Traditional Saudi Arabia, represented by King Salman and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, remains committed to the position that the Kingdom has adhered to since the Arab Peace Initiative nearly two decades ago. This means that comprehensive normalisation between Israel and the Arab world would be in exchange for comprehensive peace with the Arabs and the Palestinians.
Parallel Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, has abandoned this under its de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, and denies Arab and Palestinian rights as it allies itself with Zionism, not simply with Israel the state. Today, that is the “real” Saudi Arabia, for when it participates in putting pressure on Sudan and paying a bribe to the US to make the African state normalise, it goes beyond “normal” relations with the occupation state and becomes a full-blown strategic alliance.
The matter has not stopped with Sudan. The same pressures are being put on Iraq, Syria, Pakistan and many other countries. Basically, Saudi Arabia is operating as a minesweeper for Israel, paving the way for its tanks to cross Muslim lands, and is bearing the cost of doing so with a degree of enthusiasm that borders on ecstasy. The government in Riyadh is behaving like the UAE, which is also implicitly a part of the alliance.
Preserving the “secrecy” of the relationship is based on two considerations: Saudi public opinion, which polls confirm is strongly against normalisation and supportive of Palestinian rights; and King Salman’s desire to preserve his image of not joining hands with the Zionists, just like his brothers who preceded him on the throne. However, the aging monarch does not appear to be doing anything to curb his son’s enthusiasm towards Israel. The two will continue to share roles until the King either steps down or departs this life.
According to the Israeli media, Monday’s meeting between Benjamin Netanyahu and Bin Salman was not the first. They have, it is said, met before on yachts and in Arab and European cities. What is new is not the meeting itself, or its agenda, but the fact that details were “leaked”. Israel’s system of military censorship could have stopped the leak in advance, but didn’t. Moreover, senior Saudi officials confirmed to the Wall Street Journal that the meeting did take place, suggesting that the leak was approved by both parties, but why?
It was, of course, a gift from Bin Salman to Netanyahu to use in his domestic battles with fellow politicians and the Israeli public. The prince is totally indebted to him, as well as to Trump, for “saving his ass”. Netanyahu knows that any normalisation with Saudi Arabia will enhance his domestic standing, and so his closest advisors tweeted that while his rival is making politics, he is making peace.
Furthermore, according to what Saudi officials told Israel Hayom, which is close to Netanyahu, leaking details of the meeting sent a message to US President-elect Joe Biden, that, “The Saudis are certain that Biden and his people have already prepared a plan for a new nuclear agreement with the Iranians and want to minimise damage. The officials also said that Riyadh saw Israel as a key ally on the Iranian issue.”
The same newspaper, which was briefed about the secret talks, reported: “The Saudis are worried that Bin Salman and other officials could be the targets of sanctions and arrest warrants issued by the Biden administration over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. If that were to happen, Bin Salman told Netanyahu, the Saudis would need Israel’s help in dealing with the Americans.”
As a result, none of this will benefit Mohammad Bin Salman, especially if he remains as he is, with his wild impulses, achieving major losses. The Israelis will not be able to help him, but he will be the one to help them.
Iran will remain a threat to him; its proxies are beating his coalition in Yemen; they struck at the heart of Saudi Arabia when they hit Aramco last year; and they have the upper hand in Lebanon and other arenas of competition. Tehran will also be armed with a new nuclear deal.
And what of the man who used to boast that he had “saved Bin Salman’s ass”? He will be busy “saving his own ass” after his defeat in the US presidential election and a number of legal cases regarding Russian interference, taxes, obstruction of justice and more. As for the Democrats, they will take pleasure in hitting Trump’s allies, starting with Mohammad Bin Salman.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Araby Al-Jadeed on 26 November 2020.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.