The long read: After decades of aggression, a shared antagonism of Iran and a mutual fondness for Trump is fetching Israels secret links with Gulf kingdoms out into the open

In mid-February 2019, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, operated to Warsaw for a highly unusual powwow. Under the auspices of the US vice-president, Mike Pence, he gratified the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and two other Gulf states that have no diplomatic ties with Israel. The major items on the agenda was containing Iran. No Palestinians represented here. Most of the existing links between Israel and the Gulf have been obstructed secret- but these talks were not. In fact, Netanyahu’s office leaked a video of a executive session, embarrassing the Arab participants.

The meeting publicly showcased the impressive knowledge that Israel, as Netanyahu was so lament to advertise, is winning following of a sort from the wealthiest the nations of the Arab world- even as the prospects for resolving the longstanding Palestinian question are at an all-time low-spirited. This unprecedented rapprochement has been driven mainly by a shared animosity towards Iran, and by the disruptive new plans of Donald Trump.

Hostility to Israel has been a defining feature of the geopolitical scenery of the Middle eastern since Israel’s creation in 1948 and the ouster or flight of more than 700,000 Palestinians- which Arabs bellow the Nakba, or catastrophe- that accompanied it. Still, over its first year, pan-Arab solidarity and boycott of the “Zionist entity” are predominantly faded away. The last Arab-Israeli war was in 1973. Israel’s peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan are unpopular, but have lasted decades. The 1993 Oslo agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation( PLO) was an historic- if ultimately disappointing- achievement. And what is happening now with the Gulf territories is a hugely important shift.

Evidence is mounting of increasingly close ties between Israel and five of the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council( GCC)- nothing of which have formal its relationship with the Jewish territory. Trump highlighted this accelerating change on his firstly foreign errand as chairman– to the Saudi capital Riyadh- by piloting on directly afterwards to Tel Aviv. Hopes for Saudi help with his much-hyped” treat of the century” to discontinue the Israel-Palestine conflict have faded since then. Yet Netanyahu is seeking to normalise relations with Saudi Arabia. And there has even been surmise about a public meeting between him and Mohammed bin Salman( MBS ), the Saudi crown prince who was widely blamed for the merciless assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi last October. That would be a sensational- and highly controversial- minute, which is why Saudis are signalling frantically that it is not be happening. Still, the has met with Netanyahu in Warsaw went well beyond anything that has taken place before. The abnormal is become normal.

The original impetus for these developing relationships between Israel and the Gulf countries was a reciprocal distaste for Barack Obama. In the early years of the Arab springtime, he infuriated the Saudis and the UAE, and alarmed Israel, by abandoning Egypt’s president Hosni Mubarak, and then voiced support for the popular mutiny in Syria and called for Bashar al-Assad to resign. In 2015, when the US-led nuclear agreement was signed with Iran, it was vehemently was rejected by Israel and most Gulf positions. That September, Russia’s armed intervention in Syria marked the beginning of the end of the crisis for Assad. Tehran’s steadfast support for its ally in Damascus, and its patronage of Hezbollah in Lebanon- Iran’s” axis of opposition”- was regarded with indistinguishable abhorrence in Jerusalem, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi.

” The Obama administration was detested by Saudi Arabia and Israel because it shunned them both ,” a senior Saudi told me. A veteran Israeli official formed the same dispute:” There was a sense that we were looking at an American’ s administration that wasn’t as had undertaken to America’s traditional pals. We had to make common justification because there was a sense of being left to fend for ourselves. Unwittingly, Obama contributed very significantly to the buildup of relations between us and the UAE and the Saudis .”

Netanyahu’s game plan is to promote relations with the Gulf and beyond, and thus to marginalise and pressure the Palestinians.” What is happening with Arab countries has never happened in its own history, even though we signed peace agreements ,” is his carefully refined formula.” Cooperation in different ways and at different levels isn’t inevitably visible above the surface, but what is below the surface is far greater than at any other span .” As Dore Gold, Netanyahu’s former national insurance consultant, elaborated with a smile, these texts are” very carefully drafted to give a positive meaning without shedding the beans .”

The priority for the Saudis and their allies is repelling Iran, which in the past few years has consolidated the same position in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, where it backs the Houthi mavericks. MBS notoriously described Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, as a” brand-new Hitler “. Netanyahu equated Obama’s nuclear treat to the Munich agreement of 1938- and after Trump abandoned it last summer, Netanyahu signalled Israel’s readiness to join an” international coalition” against Tehran.” We were raised to see Israel as an antagonist that occupied Arab countries ,” insists an Emirati analyst.” The world now is that the Israelis are there whether you like it or not. We have common interests with them- and it’s about Iran, about pastimes , not spirits .”

There is also a pragmatic recognition in Gulf capitals of the benefits of security, technological and economic links with an unassailably powerful Israel- is not merely for their own sake, but also because of the US approval that accompanies. Israel sees ties with the Gulf as a significant way of expressing its own influence in Washington.” It can doubt that the scope of( US) aid to Arab countries could have been maintained without the support of Aipac( the primary pro-Israel hallway radical) and Jewish organisations ,” proposes Eran Lerman, former deputy chief of Israel’s National Security Council.

None of this means that the Palestinian question has gone away. “Normalisation”( of relations with Israel) remains a dirty word of billions of Arabs, which is why autocratic Gulf captains dread popular opposition to their brand-new cosiness with Netanyahu. Formally, every GCC state remains committed to the Arabpeaceinitiative of 2002, which provides for recognition of Israel in return for a Palestinian territory in the territories occupied in 1967, with Occupied east jerusalem as its capital. But even this is far more than Netanyahu will ever accept: he will consider simply a Palestinian “state-minus”, and openly refuses to raze the illegal settlements that partition the West Bank into disconnected enclaves. Netanyahu’s numerous Israeli commentators- indignant over the corruption fees he is facing as next month’s elections approach- have deplored that he is overdoing both the Iranian threat and the significance of his Gulf diplomacy, while completely discounting the existential crisis in Israel’s own backyard- its ongoing had failed to make peace with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu’s meeting with the Saudis and Emiratis in Warsaw was not the first spectacular public peek of this changing Middle east actuality. Last October, the Israeli prime minister held talks in Muscat, the capital of Oman, with its ruler, Sultan Qaboos bin Said. The following daylight, his Likud party colleague, different cultures and sports executive Miri Regev, was seeing Abu Dhabi in the UAE, while at the same meter Israeli contestants were competing in Doha in nearby Qatar.

News of Netanyahu’s Muscat trip included video footage of his talks in the ornate Bait al-Baraka palace. The “ministers “, in a blue clothing and tie, was ensure exchanging remarks with the sultan, in a turban and traditional lily-white dishdasha garb. The Israeli leader’s bride, Sara, was there with other members of his delegating, including an impassive middle-aged boy announced Yossi Cohen, head of the Mossad intelligence service.

During Regev’s stay in Abu Dhabi, where Israel’s top judo team was participating in a tournament, she bawled on camera as Hatikvah, Israel’s national hymn( the Hebrew statements are about hankering for Zion) was played. Later she toured the sumptuou Sheikh Zayed mosque, celebrating the UAE’s founder, a loyal backer of the Palestinian reason. These two Israeli ministerial visits to Gulf capitals afforded a powerful elevate to the impression of drastic changes in the region’s alliances.

But as word of Netanyahu’s visit to Oman rose, there was a reminder of threats to a reaction. Six Palestinians were killed and 180 disabled by Israeli army snipers on the border of the Gaza Strip, where weekly asserts now challenge the blockade imposed on the territory by Israel since 2007.

Palestinian protesters on the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, October 2018. Photograph: Mohammed Saber/ EPA

” Our[ Gulf] Arab brothers … have stabbed us in the front and the back, vacating us politically while espousing Israel ,” complained the Palestinian activist Kamel Hawwash.” Israeli flags could soon be winging in the skies of some Gulf commonwealths, while they pressure the Palestinian leadership into accepting a’ conciliation’ batch that is unacceptable .” He described” sickening personas of a beaming … Netanyahu- the leader of an inhuman apartheid regime, with bucketloads of Palestinian and other Arab blood on his hands- being welcomed … by the ailing sultan of Oman .”

Netanyahu was not, in fact, the first Israeli chairman to stay Muscat. The Labor prime minister Yitzhak Rabin congregated Qaboos in 1994, as did his successor Shimon Peres. But in the mid-1 990 s the Oslo peace process, albeit flawed and already stumbling, was still being pursued by Israel and Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization. It was still- just about- possible to believe in a joyous cease to the world’s most intractable conflict. Nowadays, by compare , no peace talks have been held between Israel and the PLO since 2014, when the Obama administration eventually shed in the towel. That is a very significant difference.

But despite these recent twinklings of advertisement, hard evidence of Israeli ties with the Gulf nations is still rare- because they remain largely covert.

The links are most visible with the UAE, where Israel, uniquely, has an official diplomatic attendance at the headquarters of the International Renewable Energy Agency in Abu Dhabi- though both countries emphasise that they do not have bilateral relations. Avi Gabbay, captain of the opposition parties Labour party, held talks there last December. Netanyahu is thought to have met Emirati presidents in Cyprus in 2015 to discuss how to tackle Iran. But secret contacts between the two countries were routine from the mid-1 990 s- some of which were recorded in the US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks. The Emiratis” believes in Israel’s role because of their taste of Israel’s close relationship with the US, but also due to their sense that they can count on Israel against Iran ,” an Israeli diplomat observed in 2009, adding that in general Gulf Arabs” accept Israel can work supernatural “.

These “below-the-surface” relations suffered a lamentable setback in 2010 when a Mossad hit team assassinated the Hamas operative Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in a Dubai hotel. Mabhouh was Hamas’s arms-procurement liaison with Iran. The Emiratis banned anyone identified as Israeli from enrolling the two countries, even if they were advancing on a foreign passport. But it wasn’t long before discreet diplomatic and business attaches resumed.” In such cases you are only keep your foreman down and wait until everything there is jolts over ,” said a Swiss-based Israeli businessman. In 2013 the Israeli president, Shimon Peres, spoke from Jerusalem via moon to 29 the ministers for foreign affairs of Arab and Muslim countries attending an Abu Dhabi conference.

The Israelis quietly participated in joint military exercises with UAE forces, both in the US and in Greece, from 2016. Last-place year UAE military personnel apparently inspected an Israeli airbase to review the operations of US-made F-3 5 fighter jets, though this was denied by Israel. Clandestine cooperation is believed to include Israeli intelligence surveillance of Iran, and the sale of Israeli drones used in the conflict in Yemen.

Israel’s confederations in the Arabian Gulf

But the clearest evidence of overlapping pastimes between the Gulf and Israel has come in occasional public affirmations from Gulf officials. In the island empire of Bahrain, where the Sunni Al Khalifa monarchy subdues a Shia majority and complains were humbled by Saudi intervention in 2011, the of ministers for foreign affairs faced disapproval last year when he spoke of Israel’s right to defend itself after Iranian weapons were propelled from Syria. On Arabic-language social media, adversaries of normalisation exploded in outrage. But in late 2017, when Trump declared the controversial decision to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Bahrain’s foreign minister tweeted:” It’s not helpful to pick a fight with the US over side issues while we together addressing the issue of clear and present danger of The Theo-Fascist Islamic republic .” Rumour has it that Bahrain’s capital, Manama, may be Netanyahu’s next GCC destination.

Qatar, the maverick of the headland, have all along behaved more independently, and more so since a coalition that includes Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt enforced a blockade on Qatar in 2017, to pressure it over the encouragement of Islamist groups and its perceived tolerance of Iran. But in the past few years Doha has played an increasingly public character in mediating between Israel and Hamas, which restrains Gaza, with Qatar’s emissary delivering suitcases substance with millions of dollars in cash to pay official payments and allay the deepening humanitarian crisis in Gaza resulting from its blockade by Israel. Qatar is criticised by the Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank, for legitimising Hamas, its Islamist rival.

Oman too gets on naughtily with the Saudis and Emiratis because it has always had friendly relations with Iran, inspiring speculation that Netanyahu’s trip was intended to send a message to Tehran. Omani beginnings speculate, nonetheless, that the sultan’s invitation was about advertising his pro-Israel credentials to Washington, where Trump’s hawkish national security crew is suspicious of Oman’s ties to the Islamic Republic. Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, disclosed afterward that he had been forewarned in advance about Netanyahu’s trip and alleged Israel of trying to cause rifts in the Gulf.

Fear of Iran, above all, is what has brought Israel and the Gulf states together. Suspicion of Tehran dates back to the 1979 Iranian change, but it has intensified in the past two decades. The US-led intrusion of Iraq in 2003- which staggeringly increased Iran’s influence in individual regions by removing a longstanding antagonist, Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-dominated regime- came a year after the exposure of a secret uranium enrichment facility is an indication that Iran had not vacated its nuclear program ambitions. This sharpened the focus on the Islamic Republic’s regional aspirations, including a potential threat to Israel’s undeclared nuclear monopoly.

In 2004 King Abdullah of Jordan warned of the appearance of a “Shia crescent” stretching from Damascus to Tehran via Baghdad, where Iraq’s Shia majority had been entitled by the removal of Saddam. The assassination of the Lebanese “ministers ” Rafiq al-Hariri in 2005 implicated Syria and the Iranian-backed Shia organisation Hezbollah. In January 2006, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad convened the hardline Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In December 2005, at the summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in Mecca, Ahmadinejad had used a addres to deny the Holocaust- described by one spectator as” a blatant number of one-upmanship that left the Al Saud[ Saudi Arabia’s ruling pedigree] mortified and unable to respond “.

The key turning point was the 2006 campaign between Israel and Hezbollah. The 34 -day conflict marked a step-change in regional dynamics. Riyadh denounced Hezbollah’s incursion into Israel and abduction of two Israeli soldiers, describing it not as” lawful fighting” but a” miscalculated adventure “. The Saudis and Israelis had a” common interest in treating Hezbollah and Iran a serious blow ,” withdrew Daniel Kurtzer, who had been US ambassador to Israel until the previous year. Officially sanctioned Saudi preachers excoriated Hezbollah, while adversaries of Saudi Arabia’s lords” clutched upon the crusade to highlight the prudence, immobility, impiety and- some cases, illegitimacy- of the Saudi regiman ,” as a later study concluded. In August, Assad insulted the rulers of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan as “half-men” because of their antagonism to the Lebanese militia.

UN peacekeepers with a billboard presenting Iran’s late president Ayatollah Khomeini after the Israel-Hezbollah war, southern Lebanon, September 2006. Photograph: Francois Mori/ AP

Secret diplomacy between Israel and pro-western Arab countries then intensified. In mid-September 2006, Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert, travelled to the Jordanian uppercase, Amman, to satisfy Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the long-standing Saudi ambassador to Washington DC, known as “Bandar Bush” because of his close links to the presidential pedigree. Now he was national insurance adviser to King Abdullah. Back in Riyadh, the Saudis were fierce when news leaked of the convene- as a former elderly Israeli intelligence official told me- and denied it had has just taken place. Publicly, Olmert said only that “hes been” ” highly impressed by various moves and evidences connected with Saudi Arabia “. Nor did he refer to meeting Bandar when he wrote his memoirs a decade subsequently.( Israel’s clandestine relations with Arab countries are still considered a national protection concern by the military censoring authorities and a ministerial committee that vets pamphlets by acting and former officials and politicians .)

One of the key players on the Israeli side was the Mossad chief, Meir Dagan, who was credited with a proactive alliance-building programme with Arab and other partners, in part as a means to enable Israel’s assassinations of Iranian scientists and destruction of Tehran’s nuclear programme.” Israel and the Gulf territories were in the same craft ,” detected David Meidan, who passed Mossad’s international department.

” All of a sudden the Mossad was schooling Farsi ,” a former knowledge official marvelled. It was reported around this time that a fulfill had been assembled in the Jordanian Red Sea resort of Aqaba between Dagan, Bandar and the is chairman of Jordanian knowledge, who decided to” building and strengthening and accelerate ability exchanges” to cope with Iranian menaces. The conspicuous existence of Dagan’s successor Yossi Cohen- nicknamed” the simulation” because of his fashionable suits- alongside Netanyahu in Muscat last October may have been intended to send a not-so-subtle signal to the Iranians about Israel’s ability access to Gulf capitals.

One former UAE diplomat told me that security threats from Iran today had a unifying upshot comparable to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, which led to a previously intolerable US armed proximity in Saudi Arabia.” If it wasn’t for the Palestinian question ,” the ex-diplomat said,” this relationship with Israel would be very public, and it would be very welcome, because we need their military paraphernalium and technological sciences .”

Jamal al-Suwaidi, the founder of the government-backed Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research, placed it more bluntly:” The Palestinian cause is no longer at the forefront of Arabs’ interests, as it used to be for long decades; it has sharply lost priority in light of the challenges, menaces and questions that face countries of the region .” Similarly, he included, the question of Israel was not comparable to the” threats constituted … by Iran, Hezbollah and terrorist groups “.

There is still audible disagreement in the Gulf over the developing reconciliation with Israel.” I am against normalisation ,” contends Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a Dubai political scientist.” I am against descent the Palestinian issue because still others capitalising on it politically. Although Palestine is not the number one issue, it is still an issue- in the heart perhaps , not so much in the mind .” One indication, nonetheless, of UAE priorities can be found in the strict nation ascendancies imposes on media: word websites affiliated with Qatar and Iran are blocked, but Israeli websites are not.

In addition to shared disdain for Iran, the Gulf states and Israel have been brought together by a common resentment to Islamist parties. Arabic and English-language media associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, Turkey and Qatar routinely expose and lambast UAE links to Israel. Qatar-based al-Jazeera is a major source for these floors, as is the Middle East Eye website in London. Emiratis respond by recalling that the first ever Israeli mission in the Gulf was actually opened in Qatar, in the post-Oslo honeymoon of 1996.( Israeli representative offices in Qatar and Oman closed after the outbreak of the second largest intifada, or Palestinian insurgency, in 2000, but discreet ties continued .)

Many important developments in the advancing linkages between Israel and the Gulf have gone unreported because they are masked by contradictory public positions- and sometimes by outright lies. In December 2008, when some 1,400 Palestinians were killed during Gaza in the Israeli military’s Operation Cast Lead, the Saudis publicly criticised Israel. Shortly afterwards, however, Riyadh appeared to agree in farther Israeli military action against Hamas, in the form of airstrikes against Iranian forearms escorts in Sudan en route to Gaza. Disclosed US cables testified the Israelis attached a diplomatic safarus to stop artilleries being delivered. When that failed, they launched long-distance attacks across the Red Sea into Sudan in early 2009, but crucially granted prior notification to the Saudis, according to informed sources.

By then, in accordance with the deputy head of Israel’s National Security Council,” senior professionals in the intelligence and security domains from Israel and the Gulf countries were collaborating “. The same informants prove, as has been rarely reported but always officially repudiated, that the Saudis agreed to turn a blind eye to Israeli air force flights across their territory in the event of an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, before the relevant recommendations was abandoned because of Obama’s opposition in 2012.

Israeli trade with the Gulf territories is currently estimated to be worth$ 1bn a year, though no official statistics are available on either side. The potential, nonetheless, is vast- in technology, specially cybersecurity, irrigation, medical supplyings and the diamond industry, among others, it could be up to $25 bn annually, according to a detailed brand-new study.

Israeli financiers use foreign passports move regularly to the UAE, usually on commercial flights via Amman.” There is a huge amount going on ,” says the Israeli representative of a multinational company who jaunts to Arab regimes with an EU passport.

AGT International, owned by Israeli Mati Kochavi, afforded electronic fencings and surveillance paraphernalium worth $800 m to protect UAE margins and oilfields. Emirati officials described this as a non-political decision motivated by national security interests. In 2014 Haaretz prepared headlines where reference is first discerned a mysterious weekly private flight from Tel Aviv, via Amman, to Dubai. Nowadays direct flights between the Gulf and Israel, though still unexplained publicly, are frequently reported on social media. Israeli businesses operate in the UAE via firms registered in Europe. Bills of lading are produced from an intermediary country, often Jordan or Cyprus.

Like the Emiratis, the Saudis have calmly hired Israeli business, particularly in the security sphere. One Israeli firm was a subcontractor on the hi-tech barrier fabricated from 2014 by the European apology giant EADS along the kingdom’s mete with Iraq, a elderly veteran of Israel’s defence establishment revealed in an interview.

In 2012, when intruders breached the computer structure of Saudi Aramco, “the member states national” oil companionship, Israeli organizations were called in. Israel apparently sold drones to Saudi Arabia via South africans, but denied that it had exchanged its” Iron Dome” plan protecting the realm from rocket an attack against Iranian-backed Houthi mavericks in Yemen. In 2018 Israeli media were allowed by armed censors to report that the Israeli and Saudi chiefs of staff had met at a Washington conference for commanders of US-allied armies. The Saudis disclaimed the story.

Buildings been struck by Houthi rockets in Najran, Saudi Arabia, August 2016. Photograph: Reuters

Intelligence cooperation between Israel and the Gulf commonwealths have become even more secretive- although Israeli politicians and officials do refer to it rarely. In late 2017, Israel’s army chief of staff constituted headlines where reference is present to share intelligence on Iran with Saudi Arabia- noting that their countries shared” many common interests “. Western beginnings prove the existence of this cooperation.” The Israeli intelligence kinfolks who have gone to these countries have met the leaders ,” said a former senior US diplomat.” They know each other quite well .” Obama’s firstly secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, reportedly” knew that the UAE and Saudi Arabia were … working together behind the scenes with the Mossad to counter Iranian force “.

Unofficial Saudi spokesmen say coordinated with Israel is confined to the subjects of Iran and counter-terrorism- and complain that the Israelis inflate its range for propaganda purposes. As one well connected Saudi journalist tweeted, with usual dismissiveness:” Fetishising non-existent co-operation between #Saudi/ GCC states and #Israel has become a trend in west media/ thinktank circles .” Foreign governments close to both countries feel the two maintain a hotline for emergencies and are in regular contact.” There is now contiguity between the Israelis and Saudis ,” says a western intellect informant.” You has actually been the kind of security relations between countries that exist when they share a border. The committee is practical things that need to be sorted out, so you end up with a routine affair which can create more senior contact and a more strategic outlook on both sides .”

It is a reasonably open secret. In 2013, Bandar bin Sultan, by then leading Saudi General Intelligence, convened the then Mossad chief, Tamir Pardo, for what a elderly British root described as a” long and boozy dinner” at a Knightsbridge hotel.” There has all along been such active cooperation between both countries, to its implementation of analysis, human intellect and interception on Iran and flows loyal to it such as Hezbollah, the Houthis and the Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Units ,” a specialist intelligence newsletter reported in 2016. Saudi officials were said to be as “pleased as punch”.

On the Saudi side, however, the committee is objections that the relationship is an disproportionate one. Israel, it is said, has not always responded to requests for intelligence, even when submitted via the US. And there are indeed indications of an internal debate in Israel about the value of links with the field. Its own sophisticated surveillance abilities are not matched by what the Saudis have to offer, whether that’s knowledge of Yemeni tribes or Arabs in Iranian’s Khuzestan province, according to an Israeli with long experience of addressed with Riyadh.

There is also still a lack of trust between the two sides.” I can understand that the Israelis would not have given the Saudis sensitive information because they couldn’t be confident that the Saudis would have protected the resources- and that would have created a serious counter-intelligence trouble ,” mused another ability veteran.” They are not natural spouses. They have very different intelligence cultures. The Israelis are world-class and the Gulfies are not. The Israelis would not go into a relationship unless they get some proper dividend .”

The developing links between Israel and the Gulf were given a significant boost by Trump’s arrival in the White House- although early US plans for a rally between Netanyahu, Saudi Arabia’s MBS and the Emirati crown prince, Mohammed bin Zayed, failed to materialise. But the trend was already clear under Obama. Signs of increasing Saudi-Israeli relations multiplied when King Salman came to the throne in 2015, and even more so since MBS- who was profiled by Israeli intelligence on Netanyahu’s orders- was helped to crown prince.

In 2016 Israel threw the go-ahead to Egypt to transfer to Saudi Arabia the Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir, at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba. A Saudi lobbyist, Salman Ansari, called for a” collaborative partnership” with Israel to help MBS’s Vision 2030 blueprint for economic reform and diversification. Both countries faced” continued threat from radical groups … immediately supported by the totalitarian government of Iran ,” he reasoned. The $500 bn Neom megacity project, near the borders of Jordan, Egypt and Israel, lured strong Israeli attention. The Straits of Tiran, the siege of which by Egypt’s PresidentGamal Abdel Nasser prompted the 1967 conflict , now faced a brighter future, reflected the commentator Abdelrahman al-Rashed,” one where agreement and prosperity prevail “.

Trump’s inflammatory decision in December 2017 to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, breaching a long-standing international consensus, initially met with a muted response in Riyadh. The president’s” eventual transaction” to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict was discussed by his son-in-law Jared Kushner with MBS. Subsequent leaks pointed to a crucial role for the Saudis in pressuring the Palestinians. And when the crown prince made a three-week tour to the US last spring, he transmitted even louder signals about his intentions toward Israel, telling the Atlantic that the Palestinians is able to accept Trump’s plan or” shut up and stop complain” about an issue that was no longer a priority compared to confronting Iran. MBS likewise explicitly acknowledged Jewish claims to Israel, testifying:” I believe the Palestinians and the Israelis has every right to to have their own land .” Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza burned pictures of the Saudi royals.

The crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman. Picture: AP

Unusually, MBS was then reined in by his father. In April 2018, at the Arab League summit in Dhahran, Salman announced that it would be mentioned the al-Quds( Jerusalem) summit.” In Saudi Arabia, the emperor is the one who decides on this issue now , not the crown prince ,” as a senior Arab diplomat explained. The resumption of Saudi financial aid to the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority- which was also a response to Qatari support for Hamas-ruled Gaza- was another clue.

In the background, nonetheless were other signs of Saudi flexibility: in March 2018 a commercial flight from Delhi to Tel Aviv was allowed for the first time to cross Saudi airspace. But there was a significant suitability.” Kerry questioned the Saudis to let[ Israeli airline] El Al operate over their territory ,” showed an Israeli defence expert.” And who got permission? Air India! it shows that the Saudis can be flexible but they cannot betray the Palestinians , not because they affection them or trust them but because it is an issue for their people and the religious establishment- and also because of its own position vis-a-vis Iran .” Nevertheless, it fitted the narrative that Netanyahu has been eagerly supporting, that the relationship with key Arab positions were” improving beyond curiosity” regardless of the Palestinian question. In June the Saudi intelligence director Khalid bin Ali al-Humaidan apparently assembled Kushner and Trump’s envoy Jason Greenblatt, as well as the Mossad’s Yossi Cohen and his Palestinian Authority, Jordanian and Egyptian counterparts, in Aqaba to discuss regional security.

These increasingly cosy affairs suffered a serious blow with the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in October 2018. Amid international judgment and constantly changing Saudi responses, the Israeli authority was initially silent. When Netanyahu eventually addressed the question, he deplored a “horrendous” occurrence, but told it is necessary to that Saudi Arabia are stable- which was more or less exactly what Trump said, too. Saudi beginnings said his position was ” much appreciated” in Riyadh. Israel’s intelligence community was said to be alarmed by MBS’s recklessness.” Let’s hope that if he wants to assassinate people again- say commanders of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards- he’ll consult people with some relevant know-how ,” wrote its own security expert Ronen Bergman. Surveillance equipment manufactured by the Israeli company NSO was reportedly been applied to track the Saudi journalist, according to the Washington Post. And one of the two top aides to MBS “whos” is the responsibility of the killing was the most senior Saudi official to have visited Israel( in search of state-of-the-art surveillance technology ), reported the Wall Street Journal. It revealed too that new arrangements had been put in place to allow Israel financiers to softly visit the kingdom.

In public, nonetheless, Saudi Arabia’s relationship with Israel remains cautious and reticent. Unlike the UAE, Bahrain and Qatar, it refuses to allow Israelis to attend international sports events.” Not hosting a chess tournament with Israeli participates is a statement of our resolving for a free Palestine ,” noted the columnist Tariq al-Maeena.” As the Custodian of the two Holy Mosques, Saudi Arabia permits the load of the Islamic world and this form of commitment is necessary to fend off splendid Zionist motifs for the region .” Last December the Saudis even resisted a UN resolution condemning Hamas, along with all other Arab states.

Among the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, alarm appeared to have receded. Supposition about how far MBS will dare to go in cuddling Israel is no more than” gossipy innuendo”, said the Palestinian ambassador in London, Husam Zomlot, who was hurled out of Washington as one of the purposes of the US offensive against the PLO. Saeb Erekat, the PLO’s leader delegate, despised the” imperialist imaginations of the Trump unit”, insisting that” all of the members of Palestine remains close in the heart of every Arab- and is not going to see fade away “.

Netanyahu is persisting to his write: visiting Chad in January, he boasted that Israel’s relations with that country had been renewed in the face of Iranian and Palestinian resist, and that it was the result of improving been linked to the Arab world. But on the eve of the Warsaw conference, a leaked Israeli foreign ministry report assessed that the Saudis were not prepared to go further for the further development of overt relations. The same object was made by the Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal, another ex-spymaster.” Israeli public opinion should not be misled into believing that the Palestinian issue is a dead topic ,” he said in an extraordinary interrogation with an Israeli Tv channel.

The attitudes of Gulf governments have clearly changed. But the bottom line is that Israel has failed to provide the incentives required for the Saudis and their allies to come out of the closet, to enable them to reconcile geopolitical logic with popular sentiment, because it has not offered anything approaching an acceptable transaction for the Palestinians.” Everyone are all aware of the rapprochement with Israel, but no one can talk about it publicly, and no one can advocate it because there is nothing for the Palestinians in return ,” concludes an Arab psychoanalyst in Abu Dhabi.” The assumption is that if it was going to happen openly, it would have to be in return for something large-scale, and it does not look as though that is going to happen .”

Many Israelis agree. Even the ex-Mossad administrator Pardo argues that the cosiest clandestine connec


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