Riyadh’s ‘Secret’ Ties With Tel Aviv

The world wants to know who, after the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, will be the next to normalise diplomatic ties with Israel. The agreement of UAE and Bahrain with Israel serves as a doorway to attract other Arab Muslim states to normalise relationships with Israel.

In November 2017, Israel's energy minister Yuval Steinitz claimed that Israel and Saudi Arabia had covert contacts with each other to strengthen diplomatic ties between them. When, in December 2017, Trump announced his disruptive policy decision to shift American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Turkey immediately called an extraordinary Islamic summit conference of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Istanbul to send a befitting response to the United States. The summit was attended by more than 50 heads of Muslim states, but the Saudi King Salman and the crown prince remained conspicuously absent. In their place, the Saudi minister of Islamic affairs attended the conference.

In his speech at the OIC, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said that the only reason Trump had dared to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was that someone in the Arab region was seeking to establish ties with Israel (a thinly disguised reference to Riyadh). Moreover, a leaked letter to Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman from then Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir, published in Beirut-based Al-Akhbar, discussed the conditions that would have to be satisfied for normal diplomatic relations between Riyadh and Tel Aviv. Among these was a need for “equivalence between the two countries”, which in military terms meant that “the kingdom must acquire [nuclear weapons] or seek to remove Israel's,” as “Israel is considered the only country with nuclear weapons in the Middle East”.

The leaked letter also suggested that Saudi Arabia’s allies in the Middle East should be encouraged to recognise and strengthen their diplomatic relations with Israel first, as this would lend more legitimacy in the public eye to the normalisation of ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel.

It seems likely that a pact between Riyadh and Tel Aviv is getting closer. Prince Mohammad Salman is likely to give Trump what would be his biggest foreign policy achievement before the elections in the United States. The kingdom will continue to urge its regional allies to make the pact. Sudan and Oman seem to be the most likely candidates to follow the UAE and Bahrain’s example.

The question arises: why is KSA doing this instead of supporting the oppressed Palestinians? Saudi Arabia’s biggest fear is that Iran would take control of the whole of the Middle East. It believes forming ties and sharing intelligence with Israel would help Riyadh to stay on top of the regional states.