Diplomacy & defense

Chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, MK Ze'ev Elkin (right) with senior military official during Gaza operation
'Situation shows ground is fertile for cooperation, however dialogue is still far away': Elkin

Likud Minister Ze'ev Elkin was interviewed by the Saudi-owned news site Elaph on diplomatic relations between Israel and other Middle Eastern countries, and Iran's role in the region, the Israeli news site Ynet reported Friday.

In the rare interview, Elkin who serves as Minister of Immigrant Absorption and Minister of Jerusalem Affairs, told Elaph that the ground work has been laid for cooperation but that he still thinks that dialogue is a far way off, said Ynet.

"I'm very realistic, the current situation shows that the ground is fertile and ready for cooperation around common interests. However, dialogue on joint alliance is still far away," Elkin said.

"We are blessed for our all alliances based on partnership and for those who recognize the right of Israel to exist as a nation state," he continued.

Asked about direct negotiations between Israel and Arab states, however, Elkin said only that "this is an issue which it is up to those countries as to whether they want public or secret relationship with us," Ynet said.

Elkin's interview came as tensions rise in the Middle East following the torching of the Saudi consulate in Mashhad, Iran's second city, on January 2 in anger over Riyadh's execution of Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent cleric from the kingdom's Shiite minority.

According to Ynet, Elkin said that "the Middle East will not come back to the way it was before, especially in light of Iran's attempts to control it. On another side there is the Islamic radicalism represented by Daesh (the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State). This increases the rift between Sunnis and Shiites and proves that Israel is not the only source of conflict in the Middle East".

To Elaph, Elkin said that the situation in Jerusalem is currently fairly calm. "The wave of incitement focused last year in Jerusalem has ended and moved to Judea and Samaria [West Bank]. Those who visit the Temple Mount would not notice something was wrong," he said.

"The charges that Israel is changing the status quo in Jerusalem are not true. The situation on the Temple Mount has not changed, and incitement against Israel is wrong. I urge everyone to visit the place and see," he added.

Elkin is the second Israeli politician to be interviewed by the Saudi news site in recent months. Last month Elaph, reported that Israeli Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold confirmed a recent operation targeting Hezbollah in Syria.

According to Elaph, Gold said that Israel thwarted the transfer Russian-made SA-22 missiles to Lebanon.

After the interview was published in Elaph, However, the Foreign Ministry denied that Gold had admitted to the strike.

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