through will encourage them to re-examine some of their positions.”

Regev also argued the latest peace deals offer Israel unique economic opportunities lacking from previous agreements. “Obviously, we’ve had historic peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan,” he said, “Both countries are crucial politically. Both countries are important militarily. Both countries have diplomatic clout. But the countries of the Gulf… have economic clout… this is a sort of peace agreement that everyone in Israel can feel because it can enhance national prosperity.”

In response to a question about the threats posed to Israel by the Iranian regime, Regev lashed out at the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, which he said “gave [Iran’s rulers] a clear path to a bomb.” At the same time, the Australian-born diplomat reminded the audience that Israel differentiates between the Iranian people and the country’s Islamist regime.

“I remember the first time I flew to Israel [from Australia], we flew I think it was from Melbourne to Hong Kong on Qantas and then Hong Kong to Tehran on British Airways. And then we flew from Tehran to Tel Aviv on El Al. Yes. And we don’t have a problem with the Iranian people. We don’t have a problem with Iran as a country. We have a problem with the government. Yes, we have a problem with a government that is run by extremists who believe that Israel should be destroyed. And if that was ever to change, I think Israel could return to having a very, very good relationship with Iran,” he said.

Asked for highlights of his four years serving as Israel’s Ambassador to the UK – which ended earlier this year – Regev recalled two events: Prince William’s landmark 2018 visit to Israel which symbolically “broke the glass ceiling” with the Royal Family; and, in the defence sphere, a joint exercise in 2019 between the IAF and the RAF at a base in England.

In response to another question about whether former UK Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn had caused lasting damage to the party’s attitudes towards Israel, Regev looked at the bigger picture.

“The last four Labour prime ministers of the United Kingdom – Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, James Callaghan and Harold Wilson – were all staunch friends of Israel,” Regev said, “and I think any Israeli ambassador in London would hope that the leadership of the Labour party today would carry on the tradition and be a staunch supporter of Israel.”

Regev was similarly diplomatic when asked about his views on the US relationship with Israel heading into next month’s elections.

“In the past, we’ve had a strong relationship, bipartisan, sometimes warmer relationships with a Democratic, sometimes warmer relationships with a Republican,” he said.

“I know that anyone aware of the history of the relationship knows that it has had, like any relationship, it has ups and downs every now and then. But the truth is, it’s based on a very strong foundation. And I believe that foundation will see us well through to whatever happens in the future.”

Asked about the fraught campaign to extradite accused sexual offender Malka Leifer from Israel to Australia, Regev explained that the legal process simply needed to run its course.

“Like Australia, Israel has an independent judiciary, and though my colleagues in the foreign ministry and in the other branches of the executive were interested in facilitating an expeditious extradition to Australia, the legal process had to go through the courts and that took time… in the end, our Supreme Court ruled that the extradition should happen and… I think it’s only a matter of time now.”

Regev ended his remarks on a positive note, telling participants that Israel was well-positioned to bounce back from the global pandemic in strong form.

“I know we’re all going through Covid-19 and the recession that’s gone along with that,” Regev said. “But when this is behind us, Israel remains a high-tech superpower. We are a centre for global innovation. Israel is perfectly positioned to succeed in this century, in the 21st century… I believe [Israel’s] next 70 years will be much, much… better than the first 70.”

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