top of page


Nov 12, 2023

Gulf states fend off call from Iran to arm Palestinians at Riyadh summit

Iranian president had travelled to Saudi Arabia to try to force a more interventionist approach to Israel-Hamas war

By Patrick Wintour

Gulf state leaders have fended off an Iranian-led attempt to call for arming the Palestinians and severing all diplomatic ties with Israel at an extraordinary summit in Riyadh, in a effort to retain control of the region’s diplomatic response to the Israeli assault on Gaza.

Tehran, however, insisted on Sunday that its influence remained through its allied “resistance factions” operating in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. In a further sign that it has no intention of jettisoning a military path, militants near the Israeli border with Lebanon fired anti-tank missiles towards Israel, hitting a number of civilians, according to the Israeli military.

An Israeli ambulance service spokesperson told Israel’s N12 News that one person had been critically injured and between three to five others wounded. Footage showed cars on fire on a road near an open area.

The secretary general of Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah group, Hassan Nasrallah, said on Saturday that the front against Israel would remain active, a declaration that in turn drew a warning from Israel to the Shia group not to escalate fighting.

An Israeli soldier watches near the country’s border with Lebanon watches Hassan Nasrallah’s speech on his phone. Photograph: Jalaa Marey/AFP/Getty Images

Nearly 1,500 Hezbollah fighters in the ranks of the Syrian regime’s army have been withdrawn to strengthen the group’s frontline in Lebanon. The political and militant group is Iran’s most prominent proxy movement.

The head of Hezbollah’s executive council, Hashem Safieddine, said on Sunday: “The occupying regime [Israel] is delusional and mistaken if it believes that it can eliminate the Hamas movement or other resistance factions. The resistance front has developed both in terms of presence and strength.”

The relatively tepid outcome of the Riyadh summit, attended by 51 leaders in the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), left some disappointed, but others insisting the moral force of the unified support for Palestine shown by the Islamic world would force the US to rein in Israel.

The refusal of the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netahyahu, to engage with US proposals for a long humanitarian pause and longer-term solution, including a future role for the Palestinian Authority, has angered the Biden administration.

In an unprecedented diplomatic push by Iran to force the Gulf monarchies to adopt a more interventionist approach, the country’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, travelled to Riyadh on Saturday, the first Iranian leader to do so in 11 years, in an effort to persuade the Gulf States to take a tougher approach and explicitly back Hamas.

The final OIC communique, however, was long on condemnation and demands for an immediate ceasefire, but short on practical steps to help Hamas.

It called for an end to the sale of weapons and ammunition to Israel, and a loosely-worded proposal to break the humanitarian siege that did not explicitly mention the Rafah crossing from Egypt into Gaza.

It also called on the international criminal court and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to investigate possible Israeli war crimes, and for more decisive action from the UN Security Council. It also condemned “the Israeli aggression against the Gaza Strip, the war crimes and the barbaric and inhumane massacres perpetrated by the occupation government”.

A Palestinian family flees south from the northern Gaza Strip. Photograph: Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images

The lengthy statement made no mention of a ban on oil sales, a tactic used in the 1973 Yom Kippur war, the severance of diplomatic relations with Israel or the arming of the Palestinians. All three proposals had been advanced by Raisi in a 10-point plan he presented to the conference.

. Raisi praised Hamas in his speech, saying: “There is no other way than to resist Israel, we kiss the hands of Hamas for its resistance against Israel”. That view was not shared by most Gulf leaders, but it was echoed by the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. He said: “They want us to classify Hamas as a terrorist. No, it is not a terrorist. They are fighting for their homeland and struggling to obtain their rights.”

It had originally been intended there would be two separate and consecutive summits this weekend, starting with a meeting of the Arab League, followed by a meeting of the larger OIC.

In the run-up to the Arab League summit, however, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Morocco and Bahrain opposed moves led by Algeria to close down US bases in the region and impose a trade boycott. Riyadh proposed the merger of the two summits, a device that softened the conflicts among Arab states by convening the larger gathering.

Israel Katz, Israel’s energy minister, had spoken of his country’s contempt for the summit, writing: “President [Bashar al-] Assad of Syria, who slaughtered hundreds of thousands, children, women, and old men of his own people, and the president of Iran, who slaughters any Iranian who dares to protest against him, or any Iranian woman who he regards as insufficiently modest, are gathering in Saudi Arabia with the leaders of the Islamic countries to discuss our war.

“For them, the Palestinians are cannon fodder against Israel, and many of the leaders there pray that Israel will eliminate the extreme Islamic terrorism that threatens them as well.”

bottom of page