Yemeni president Abdrabu Mansur Hadi told leaders at the 28th Arab League summit in Jordan on Wednesday that his forces and their allies were close to a major victory that would serve as a debilitating blow to Iranian interests in the region.
“This is the storm that has shattered the dreams and ambitions of the Iranians … now currently we are on the verge of a great victory,” he said, thanking Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other Arab states which have backed him with military might in his fight against Houthi rebels.
In his speech, which lasted more than 20 minutes, Mr Hadi called Tehran “the true sponsor of terrorism” and described Iranian involvement in the Middle East as a “conspiracy”.
Mr Hadi’s speech stood out in a summit where other leaders alluded to Iran’s swollen influence in the region at times without naming the power.
“We reject any intervention in the internal affairs of Arab countries,” the League’s leaders said in a declaration at the end of their one-day meeting, referring to Tehran.
In another apparent reference to Iran earlier in the day, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman warned of the “interference” and infringement on sovereignty of Arab countries by outsiders.
Egyptian president Abdel Fattah El Sisi, meanwhile, said it was “regrettable that certain powers are benefiting from the unprecedented situation in the region to bolster their influence and expand their control”.
One issue where Arab leaders found common cause was Palestine, which quickly emerged as a rallying point for the monarchs and presidents gathered at Jordan’s Dead Sea.
A communique read by the League’s secretary general, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, said Arab countries would be ready to have a historic reconciliation with Israel in return for its withdrawal from Palestinian land it occupied in the 1967 war.
The League would back Palestinian-Israeli peace talks if it guaranteed the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, as per a 2002 peace plan.
Opening the summit, Jordan’s King Abdullah said there would be no peace or stability in the Middle East without the creation of a Palestinian state.
“Israel is continuing to expand settlements and wreck chances of peace,” he said. “There is no peace or stability in the region without a just and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian cause through a two-state solution.”
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the summit that the plight of the Palestinian people remained the “longest open wound in the region” and reaffirmed his commitment to a two state solution, saying there was “no plan B”.
On the eve of the summit on Tuesday, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas and US president Donald Trump’s adviser Jason Greenblatt had what Mr Greenblatt described as a “very positive” meeting.
Mr Greenblatt also held talks with the foreign ministers of Jordan, Egypt and Qatar.
The US embassy in Jordan said on Wednesday that in his meetings, Mr Greenblatt “focused on how tangible progress could be made toward advancing Middle East peace”, but that a deal could not be imposed.
The adviser told officials that Mr Trump believes an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is possible and would “reverberate positively throughout the region and the world”, the embassy added.
Wednesday’s summit, hosted by Jordan, drew leaders from 21 Arab countries. In its final statement, the leaders relaunched an Arab peace plan that offers Israel full normalisation in exchange for Palestinian statehood.
Mr Abbas is due to meet Mr Trump in Washington next month. The US president has said a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians is a priority but has recently said he would accept a one or two-state solution whereas Arab leaders on Wednesday remained committed to a two-state solution.
Other familiar themes – the threat of extremism, the civil wars raging in Syria, Yemen and Libya and the regional refugee crisis – dominated speeches on Wednesday.
Many of the 21 Arab heads of state leaders present have seen their countries riven by terrorism.
Nations such as Jordan and Lebanon have for years struggled to cope with the influx of refugees, asking fellow Arab states for help that continues to be insufficient. Intractable wars across the region continue with no end in sight.
The Arab leaders urged unity and the need for peaceful solutions but had few specific plans to offer.
Without mentioning Syria’s president Bashar Al Assad, King Salman told the summit that Syrian “people were subjected to killing and displacement” in the seventh year of the country’s civil war.
For Saudi Arabia, the real effect of Wednesday’s summit may have come on the sidelines, with King Salman meeting with Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah El Sisi. Relations between these two pillars of the Arab world have been tense over Syria, with Egypt open to considering a political future for Mr Al Assad and Saudi Arabia – and other Gulf states – firmly opposed to the idea.
Syria’s seat at the gathering remained empty with a small Syrian government flag placed on top of the desk. The League suspended Syria in 2011 after president Al Assad used violence to try to crush the uprising against him.
Meanwhile, Sudan’s president Omar Al Bashir – who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity – attended the summit amid calls by Human Rights Watch for him to be arrested by the Jordanian authorities.
* With additional reporting from Reuters and Agence France-Presse