A Monthly Newsmagazine from Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought (ICIT)
To Gain access to thousands of articles, khutbas, conferences, books (including tafsirs) & to participate in life enhancing events

News & Analysis

Contradictions And Challenges In Saudi-Israeli Normalization

Omar Ahmed

Image Source - Pixbay Free Content

Since the US-brokered Abraham Accords was inked in 2020, it ushered a small but significant wave of normalization between Israel and four Arab states (Bahrain, Morocco, the UAE and Sudan). It led to speculation and heightened optimism that major player Saudi Arabia will follow suit.

This has especially been the case once Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) became the de-facto ruler of Saudi Arabia in 2017 when he was elevated to the rank of crown prince. He has been trying to steer the kingdom towards a post-oil economy, in accordance with his Vision 2030. He has also sought to adopt a more assertive foreign policy stance, as seen in the on-going war in Yemen, closer ties with Russia and China, and a willingness to pursue nuclear weapons, should Iran do so.

Why MbS would parrot the line about Iran’s alleged desire to obtain nuclear weapons when the leadership of the Islamic Republic has repeatedly stated that Tehran has no intention of acquiring such weapons? This lie is peddled most vociferously by the US and zionist Israel. Both are nuclear armed states. One (the US) has gained notoriety for using them against Japan in 1945 while the other (Israel) is the only nuclear-armed state in the Middle East.

The bogey of a potential nuclear-armed Iran brings together the interests of the occupation state and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, so much so, that the emergence of an “Arab NATO” was theorized last year, possibly including Israel.

Micro-level developments of Riyadh normalizing relations with Israel have gone apace. They include hosting an Israeli games team at an e-sports event and allowing Israeli businessmen to visit the country. Then on September 26, Israel’s tourism minister, Haim Katz visited Riyadh to participate in a UN-organized tourism conference. Katz became the first Israeli official to publicly visit the kingdom.

During a televised interview with Fox News on September 20, MbS stated that “Every day we get closer,” referring to normalizing relations with the zionist entity. This admission contradicts reports days earlier that “Saudi Arabia has informed the American administration to stop any discussions related to normalization with Israel,” according to Saudi-owned Elaph newspaper. It cited an official from the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as its source.

Nevertheless, Saudi Arabia’s warming ties with Israel must be viewed in the context of its broader foreign policy objectives, particularly its approach towards Iran. The traditional rivalry between Riyadh and Tehran has defined the region’s politics for decades. Yet, the Chinese-brokered rapprochement in March between the two regional heavyweights has introduced a new element of complexity to the equation, arguably throwing a spanner in the works when it comes to Saudi-Israel ties.

As such, Saudi Arabia’s normalization with Israel will be seen as a move that could strain the newly re-established relations with Tehran. Not only will any move towards normalization with Israel be seen as a betrayal of the Palestinian people and the Saudi-led Arab Peace Initiative, but a direct affront to Iran’s interests in the region.

While some argue that normalization with Israel could provide Saudi Arabia with leverage to influence Israeli policies towards the Palestinians, others fear it might undermine the broader, popular Arab stance on the Palestinian question. Saudi Arabia has historically played a key role in the Arab world’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, therefore any divergence from this position could have repercussions for regional stability.

Highlighting the occupation state’s belligerent approach to the erasure of Palestine and its people, during the 78th session of the UN General Assembly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu displayed a map depicting Israel in its entirety. This map was presented as a “New Middle East,” one which will apparently include the establishment of diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia – despite Riyadh’s stance that such a development must come after the realization of an independent Palestinian state.

It is interesting to note that the latest official updated map of Saudi Arabia and its borders, released earlier this month still refers to “Israel” as Palestine. The map which includes the former Egyptian islands Tiran and Sanafir as Saudi territory in accordance with an agreement signed with Cairo in 2016, is to be used by the media and all governmental and educational bodies.

Crucially, as mentioned above, Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy has been undergoing a significant transformation. The kingdom is gradually shifting away from its decades-old reliance on the US and aligning itself more with Eurasian heavyweights Russia and China. This multipolar approach reflects Saudi Arabia’s desire to diversify its international partnerships and reduce its vulnerability to the changing dynamics of US foreign policy, amid waning influence in the region.

This shift also comes against the backdrop of tensions in Saudi-US relations under the Biden regime. While Washington remains an important ally for Saudi Arabia, especially in terms of security cooperation, there have been notable differences on issues such as human rights, the Yemen conflict and most importantly, oil production.

In light of the new multipolar order, Saudi Arabia will increasingly look to re-evaluate its reliance on the US and seek alternative partners. This will not only have ramifications on global trade and the dominance of the petro-dollar, but in the long-term, there will be less pressure on Saudi Arabia to normalize with Israel, especially if Riyadh can meet its economic and security needs without embracing zionism.

It is still too early, however, to reach this conclusion, especially given that the UAE is currently spearheading Arab-Israeli normalization. It is also far ahead of the Saudis with its own pivot to the east (it has become both Russia’s and China’s largest trading partner in the Arab world), although both countries have been invited to become members of BRICS at the same time as Iran.

One of Saudi Arabia’s strategic objectives is to gain admission to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a regional security and economic cooperation bloc dominated by China and Russia. However, recent fully-fledged member Iran holds significant influence within the SCO and has the power to veto admission of new member states.

This dynamic places Saudi Arabia in a delicate position. On the one hand, it seeks to diversify its international alliances and reduce dependence on the US. On the other hand, it must navigate its relationship with Iran, a key player in the SCO, to achieve its goal of joining the organization. In the balance is the issue of whether or not to normalize relations with Israel.

It is clear that Saudi Arabia’s tentative steps towards normalizing relations with the occupation state are part of a broader geopolitical shift in West Asia. These moves are driven by a desire to assert Saudi influence in the region, diversify international partnerships, and reduce reliance on the US.

However, the path to normalization with Israel is fraught with challenges and contradictions, including the potential for strained newly-resumed relations with Iran, the sensitive issue of Palestine, and the complexities of multipolarity in international diplomacy.

Much like the diverging maps of both countries, and conflicting reports on whether normalization is on the agenda, Saudi Arabia’s steps towards this diplomatic endeavour are plagued by uncertainty and shrouded in ambiguity.

Article from

Crescent International Vol. 53, No. 8

Rabi' al-Awwal 16, 14452023-10-01

Sign In


Forgot Password ?


Not a Member? Sign Up