Saudi Arabia is delaying US-backed plans to normalise ties with Israel, signaling a rethink of its foreign policy priorities as the war between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas escalates. The conflict has prompted Saudi Arabia to engage with Iran, with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman receiving his first phone call from Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.
The US-backed talks on normalisation with Israel are expected to be delayed, as Saudi Arabia aims to secure a US defense pact in exchange. Until the recent conflict, both Israeli and Saudi leaders had been moving towards a deal that could have reshaped the Middle East. Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam and home to its two holiest sites, has indicated it would not allow its pursuit of a US defense pact to be derailed.
Saudi Arabia is considering a rethinking approach to Israel’s integration with the Palestinians, as the ongoing conflict in the region has led to images of Palestinians killed in Israeli retaliatory air strikes. The Saudi government has not responded to Reuters’ requests for comment, but the rethink highlights the challenges facing Washington’s efforts to deepen Israel’s integration in a region where the Palestinian cause remains a major Arab concern.
The US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told a White House briefing this week that the normalisation effort was “not on hold” but focused on other immediate challenges. Washington had pressed Riyadh to condemn the Hamas attack, but Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan pushed back.
The regional conflict has prompted Saudi Crown Prince and Iran’s President to speak for the first time, following re-establishment of diplomatic ties in April through a Chinese-brokered initiative. A Saudi statement stated that the crown prince told Raisi that the kingdom is exerting maximum effort to engage with all international and regional parties to halt the ongoing escalation, underlining Riyadh’s move to contain the crisis.
A senior Iranian official stated that a call made by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Saud to the crown prince aimed to support Palestine and prevent the spread of war in the region. The call was good and promising, lasting 45 minutes and had the blessing of Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei. The Saudi government did not provide further details on the call but stated the kingdom’s opposition to civilian targeting and the loss of innocent lives.
Saudi Arabia is attempting to resolve Middle East conflicts, including the ongoing war in Yemen, led by a military coalition against Iran-aligned Houthis. A senior US State Department official said Washington was in “constant contact with Saudi leaders” and was asking partners with channels to Hamas, Hezbollah, or Iran to get Hamas to stand down from its attacks, release hostages, keep Hezbollah out, and keep Iran out of the fray.