La vita in Arabia Saudita (LaPresse)

The Secret Mission to Riyadh That Could Change the Middle East

The strategic partnership between Saudi Arabia and Israel from an anti-Iranian perspective—and by extension anti-Turkish perspective—are well-established by now, despite the fact that political and diplomatic leaders of the two countries continue to negate its existence, and bilateral relations are still officially frozen. In the background of the growing rumors regarding a possible meeting between Benjamin Netanyahu and Mohammad bin Salman, a historic event took place last week: a delegation of Jewish Americans landed in Riyadh to discuss their approach to Tehran and international relations in the region.

The Mission to Riyadh

Last week from Monday to Thursday the Saudi capital was visited by some leading figures from the Conference of Presidents, the umbrella organization that has united the main lobbies, entities and associations of American Judaism since 1956, acting as intermediary between them and the White House. The news spread only after the trip ended, thanks to a tip received by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

This is a historic event. Members of the Jewish community haven’t entered Saudi Arabia since 1993, ever since the American Jewish Congress sent a delegation to negotiations that would have led shortly afterwards to the Oslo accords.

It is not possible to know the exact number of members on the mission nor what participating organizations the representatives were from. However, it has been confirmed that all of the leaders were there, which includes Chairman Arthur Stark, Executive Vice Chairman Malcolm Hoenlein and CEO William Daroff. The three of them followed a tight schedule and had high-level meetings with members of the royal family and with the Secretary General of the World Muslim League, Mohammed al-Issa.

Their four days in Riyadh were an opportunity to reaffirm the close support that Israel and the United States offers Saudi Arabia in its fight against Iran, which is believed by both countries to be the main reason for regional instability and the proliferation of terrorism in the Middle East. Some have also expressed concern also for Iran’s nuclear program which could smooth the way for the construction of the atomic bomb — a scenario that should absolutely be prevented.

An Historic Event

According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the fact that Saudi authorities green-lighted the arrival of the delegation is a sign of profound change from past times. The Conference of Presidents, in fact, is one of the most important entities serving Israel and Washington and its members are steadfast defenders of the most dedicated form of Zionism. They are known for their extremist positions regarding the Jewish colonies of the West Bank and the Palestinian issue, for example, and for their strong support for US President Donald Trump because of his staunchly pro-Israel positions.

Trump’s Peace Plan (LaPresse)

The arrival of the Conference of Presidents in Riyadh is significant for another reason: until last year, the Israel-Saudi Arabia file had been pushed forward almost exclusively by America’s Evangelical Christian lobby. The influential Israeli-American lobbyist Joel Rosenberg led two diplomatic missions to the country, in November 2018 and in September of last year, both times to discuss Iran, and he was followed by Republican politicians and reverends but never by representatives from the Jewish community. Essentially, what is happening now is that the deeper partnership makes it less necessary to resort to the intermediaries which are the Evangelical Christians in this case.

Last week’s visit represents the progress of the bilateral dialogue between Riyadh and Tel Aviv, moving beyond denial from the leadership of the two countries. It takes place against the backdrop of other events that deserve just as much attention and which are revolutionizing Saudi society, such as the gradual removal of antisemitic teaching in school curricula in the past three years and the growing attempts to condition the ideas and thoughts of public opinion by way of literaturemedia, intellectuals and statements by public figures. The end of the thawing between Israel and Saudi Arabia and the recovery of official diplomatic relations could be on our doorstep.

Translation by Alexa Ahern