There has been no shortage of speculation, assumptions and even fake news recently about the status of Saudi Arabia’s relationship with Israel. This has been fueled by a number of factors, most notably the drama of the resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
Before Hariri returned to Beirut and retracted his resignation, there were many who predicted that his stepping down was in anticipation of a major military strike against Lebanon, which Saudi Arabia was going to magically outsource to Israel (a country with which it has no diplomatic ties, and a country that has no interest into going to war with Lebanon at the moment).
This, of course, was all quickly proved outrageously wrong.
Other factors include the fact that Riyadh and Tel Aviv are both US allies. They also share a common threat — the ruling rogue regime in Iran. This is not new; many pundits have long assumed that the two countries would become natural allies on the basis that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
There is also the fact that Saudi Arabia has never said “never” to normalizing ties with Israel. In fact, it was the Kingdom — through its significant regional and religious weight — that was behind the most significant peace plan of its kind: The Arab Peace Initiative.
Announced in 2002, the proposal offered Israel normalization with all Arab countries in exchange for resolving the conflict with the Palestinians. Furthermore, the Saudi government — unlike Qatar — did not support Hamas’ offensives against civilians, and unlike Iran or its Houthi and Hezbollah militias, did not incite the demolition and destruction of Israel or threats to Israelis.
However, there is a big “but” here — which is that the Israelis and Palestinians never reached a peace deal, whether based on the Arab Peace Initiative or any other initiative.
Now, while the arrival of President Donald Trump — who has said that he is eyeing “the ultimate deal” in terms of achieving peace in the Middle East — may have shaken things up a bit, the reality will always be that Tel Aviv must resolve its issues with the Palestinians for it to normalize relations with the rest of the Arab world.
The Israelis may themselves want to test the water, while both Qatar and Iran — which Riyadh has recently severed ties with over support of terror and interference in internal affairs — have an interest in moving public opinion against Saudi Arabia.
Faisal J. Abbas
A few Israeli officials have offered security coordination with Saudi Arabia, and others have said that communication is already established. Of course, this has been neither verified nor confirmed by Riyadh. If there are any Saudis who, in a personal capacity, have spoken at conferences or engaged in talks with Israelis, this hardly means that diplomatic relations have been established. Riyadh has also made it clear that no Saudi official has visited Israel in recent months, yet some pundits seem to want to accept everything but the truth.
As for security coordination, the fact that both countries face the threat of terrorism — whether from states such as Iran or from militias or extremist groups — makes it not so unlikely that an indirect sharing of information could occur via the US or some other entity. But again, this is merely speculation and such highly classified information will always remain unconfirmed; in other words, even if it were true, how would anyone know? And if it were true, why would the Israelis expose an important secret source of crucial information? The story just doesn’t add up.
Of course, there are many reasons that speculation of closer Saudi-Israeli relations may have floated around recently. The Israelis may themselves want to test the water, while both Iran and Qatar — with which Riyadh has severed ties over their support of terror and interference in other countries’ affairs — have an interest in moving public opinion against Saudi Arabia.
Furthermore, there has been unprecedented change in Saudi Arabia over the past two years under the ambitious Vision 2030 reform plan; so some pundits may assume that this also includes a redrawing of Saudi alliances and diplomatic relations.
The reality, from everything I have seen and heard, is that there has been no change in terms of the normalization of ties with Israel. The other side of that coin is that Saudi Arabia is still very much committed to achieving regional peace. Under the new leadership in Riyadh, and the Trump administration in Washington, this could not be more possible — if only the Israelis and Palestinians could get their act together.
• Faisal J. Abbas is the editor in chief of Arab News. Twitter: @FaisalJAbbas