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June 23, 2021

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Will Saudi Arab Recognize Israel?

10 min read
Saudi Arab Israel

Image by max_gloin from Pixabay

Saudi Arabia is seen not only as a regional power, but also as a Guardian of the Holy Places of Islam, Mecca and Medina.

The Kingdom is perhaps the most politically and economically influential Arab state, and that is one of the reasons why Israel aims to normalise ties with Riyadh. Although on many occasions Saudi Arabia has been highly critical of the Jewish State,

in practise it has done nothing to compromise the country’s existence or survival. At the same time, Riyadh remains the largest Arab contributor to the Palestinian Authority’s coffers, but refrains from open and direct support to the Palestinian fractions that fight against the Israeli occupation.

What are Israel’s and Saudi’s interests in the region, and what do the two nations have in common? I’m your host Kasim and thanks for joining me for another KJ report. In this special series, we analyse the neighbouring Muslim countries to Palestine and their geopolitical interests and alliance with Israel.

Just before we start, please kindly visit our website, kjreports.com and subscribe to one of our plans, which will give you unlimited access to all four geopolitical content. Relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia are complex, with episodes of secret cooperation when it serves interests of both parties. Under the Abraham Accords brokered by the then US President Donald Trump in 2020, four majority Arab states.

The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan, agreed to establish ties with Israel. Prior to the 2020 presidential elections in America, Trump named Saudi Arabia as likely to be among about 10 further countries normalising relations with the Jewish State. Riyadh, however, still sticks to its well-known position. “We have always said that if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved on the basis of the Arab peace initiative that Israel would have enjoyed normal relations, economic, political, diplomatic with all of the Arab countries.

So until that happens, we don’t have relations with Israel,” said the Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Jubeir in 2017. The Kingdom maintains that any relations with the Israel hinge on Israeli withdrawal from Arab lands captured in the 1967 war, which is a territory Palestinians seek for a future state. Although the Jewish State will unlikely make such concessions to the Saudis, there are indications that Riyadh is looking for a way to establish at least informal relations with Israel.

Saudi Arab Dr. Anwar Eshki

For instance, in 2016, according to The Times of Israel, a retired Saudi general, Dr. Anwar Eshki visited Israel and met with the country’s officials. Eshki, however, told Palestinian media that he had visited “Palestine and Jerusalem, but not Israel.”

Given that Saudi Arabia does not recognise the State of Israel, from Eshki’s perspective, he was in the occupied Palestine, although in reality he was on a territory that is de facto controlled by the Israelis. In 2015 there were reports of Saudi Arabia rejecting an Israeli offer to provide it with Iron Dome rocket defence technology. In 2021 several Israeli media openly lobbied for their country to sell the sophisticated weapons to Riyadh, claiming that Israel must consider assisting Saudi Arabia, which is under constant missile attack from Iran-backed groups.

In 2017 Israel’s Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said that Israel has had covert contact with Saudi Arabia amid common concerns over Iran. It was a first disclosure by a senior official from either country of long-rumored secret dealings. For years Israel has been attempting to organise direct flights for its country’s Muslim citizens to travel to Mecca as part the Hajj pilgrimage.

In 2017 the two nations were reportedly negotiating the establishment of economic ties that would include allowing Israeli businesses to operate in the Gulf and letting Israel’s El Al airline fly over Saudi airspace. As a result, in November 2020, Saudi Arabia reportedly granted permission for Israeli airlines to use its airspace. Is worth noting, however, that Israeli officials tend to exaggerate such interactions.

The Israeli media often try to create an image of Saudi Arabia that desperately needs an alliance with Israel. In reality, it is the other way round. One of the main goals of the Jewish State is to normalise relations with all Arab countries, and Saudi Arabia would be the main prize in that process. Israel and Saudi Arabia have never had formal diplomatic relations,

but have been pushed closer together as the question of how to deal with their common enemy Iran has taken on more urgency. Both Israel and the Saudis want to see the Iran nuclear deal collapse, and for Riyadh Iran rather than Israel, is the cause of the problems in the Middle East.

Indeed, Saudi Arabia is under constant threat, with attacks by more than 860 drones and ballistic missiles since March 2015. “Israel understands that the Saudis lost to Iran in Syria and Yemen, and now they need an ally with the military and diplomatic power that Israel can provide,” said an Israeli journalist Noam Sheizaf, The Israelis also suggest that the Kingdom will have to diversify its economy, which could create the need for a wider regional cooperation and make Riyadh remove the ban on investing in Israeli firms.

The Saudis are aware that they could also benefit from cooperation with the Jewish State. According to the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, normalisation with Israel would bring tremendous benefit to the region, although he pointed out that such an accord with the Kingdom would depend on progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. After the six day war, the Palestinian cause became the priority of Saudi diplomacy.

The Gulf War in 1991 showed that apparently rival countries like Israel and Saudi Arabia could work on the same front in the face of a common enemy. Since the then-Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat openly supported Saddam Hussein following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia cancelled the economic aid to the Palestine Liberation Organisation and even expelled Palestinians living in the Kingdom.

It is believed that Saudi Arabia now wants greater influence over PalestinianSaudi Arabia is seen not only as a regional power, but also as a Guardian of the Holy Places of Islam, Mecca and Medina. The Kingdom is perhaps the most politically and economically influential Arab state, and that is one of the reasons why Israel aims to normalise ties with Riyadh.

Although on many occasions Saudi Arabia has been highly critical of the Jewish State, in practise it has done nothing to compromise the country’s existence or survival. At the same time, Riyadh remains the largest Arab contributor to the Palestinian Authority’s coffers, but refrains from open and direct support to the Palestinian fractions that fight against the Israeli occupation.

What are Israel’s and Saudi’s interests in the region, and what do the two nations have in common? I’m your host Kasim and thanks for joining me for another KJ report. In this special series, we analyse the neighbouring Muslim countries to Palestine and their geopolitical interests and alliance with Israel. Just before we start, please kindly visit our website, kjreports.com and subscribe to one of our plans, which will give you unlimited access to all four geopolitical content.

Relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia are complex, with episodes of secret cooperation when it serves interests of both parties. Under the Abraham Accords brokered by the then US President Donald Trump in 2020, four majority Arab states, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan, agreed to establish ties with Israel.

Prior to the 2020 presidential elections in America, Trump named Saudi Arabia as likely to be among about 10 further countries normalising relations with the Jewish State. Riyadh, however, still sticks to its well-known position.

“We have always said that if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved on the basis of the Arab peace initiative that Israel would have enjoyed normal relations, economic, political, diplomatic with all of the Arab countries, and so until that happens, we don’t have relations with Israel,” said the Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Jubeir in 2017.

The Kingdom maintains that any relations with the Israel hinge on Israeli withdrawal from Arab lands captured in the 1967 war, which is a territory Palestinians seek for a future state.

Although the Jewish State will unlikely make such concessions to the Saudis, there are indications that Riyadh is looking for a way to establish at least informal relations with Israel. For instance,

in 2016, according to The Times of Israel, a retired Saudi general, Dr. Anwar Eshki visited Israel and met with the country’s officials. Eshki, however, told Palestinian media that he had visited “Palestine and Jerusalem, but not Israel.” Given that Saudi Arabia does not recognise the State of Israel, from Eshki’s perspective, he was in the occupied Palestine, although in reality he was on a territory that is de facto controlled by the Israelis.

In 2015 there were reports of Saudi Arabia rejecting an Israeli offer to provide it with Iron Dome rocket defence technology.

In 2021 several Israeli media openly lobbied for their country to sell the sophisticated weapons to Riyadh, claiming that Israel must consider assisting Saudi Arabia, which is under constant missile attack from Iran-backed groups. In 2017 Israel’s Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said that Israel has had covert contact with Saudi Arabia amid common concerns over Iran.

It was a first disclosure by a senior official from either country of long-rumored secret dealings. For years Israel has been attempting to organise direct flights for its country’s Muslim citizens to travel to Mecca as part the Hajj pilgrimage.

In 2017 the two nations were reportedly negotiating the establishment of economic ties that would include allowing Israeli businesses to operate in the Gulf and letting Israel’s El Al airline fly over Saudi airspace. As a result, in November 2020, Saudi Arabia reportedly granted permission for Israeli airlines to use its airspace. Is worth noting, however, that Israeli officials tend to exaggerate such interactions.

The Israeli media often try to create an image of Saudi Arabia that desperately needs an alliance with Israel. In reality, it is the other way round. One of the main goals of the Jewish State is to normalise relations with all Arab countries, and Saudi Arabia would be the main prize in that process. Israel and Saudi Arabia have never had formal diplomatic relations, but have been pushed closer together as the question of how to deal with their common enemy Iran has taken on more urgency.

Both Israel and the Saudis want to see the Iran nuclear deal collapse, and for Riyadh Iran rather than Israel, is the cause of the problems in the Middle East. Indeed, Saudi Arabia is under constant threat, with attacks by more than 860 drones and ballistic missiles since March 2015.

“Israel understands that the Saudis lost to Iran in Syria and Yemen, and now they need an ally with the military and diplomatic power that Israel can provide,” said an Israeli journalist Noam Sheizaf, The Israelis also suggest that the Kingdom will have to diversify its economy, which could create the need for a wider regional cooperation and make Riyadh remove the ban on investing in Israeli firms.

The Saudis are aware that they could also benefit from cooperation with the Jewish State. According to the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, normalisation with Israel would bring tremendous benefit to the region, although he pointed out that such an accord with the Kingdom would depend on progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. After the six day war, the Palestinian cause became the priority of Saudi diplomacy.

The Gulf War in 1991 showed that apparently rival countries like Israel and Saudi Arabia could work on the same front in the face of a common enemy.

Since the then-Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat openly supported Saddam Hussein following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia cancelled the economic aid to the Palestine Liberation Organisation and even expelled Palestinians living in the Kingdom. It is believed that Saudi Arabia now wants greater influence over Palestinian issue

As some reports suggest, up to 2014 the Saudis gave the Palestinian Authority a monthly sum of $14 million. It then raised the total to $20 million each month.

The Saudi aid money constitutes a third of the Palestinian annual budget. According to the Kingdom’s humanitarian groups, Saudi Arabia donated more than $6.5 billion issue in support to Palestine over the past two decades. Critics, on the other hand, claim that Saudi Arabia is using its financial lever to pressure the Palestinians as part of a carrot-and-stick policy.

However, it is worth pointing out that the Jewish media often fabricated quotes attributed to the Saudi officials, in an attempt to portray Riyadh as a side that is sick and tired of the Palestinian cause and that more than anything aims to develop good relations with the State of Israel. Although there are certainly truths with this narrative, in reality, it’s important to understand both perspectives.

“It is very important for the stability of the region and the world that Saudi Arabia remain stable,” said the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2018 His comments came a day after the Washington Post reported that he had urged the White House to maintain its support for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman amid growing criticism over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate.

Whether such claims are true or not, it is more than likely that both Israel and Saudi Arabia will remain heavily dependent on the United States in the years to come. Both have an interest in keeping America an active regional military hegemon, as both are de facto the US client states in the Middle East.

The US, on the other hand, aims to advance a wide-ranging agenda in its relationship with Saudi Arabia that includes brokering a peace deal between the Gulf power and Israel. However, as the American officials pointed out on several occasions, Riyadh first needs to improve its human rights record.

Such a demand is a clear indication that the US is not pushing the Kingdom to normalise relations with Tel Aviv, although the former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who served as Trump’s CIA director and top diplomat, has recently said that many people in Saudi Arabia want normalised relations with Israel. “I hope that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia can find its way to join the Abraham Accords. I know that many inside that country want to take place,” he said.

At this point, it remains highly uncertain when Saudi Arabia will normalise relations with Israel. The Kingdom may not de jure recognise the Jewish State any time soon, but it already de facto agreed to gradually soften its rhetoric towards Israel, which could be interpreted as a first sign in the recognition process. A potential normalisation,

however, would unlikely produce peace in the Middle East. It would just push the Palestinian fractions deeper into the Iranian geopolitical orbit.

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