Saudi Arabia: the Hidden Key to Peace in the Middle East
On Tuesday, the White House celebrated the creation of diplomatic relations between Bahrain, the UAE, and Israel. It is another foreign policy success. Within a few weeks, both the UAE and Bahrain agreed to establish relations with Israel. However, without Saudi Arabia, neither the United Arab Emirates nor Bahrain would have concluded their agreements with Israel.
Saudi Arabia’s Growing Closeness with Israel
Riyadh has initiated a process of slow but steady normalization with Israel. The latter can be noticed by occurrences that used to be unthinkable in the monarchy. For instance, the Imam of the Great Mosque of Mecca demanded a dialogue with non-Muslims, particularly Jews, in a sermon. He reminded his audience that the Prophet Muhammad sought good relations with Jews and other non-Muslims. These words may appear ordinary.
However past sermons in Saudi Arabia have had a very different ring to them, including regular calls for Israel’s destruction. Another example of the paradigm shift in Saudi Arabia can be seen in a media that openly criticizes the Palestinians – also a novelty.
These are not coincidental occurrences but preparations for establishing ties with the Jewish state. Riyadh’s green light for Bahrain and UAE is the best validation of this hypothesis. After all, both are close allies of the kingdom and rely on Saudi Arabia’s support in Bahrain’s case.
Bahrain Becomes Fourth Arab State to Recognize Israel
After the UAE, Egypt, and Jordan, Bahrain is the fourth Arab state to recognize Israel. The transformation from anti-Semitism and calls for the destruction of Israel is not without geopolitical self-interest, however. The Gulf Arabs see an alliance with Israel as insurance against their common enemy and the region’s main threat: Iran. For Saudi Arabia, the Shiite mullah’s regime is moreover the main rival for regional hegemony and has repeatedly provoked Saudi Arabia, for example, in Yemen due to its support of the Houthis.
The parallels between Israel and Saudi-Arabia are apparent: both are declared enemies of Iran. Mohammed Bin Salman and Benjamin Netanyahu are allies in their quest to isolate and counter Iran in its malevolent conduct. New allies are becoming increasingly crucial to Saudi Arabia since the protection of America, which has officially existed since 1951, may alter over the next years. MBS is hence more inclined than ever to approach Israel, albeit in well-measured steps.
The New Generation of Arab Leaders Sees Israel More Objectively
So far, however, the Gulf state’s traditional loyalty to the Palestinians and emotions the Six-Day War with Israel has left behind ever since, shaped the older generation of influential Arab politicians such as King Salman. Several times The king has made his proclivity for the classic Arab position towards Israel apparent. However, the current generation, such as Mohammed bin Salman or UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed are not as bound by old sentiments nor traditional hate towards Jews and thus are inclined to disregard Palestinian interests I exchange for geopolitical and economic stability in the region.
However, this does not mean that MBS can disregard his father’s position nor public opinion entirely. He has major plans for his country and is dependent on the king and society’s support. A society that, for the aforementioned reasons, has been indoctrinated with hostility towards Israel for decades.
Gestures, such as the sermon given by Abdulrahman al-Sudais, serve the goal of slowly getting the Saudis used to the idea of a peace agreement with Israel.
Which Country Will Recognize Israel Next?
Sudan or Oman could be the next Arab countries to recognize Israel. Even below the threshold of official treaties, normalization between the Muslim world and Israel continues. Saudi Arabia opens its airspace to flights between Israel and the UAE. According to Israeli media reports, there could soon be direct flights between Israel and Morocco for the first time.
With Saudi Arabia still being the custodian of the holiest Islamic sites of Mecca and Medina, Riyadh has invaluable influence in the Arab-Muslim world and thus remains the key to lasting peace between the Jews and Muslims in the Middle East.
The accords that have been signed are a significant step in the right direction, and despite all controversies, Saudi-Arabia has been one of if not the leading facilitator of progress. Its own peace agreement with Israel has become more likely than ever.