Foreign Affairs
Saudi Arabia-Israel Deal: A Game-Changing Development

Saudi Arabia and Israel have announced a historic diplomatic agreement, marking a significant shift in the Middle East’s geopolitical landscape. The agreement, which remains confidential, aims to normalize diplomatic relations, foster economic cooperation, and collaborate on regional security matters.

This move signals an end to decades of hostility and opens new avenues for dialogue and partnership. The longstanding conflict between Israel and the Arab world, in which Saudi Arabia has played a prominent role, has often been a central issue in the region’s volatile politics. The announcement of this deal has far-reaching implications for regional stability, geopolitics, and the future of the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia and Israel are collaborating to counter Iran’s influence in the Middle East, a region they both face common threats. The US, a traditional ally, has played a significant role in this diplomatic breakthrough, with the Biden administration focusing on diplomacy and multilateralism. Economic cooperation is a cornerstone of the Saudi-Israeli deal, with both nations recognizing the potential for mutual economic benefits through trade, investment, and technological exchange. This pragmatic approach reflects their commitment to diversify their economies and reduce reliance on hydrocarbons.

Saudi Arabia and Israel are reportedly working on a diplomatic agreement to establish diplomatic relations, involving enhanced US commitments to Gulf security. This could potentially change the Middle East’s great power rivalry. In return, Saudi Arabia demands legally binding security commitments from the US, support for its nuclear programme, and unfettered access to sophisticated weaponry conditions. The kingdom has also linked diplomatic relations to ambiguously defined progress in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a demand that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu may struggle to meet with his current coalition government.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman described the Palestinian issue as “very important” and hoped it would ease the lives of Palestinians. However, Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan stated that normalizing relations with Israel would require a plan to establish an independent Palestinian state.

Palestinian officials have told Saudi officials that as part of the kingdom’s agreement to recognize the Jewish state, Israel would have to stop building new settlements, expand Palestinian control over security and construction in the West Bank, accept full Palestinian membership of the United Nations, and consent to the opening of a Palestine Liberation Organisation office in Washington and a US consulate in East Jerusalem.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE have raised expectations for a US-Saudi-Israeli deal, with both leaders expressing their desire to establish formal relations. However, the Saudi demands signal that the kingdom prefers the US over China as its security partner for the foreseeable future. Former US National Security Council official Kirsten Fontenrose argued that Bin Salman could forcefully argue for a binding security arrangement even if efforts to forge a deal with Israel failed.

The US is expected to maintain economic and trade ties with the Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia and UAE, despite potentially limiting cooperation on geopolitical issues, nuclear development, technology collaboration, and arms acquisition. The US is requesting Saudi Arabia to maintain oil pegs to the dollar and allow Chinese purchases.

The kingdom cannot have it both ways. If it wants commitment from the United States, it must line up with the United States. If the security relationship with Saudi Arabia is to be deepened because the Saudis want it, there are certain obligations that come with that. Undoubtedly, Saudi Arabia and the UAE will test how far they can push the envelope if they come to a security understanding with the United States. Ultimately, they are likely to find that a security arrangement would shift the geopolitical US-China power balance in the United States’ favour in the Middle East.

Implications for the Middle East

The Saudi-Israeli deal has significant implications for the Middle East and beyond. It could promote regional stability by fostering cooperation among key players, but also heighten tensions with Iran and provoke reactions from other regional powers. The agreement may indirectly influence future negotiations and the prospects for a two-state solution. It could also shift geopolitical alliances, reshape the Middle East’s power balance, and potentially lead to further diplomatic breakthroughs. Additionally, Saudi Arabia’s economic diversification and Israel’s technological prowess could lead to innovations in renewable energy and cybersecurity, impacting global markets.

Saudi Arabia’s potential normalization of relations with Israel could lead to increased trade, tourism, and cooperation in various sectors. This could contribute to regional stability, reduce Middle East tensions, and encourage other countries to follow suit. Both Saudi Arabia and Israel have expressed concerns about Iran’s regional influence, and closer cooperation could serve as a counterbalance. The Saudi government has traditionally supported the Palestinian cause, so any deal would need to address Palestinian concerns and aspirations for statehood.

Public opinion on the normalization of relations with Israel could be contentious, potentially leading to domestic political challenges for the Saudi leadership. A Saudi-Israeli deal could have repercussions on existing regional alliances, potentially straining Saudi Arabia’s relationships with countries critical of Israel’s policies towards Palestinians. The US, which has played a significant role in brokering previous normalization agreements in the region, is likely to have significant involvement and support in any Saudi-Israeli deal. Economic cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Israel could lead to new opportunities, as Israel has a strong technology sector and Saudi Arabia is seeking to diversify its economy.

A New Chapter in Diplomacy

The Saudi-Israeli deal is a significant shift in Middle East diplomacy, challenging long-standing alliances and rivalries. While it aims for a peaceful and prosperous Middle East, it also presents challenges and uncertainties that require careful navigation. The world watches with bated breath as Saudi Arabia and Israel embark on this new chapter in their diplomatic relations, acknowledging the implications extend beyond their borders.

Saudi Arabia and Israel are considering normalizing their relations, which could involve diplomatic ties, trade agreements, and cultural exchanges. This would be a significant shift in Middle East diplomacy. Shared interests, such as concerns about Iran’s regional influence and common security interests, are driving the potential for improved relations. The United States has played a crucial role in encouraging Arab-Israeli normalization through the Abraham Accords, which paved the way for several Arab countries to establish diplomatic relations with Israel.

Public perception is another important factor in normalizing relations. Leaders in both countries must gauge public sentiment and consider how normalization might be received domestically. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been a central issue in Arab-Israeli relations for decades, and any normalization deal involving Saudi Arabia must address it without alienating the broader Arab and Muslim world.

Normalization can bring economic and technological benefits to both countries, increased trade, investment, and cooperation in sectors like technology and healthcare. It could also contribute to regional stability by fostering cooperation on counterterrorism, security, and energy, potentially reducing the risk of conflict in the Middle East.

Israel- Saudi Arabia’s Path to Partnership

The Israel-Saudi Arabia relationship has been marked by secrecy and mutual mistrust since the establishment of Israel in 1948. Saudi Arabia, like many Arab states, rejected Israel’s legitimacy and supported Palestinian nationalist movements. The shared concern over Iran’s nuclear ambitions and regional influence has brought Israel and Saudi Arabia closer together, viewing Iran as a common adversary. Israel to establish diplomatic relations with the UAE and Bahrain, challenging traditional Arab stances.

The new leadership in Saudi Arabia, led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has introduced a more pragmatic approach to foreign policy, aiming to modernize the country and diversify its alliances. Both countries have engaged in covert communications and intelligence sharing, particularly concerning Iran, to address shared security concerns discreetly. Economic collaboration has been discussed, including Israeli investments in Saudi Arabia and cooperation in the technology and cybersecurity sectors. Saudi officials have signalled a willingness to consider normalization with Israel if a comprehensive peace agreement with the Palestinians is reached, a shift from their previous rejectionist stance.

Challenges Ahead

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict remains a significant obstacle to a full-fledged partnership between Saudi Arabia and Israel. Saudi Arabia, like many Arab states, has historically demanded a two-state solution and Palestinian statehood as a precondition for normalization with Israel. Both countries face domestic opposition to closer ties, with political divisions persisting in Israel and conservative elements in Saudi Arabia opposing normalization. Additionally, closer ties with Israel may provoke a backlash from other Arab and Muslim-majority countries, necessitating Saudi Arabia to manage its Arab-world relationships.

The relationship between Israel and Saudi Arabia is uncertain, but recent changes suggest a shift in their relationship due to the evolving regional landscape, shared security concerns, and changing leadership. However, the resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict remains a crucial factor, and both countries must navigate domestic and regional challenges to establish a lasting diplomatic bond.

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