This Monday, it was revealed that a meeting had taken place between Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. However, Riyadh has officially denied the meeting having ever taken place, so what does this reveal about Saudi-Israel normalisation?
Saudi Arabia has for long signalled its intent to engage in a friendly relationship with Israel, despite having held back from formally normalising ties, as we saw in the cases of the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan.
After Saudi Arabia essentially footed the bill required of the Sudanese regime to pay the United States, in order to be removed from its “State sponsors of terror” list, it was speculated amongst analysts as to whether Saudi Arabia was looking to follow in Sudan’s footsteps. Riyadh had essentially footed the bill for Sudan, in order to allow for their normalisation deal with Israel to take its course and had backed the Bahraini regimes announced normalisation decision prior to this, Bahrain being a country which Saudi Arabia is able to project seemingly immeasurable power over. Saudi Arabia also allowed for Israeli airliners to pass through its airspace, on route to the United Arab Emirates.
However, this Sunday, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia announced that it would not formally normalise ties with Israel, if a Palestinian State was not erected as a result of a peace deal. The position that Saudi was taking, seemed to be a return to the tune it was singing during the Obama Administration, that of the ‘Arab Peace Initiative’. This statement had for many served as a reassurance that Saudi Arabia would fall into line with the expected US foreign policy agenda, predicted to be initiated under incoming US President Joe Biden.
Then, this Monday, the Israeli media published information that had been leaked to them, indicating that a secret meeting had taken place in Neom, Saudi Arabia, between US, Israeli and Saudi officials. The Saudi denial came, as a member of the Israeli Likud Party congratulated Netanyahu on the meeting. Israeli newspaper Haaretz also confirmed that Netanyahu’s private jet, in which he has travelled to meet high profile world leaders such as Russia’s Vladamir Putin, had departed from Israeli territory and had landed in Saudi, before heading back to Israel roughly 2 hours later.
The Saudi denial of a meeting having taken place altogether, is in fact an indicator that they are not wanting to make public their under the table dealings with Israel. The fact of the matter here is, Saudi Arabia is an ally of Israel, in all but publicly announced form. It works towards a pro-Israeli, pro-American agenda in the Middle East and has made the exact same enemies as Israel in the region. This closeness between Israel and Saudi Arabia can be seen in their joint aims to confront Iran in the region, which was reportedly one of the key components of the meeting that took place this weekend.
Netanyahu Looking For A Political Victory
It is widely speculated that Israeli Premier, Benjamin Netanyahu, had favoured Saudi Arabia for normalisation over the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan. This would make sense too, as Saudi Arabia was at one point hostile to Israel, in the time of King Faysal having famously even cut off oil supplies from the Persian Gulf, causing a global economic catastrophe in 1973, in order to stop Israel’s offensives into Syria and Egypt.
Despite Netanyahu’s normalisation deals having favoured him politically, as a propagandistic mechanism with which to cloak his lack of commitment to annexing the West Bank, the Israeli population is still largely at odds with him. We have also seen that his rival Benny Gantz, currently Minister of War, was not notified of Netanyahu’s visit to Saudi Arabia and publicly criticised the PM for allowing information regarding the meeting to have been leaked to the press.
For Benjamin Netanyahu, he wants to appear to have been working on further normalisation deals with the Arab Regimes and also signal that as Donald Trump exits the White House, he is getting the ball rolling. After the Saudi’s announced that a Palestinian State was a prerequisite to normalisation, this undermined Netanyahu and it may be interpreted that he intended to appear as if he was not letting the issue slip.
Ultimately, the fact that this meeting even took place is indicative of the fact that Israel is not in any meaningful way at odds with the Saudi regime and that Saudi-Israel relations are moving under the table. We may not see everything that goes on behind the scenes, but it is clear that the relationship between the two is on good enough terms for meetings of the sort we found out about on Monday.
Just as we found out in the advent of the normalisation deal announcements from the UAE and Bahrain, the regimes had essentially been on good terms for the best part of the last 40 years, with Bahrain reportedly having a secret Israeli embassy space on its soil prior to any deals having been signed.
Arab countries which have not normalised are countries like Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Lebanon, as well as various others, these countries having a zero tolerance policy for Israel and some of them actively engaging in warfare against Israel. Saudi Arabia is an Israeli ally and it should not take a public announcement from the regime’s spokesperson to confirm this.