Does Saudi Arabia need relations with Israel?
Interest in the Palestinian cause is declining, so the issue of establishing ties with Israel should also decline
Saudi Arabia does not need any relation or normalization with Israel. Interest in the Palestinian cause is declining, so the issue of establishing ties with Israel should also decline.
The top Saudi priorities are economic reforms, and facing security threats represented by Iranian expansion and the collapse of neighboring countries. Israel has no direct role in these issues, and should not take part in them.
The voluntary visit of a retired Saudi major general to Israel was followed by articles in a mainstream Saudi newspaper about the supposed benefits of normalization and relations with Israel. International newspapers and research centers then focused on this issue, to the extent that some even see a looming breakthrough in bilateral ties. Other newspapers have spread rumors of meetings that did not take place between senior Israeli and Saudi officials.
As Israeli diplomats have said, Saudi Arabia refrains from establishing any ties with Israel. To do so, the kingdom would have to put aside its Islamic symbolism and status as guarantor of the two holy mosques, as well as its history, its previous positions stressing the restoration of Palestinian and Arab rights, and its firm rejection of any meetings or formalities with Israeli officials or embassies. How would this benefit the kingdom?
I expect people to say Israel will support Riyadh with economic reforms and security threats, due to its alleged influence from Moscow to Washington, and will finally make concessions to the Palestinians to encourage normalization.
The worst thing Riyadh could do in terms of its public relations in the Muslim world is be allied with Israel against Iran. That would be the long-awaited gift Tehran is waiting forJamal Khashoggi
However, Israel cannot offer any help with economic reforms. Whatever the kingdom needs is accessible without its help. If we presume that we need to buy an advanced Israeli device to accomplish a strategic Saudi project, there are a thousand third parties that are ready to buy the device and re-export it to us.
Israel cannot do much regarding security threats. It would be a burden while we establish Muslim and Arab alliances. The worst thing Riyadh could do in terms of its public relations in the Muslim world is be allied with Israel against Iran. That would be the long-awaited gift Tehran is waiting for.
What could Israel offer in Yemen or Syria to support Saudi Arabia? Would it stand with Salafist Islamist groups in Syria and provide them with anti-aircraft weapons, knowing that they are an exact copy of its main rival Hamas? Can it provide anything that Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar cannot?
Saudi Arabia is leading the coalition in Yemen, and does not need more assistance or support. It could end the battle militarily if it was not for complex political calculations and the lives of Yemeni civilians. Saudi Arabia and the international community are trying to find a peaceful solution, though the kingdom can end the war if the latest diplomatic efforts by US Secretary of State John Kerry fail. In both cases, there is no need for Israel.
It is strong in intelligence, but it is impossible for it to have data in Yemen that Saudi Arabia is unaware of, and are worth normalizing relations with Israel for. This also applies to Syria, where Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey and Qatar have tremendous intelligence sources. There is also an international “circle” that shares intelligence data, including the United States, European countries, Saudi Arabia and its allies.
Israeli influence is exaggerated. Daniel Levy, director of the Middle East Project, which focuses on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, agrees, saying: “There is a strong feeling, not only among Arabs but also in China, that Israel has a strong influence in decision-making circles in capitals like Washington and London. It is an exaggerated issue and it is not wise to rely on it outside Israel’s direct interests. Israel is only defending and protecting its interests.”
When Israel recruited international politicians to stop Iran’s nuclear project, it was concerned about its own security, not that of the region. Israel is certainly not concerned about weapons being used against Syrians.
Riyadh would never need Israeli influence to promote its interests in Washington or any European capital. History has proven that the kingdom has enough influence to solve its problems alone, whenever an arms deal was hindered or whenever it needed a vote in the UN Security Council.
Does Israel have the same objectives as Saudi Arabia in Syria? Does Israel really want President Bashar al-Assad’s regime out - especially since it coexisted with him and his father for half a century - and replaced by an elected government dominated by Islamists and people against Israel’s occupation? Certainly not, according to statements by Israeli politicians and what is published by Israeli research centers.
Those who say establishing ties with Israel will improve the situation for Palestinians should read Levy’s article “Netanyahu wants peace without the Palestinians,” published last month in Haaretz newspaper. It is clear that the Israeli-British Levy is more realistic than Saudi normalization advocates.
This article was first published in al-Hayat on Sept. 3, 2016.
Jamal Khashoggi is a Saudi journalist, columnist, author, and general manager of the upcoming Al Arab News Channel. He previously served as a media aide to Prince Turki al Faisal while he was Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. Khashoggi has written for various daily and weekly Arab newspapers, including Asharq al-Awsat, al-Majalla and al-Hayat, and was editor-in-chief of the Saudi-based al-Watan. He was a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan, and other Middle Eastern countries. He is also a political commentator for Saudi-based and international news channels. Twitter: @JKhashoggi