The long speak: After decades of hostility, a shared hatred of Iran and a mutual fondness for Trump is making Israels secret links with Gulf territories out into the open

In mid-February 2019, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, flew to Warsaw for a highly unusual conference. Under the auspices of the US vice-president, Mike Pence, he convened the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and two other Gulf states that have no diplomatic relations with Israel. The main item on the orders of the day was containing Iran. No Palestinians were present. Most of the existing links between Israel and the Gulf have been maintained secret- but these talks were not. In fact, Netanyahu’s office leaked a video of a executive session, humiliating the Arab participants.

The meeting publicly showcased the impressive happening that Israel, as Netanyahu was so keen to advertise, is prevailing following of a sorting from the wealthiest a number of countries in the Arab world- even as the prospects for resolving the longstanding Palestinian issue are at an all-time low-grade. This unprecedented rapprochement has been driven chiefly by a shared rancour 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 Countries of the middle east since Israel’s creation in 1948 and the removal or flight of more than 700,000 Palestinians- which Arabs call the Nakba, or catastrophe- that accompanied it. Still, over the years, pan-Arab solidarity and boycotts of the “Zionist entity” have largely faded away. The last-place Arab-Israeli war was in 1973. Israel’s armistice treaties 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 states is a hugely important shift.

Evidence is mounting of increasingly close ties between Israel and five members of the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council( GCC)- none of which have formal relations with the Jewish state. Trump spotlit this accelerating change on his first foreign trip as chairperson– to the Saudi capital Riyadh- by flying on directly afterwards to Tel Aviv. Hopes for Saudi assist with his much-hyped” spate of the century” to end 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 satisfy between him and Mohammed bin Salman( MBS ), the Saudi crown prince who was widely blamed for the merciless murder of columnist Jamal Khashoggi last October. That would be a sensational- and highly controversial- instant, which is why Saudis are signalling frantically that it is not going to happen. Still, the meeting with Netanyahu in Warsaw croaked far beyond anything that has just taken place before. The abnormal is becoming normal.

The original impetus for these developing relationships between Israel and the Gulf states was a mutual dislike for Barack Obama. In the early years of the Arab spring, he riled the Saudis and the UAE, and horrified Israel, by abandoning Egypt’s president Hosni Mubarak, and then singer is supportive of the popular insurgency in Syria and called for Bashar al-Assad to quit. In 2015, when the US-led nuclear agreement was signed with Iran, it was vehemently opposed by Israel and most Gulf districts. That September, Russia’s military 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 endorsement of Hezbollah in Lebanon- Iran’s “axis of resistance”- was regarded with identical outrage in Jerusalem, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi.

” The Obama administration was hated by Saudi Arabia and Israel because it shunned them both ,” a senior Saudi told me. A veteran Israeli official represented the same argument:” There was a sense that we were looking at an American’ s administration that wasn’t as committed to America’s traditional friends. We must be given to form common induce because there was a sense of being left to fend for ourselves. Unwittingly, Obama lent 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 push the Palestinians.” What is happening with Arab states has never happened in our 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 period .” As Dore Gold, Netanyahu’s former national insurance adviser, elaborated with a smile, these words are” very carefully drafted to give a positive word without spilling the beans .”

The priority for the Saudis and their allies is refusing Iran, which in the past few years has consolidated its own position in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, where it backs the Houthi rebels. MBS notoriously described Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme ruler, as a” new Hitler “. Netanyahu compared Obama’s nuclear deal to the Munich agreement of 1938- and after Trump abandoned it last summertime, Netanyahu signalled Israel’s readiness to join an” international coalition” against Tehran.” We were raised to see Israel as an foe that occupied Arab regions ,” insists an Emirati analyst.” The reality 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 excitements .”

There is also a pragmatic identification in Gulf capitals of the benefits of security, technological and economic links with an unassailably potent Israel- is not merely for their own sake, but likewise because of the US approval that introduces. Israel ascertains ties with the Gulf as an important way of demonstrating its own influence in Washington.” It is doubtful whether its scope of application of( US) aid to Arab districts could have been maintained without the support of Aipac( the prime pro-Israel lobby group) and Jewish organisations ,” advocates Eran Lerman, former deputy chief of Israel’s National Security Council.

None of this means that the Palestinian question has gone away. “Normalisation”( of its relationship with Israel) remains a dirty word of billions of Arabs, which is why autocratic Gulf rulers dread favourite opposition to their brand-new cosiness with Netanyahu. Formally, every GCC state remains committed to the Arabpeaceinitiative of 2002, which offers recognition of Israel in return for a Palestinian country in their respective territories occupied in 1967, with East Jerusalem as its capital. But even this is far more than Netanyahu will ever accept: he will be discussing simply a Palestinian “state-minus”, and openly refuses to dismantle the illegal villages that divide the West Bank into disconnected districts. Netanyahu’s numerous Israeli commentators- furious over the corruption bills he is facing as next month’s elections approach- have complained that he is exaggerating both the Iranian threat and the significance of his Gulf diplomacy, while entirely neglecting the existential crisis in Israel’s own backyard- its ongoing failure 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 Eastern reality. Last-place October, the Israeli prime minister held talks in Muscat, the capital of Oman, with its ruler, Sultan Qaboos bin Said. The complying daylight, his Likud party colleague, the culture and boasts priest Miri Regev, was inspecting Abu Dhabi in the UAE, while at the same time Israeli players were vying 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 prime minister, in a off-color dres and tie, was received exchanging jokes with the sultan, in a turban and traditional lily-white dishdasha gown. The Israeli leader’s wife, Sara, was there with other members of his delegating, including an impassive middle-aged man announced Yossi Cohen, head of the Mossad intelligence service.

During Regev’s remaining in Abu Dhabi, where Israel’s top judo squad was participating in a tournament, she sobbed on camera as Hatikvah, Israel’s national hymn( the Hebrew statements are about yearning for Zion) was played. Later she toured the princely Sheikh Zayed mosque, commemorating the UAE’s founder, a loyal booster of the Palestinian cause. These two Israeli ministerial visits to Gulf capitals established a powerful elevate to the impression of spectacular changes in the region’s alliances.

But as information of Netanyahu’s trip to Oman developed, there was a reminder of the dangers of a reaction. Six Palestinians were killed and 180 disabled by Israeli army snipers on the border of the Gaza Strip, where weekly declarations 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 figurehead and the back, vacating us politically while embracing Israel ,” complained the Palestinian activist Kamel Hawwash.” Israeli flags could soon be flying in the skies of some Gulf states, while they pressure the Palestinian leadership into accepting a’ peace’ spate that is unacceptable .” He described” nauseating portraits of a beam … Netanyahu- the heads of state of an dictatorial apartheid district, 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 leader to visit Muscat. The Labor prime minister Yitzhak Rabin fulfill 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 happy intent to the world’s most intractable conflict. Nowadays, by contrast , no peace talks have been held between Israel and the PLO since 2014, when the Obama administration lastly shed in the towel. That is a very significant difference.

But in spite of these recent bursts of publicity, hard evidence of Israeli ties with the Gulf states is still rare- because they remain largely covert.

The links are most visible with the UAE, where Israel, uniquely, has an official diplomatic presence 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, president of the opposition Labor party, held talks there last December. Netanyahu is thought to have met Emirati rulers 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” believe in Israel’s persona because of their perception 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 memorandum in 2009, adding that in general Gulf Arabs” feel Israel can work magic “.

These ” below-the-surface” relations suffered material appalling 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 participating “the two countries “, even if they were travelling on a foreign passport. But it wasn’t long before discreet diplomatic and business connects resumed.” In such cases you simply keep your head down and wait until it all blows over ,” said a Swiss-based Israeli businessman. In 2013 the Israeli president, Shimon Peres, addres from Jerusalem via satellite to 29 foreign ministers from Arab and Muslim countries attending an Abu Dhabi conference.

The Israelis softly participated in joint military exercises with UAE coerces, both in the US and in Greece, from 2016. Last-place year UAE military personnel reportedly saw 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 monotones used in the war in Yemen.

Israel’s confederations in the Arabian Gulf

But the clearest proof of overlapping attentions between the Gulf and Israel has come in occasional public statements from Gulf officials. In the island kingdom of Bahrain, where the Sunni Al Khalifa monarchy suppresses a Shia majority and dissents were crushed by Saudi intervention in 2011, the foreign minister faced denunciation 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 announced the contentious decision to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Bahrain’s foreign minister tweeted:” It’s not helpful to picking a fight with the US over side issues while we together fight the clear and present danger of The Theo-Fascist Islamic republic .” Rumour has it that Bahrain’s capital, Manama, is also available Netanyahu’s next GCC destination.

Qatar, the dissenter of the promontory, has long reacted more independently, and more so since a coalition that includes Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt foisted a blockade on Qatar in 2017, to pressure it over its support of Islamist groups and its perceived tolerance of Iran. But in the past few years Doha has played an increasingly public role in mediating between Israel and Hamas, which ensures Gaza, with Qatar’s emissary delivering suitcases stuffed with billions of dollars in money to pay official salaries 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 likewise gets on naughtily with the Saudis and Emiratis because it has always had friendly relations with Iran, prompting speculation that Netanyahu’s trip was intended to send a message to Tehran. Omani informants belief, however, that the sultan’s invitation was about publicize his pro-Israel credentials to Washington, where Trump’s hawkish national protection squad is suspicious of Oman’s ties to the Islamic Republic. Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, uncovered later that “hes had” been advised in advance about Netanyahu’s trip and accused Israel of trying to cause gaps 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 revolution, but it has intensified in the past two decades. The US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003- which immensely increased Iran’s force in the region by removing a longstanding enemy, Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-dominated regime- came a year after the exposure of a secret uranium enrichment facility revealed that Iran had not abandoned its nuclear program desires. This sharpened the emphasis placed on the Islamic Republic’s regional aspirations, including a growing threat to Israel’s undeclared nuclear monopoly.

In 2004 King Abdullah of Jordan warned of the form of a “Shia crescent” elongate from Damascus to Tehran via Baghdad, where Iraq’s Shia majority had been entitled by the removal of Saddam. The homicide of the Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri in 2005 incriminated Syria and the Iranian-backed Shia organisation Hezbollah. In January 2006, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad satisfy the hardline Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In December 2005, at the summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in Mecca, Ahmadinejad had exploited a communication to repudiate the Holocaust- described by one spectator as” a impudent ordinance of one-upmanship that left the Al Saud[ Saudi Arabia’s ruling clas] chastened and unable to respond “.

The key important turning point was the 2006 crusade between Israel and Hezbollah. The 34 -day conflict differentiated a step-change in regional dynamics. Riyadh deplored Hezbollah’s incursion into Israel and abduction of two Israeli soldiers, describing him not as” legitimate resist” but a” overestimated undertaking “. The Saudis and Israelis had a” common interest in dealing Hezbollah and Iran a serious blow ,” recalled Daniel Kurtzer, who had been US ambassador to Israel until the previous year. Officially sanctioned Saudi clerics excoriated Hezbollah, while rivals of Saudi Arabia’s rulers” abducted upon the battle to highlight the carefulnes, immobility, impiety and- some actions, illegitimacy- of the Saudi regime ,” as a later analyze ended. In August, Assad reviled the rulers of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan as “half-men” because of their enmity to the Lebanese militia.

UN peacekeepers with a billboard demonstrating Iran’s late leader 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 increased. In mid-September 2006, Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert, travelled to the Jordanian capital, Amman, to meet Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the long-standing Saudi ambassador to Washington DC, known as” Bandar Bush” because of his close links to the presidential category. Now he was national insurance consultant to King Abdullah. Back in Riyadh, the Saudis were ferocious when news leaked of the meeting- as a former elderly Israeli intelligence official told me- and disclaimed it had has just taken place. Publicly, Olmert said only that he was ” highly impressed by various moves and words may be associated with Saudi Arabia “. Nor did he refer to meeting Bandar when he wrote his memoirs a decade later.( Israel’s clandestine relations with Arab regions are still considered a national security issue by the military censorship authorities and a ministerial committee that vets publications by helping and former officials and politicians .)

One of the key players on the Israeli side was the Mossad chief, Meir Dagan, who was ascribed 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 states were in the same boat ,” celebrated David Meidan, who passed Mossad’s international department.

” All of a sudden the Mossad was educating Farsi ,” a former ability official marvelled. It was reported around this time that a join had been assembled in the Jordanian Red Sea resort of Aqaba between Dagan, Bandar and the head of Jordanian intelligence, who decided to” build up and accelerate intelligence exchanges” to cope with Iranian threats. The conspicuous existence of Dagan’s heir Yossi Cohen- nicknamed” the simulate” 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 knowledge access to Gulf capitals.

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

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

There is still audible dissent in the Gulf over the developing rapprochement with Israel.” I am against normalisation ,” holds Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a Dubai political scientist.” I am against plunging 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 maybe , not so much better in the mind .” One mark, nonetheless, of UAE priorities are currently in the strict commonwealth restricts imposed on media: information websites affiliated with Qatar and Iran are obstructed, but Israeli websites are not.

In addition to shared derision for Iran, the Gulf states and Israel have been brought together by a common hatred to Islamist parties. Arabic and English-language media is connected with the Muslim Brotherhood, Turkey and Qatar regularly expose and lambast UAE links to Israel. Qatar-based al-Jazeera is an important source for these floors, as is the Middle East Eye website in London. Emiratis respond by should be remembered 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 shut after the outbreak of the second intifada, or Palestinian uprising, in 2000, but discreet ties prolonged .)

Many important developments in the evolving relationship 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 in Gaza in the Israeli military’s Operation Cast Lead, the Saudis publicly criticised Israel. Shortly afterwards, nonetheless, Riyadh appeared to acquiesce in further Israeli military action against Hamas, in the form of airstrikes against Iranian arms escorts in Sudan en route to Gaza. Leaked US cables demonstrated the Israelis mounted a diplomatic campaign to stop weapons being delivered. When that flunked, they propelled long-distance attacks across the Red Sea into Sudan in early 2009, but crucially made prior notification to the Saudis, according to informed sources.

By then, according to the deputy head of Israel’s National Security Council,” elderly professionals in the intelligence and security domains from Israel and the Gulf countries were collaborating “. The same sources confirm, as has been occasionally reported but always officially denied, 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 installation, before the idea was abandoned because of Obama’s opposition in 2012.

Israeli trade with the Gulf states is currently estimated to be worth$ 1bn a year, though no official statistics are available on either side. The potential, however, is vast- in engineering, specially cybersecurity, irrigation, medical quantities and the diamond industry, among others, it is able to up to $25 bn yearly, according to a detailed brand-new analyse.

Israeli tycoons utilizing foreign passports fly regularly to the UAE, frequently on commercial flights via Amman.” There is a huge amount going on ,” says the Israeli representative of a multinational company who travels to Arab territories with an EU passport.

AGT International, owned by Israeli Mati Kochavi, provisioned electronic fencings and surveillance gear importance $800 m to protect UAE borderlines and oilfields. Emirati officials described this as a non-political decision motivated by national security interests. In 2014 Haaretz stimulated headlines where reference is first recognise a strange 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 professions operate in the UAE via companionships registered in Europe. Proposals of lading are produced from an intermediary country, often Jordan or Cyprus.

Like the Emiratis, the Saudis have softly involved Israeli fellowships, especially in the security sphere. One Israeli firm was a subcontractor on the hi-tech barrier erected from 2014 by the European defence giant EADS along the kingdom’s border with Iraq, a senior ex-serviceman of Israel’s defence constitution indicates that there is an interview.

In 2012, when intruders breached the computer system of Saudi Aramco, the national oil company, Israeli ventures were called in. Israel reportedly sold dronings to Saudi Arabia via South africans, but denied that it had exchanged its” Iron Dome” system to defend the empire from missile attacks by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels 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 repudiated the story.

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

Intelligence cooperation between Israel and the Gulf territory is even more secretive- although Israeli politicians and officials do refer to it occasionally. In late 2017, Israel’s army chief of staff reach headlines when he offered to share intelligence on Iran with Saudi Arabia- noting that their countries shared” numerous common interests “. Western sources demonstrate the existence of such cooperation.” The Israeli intelligence tribes who have gone to these countries have met the leaders ,” said a former elderly US diplomat.” They know each other fairly 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 influence “.

Unofficial Saudi spokesmen say cooperation with Israel is confined to the subjects of Iran and counter-terrorism- and complain that the Israelis exaggerate its extension for propaganda purposes. As one well connected Saudi journalist tweeted, with typical dismissiveness:” Fetishising non-existent collaboration between #Saudi/ GCC states and #Israel has become a trend in west media/ thinktank circles .” Foreign authorities close to both countries guess the two maintain a hotline for emergencies and are in regular contact.” There is now contiguity between the Israel and Saudis ,” says a western knowledge source.” You is effective in the kind of security relations between countries that exist when they share a border. There are practical happenings that need to be sorted out, so you end up with a routine tie-in which can create more elderly contact and a more strategic outlook on both sides .”

It is a somewhat open secret. In 2013, Bandar bin Sultan, by then running Saudi General Intelligence, encountered the then Mossad chief, Tamir Pardo, for what a elderly British source described as a” long and boozy dinner” at a Knightsbridge hotel.” There has never been such active cooperation between the two countries, in terms of analysis, human intellect and interception on Iran and movements loyal to it such as Hezbollah, the Houthis and the Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Units ,” a specialist intelligence newsletter put forward in 2016. Saudi officials were said to be as ” pleased as punch “.

On the Saudi side, nonetheless, the following is complaints that the relationship is an unequal one. Israel, it is said, have not been able to always responded to requests for intelligence, even when deferred via the US. And there are indeed indications of an internal debate in Israel about the value of links with the empire. Its own sophisticated surveillance capabilities 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 dealt 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 problem ,” mused another ability veteran.” They are not natural marriages. 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 reaching 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. Signeds of deepening 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 promoted to crown prince.

In 2016 Israel returned 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 alliance” with Israel to help MBS’s Vision 2030 plan for economic reform and diversification. Both regions faced” constant threats from extremist groups … instantly supported by the totalitarian government of Iran ,” he insisted. The $500 bn Neom megacity project, near the borders of Jordan, Egypt and Israel, lured strong Israeli interest. The Straits of Tiran, the blockade of which by Egypt’s PresidentGamal Abdel Nasser provoked the 1967 crusade , now faced a brighter future, reflected the commentator Abdelrahman al-Rashed,” one where peacefulnes and prosperity prevail “.

Trump’s inflammatory decision in December 2017 to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, breaching a long-standing international consensus, initially had a meeting with a subdued response in Riyadh. The president’s” ultimate deal” to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict was discussed by his son-in-law Jared Kushner with MBS. Subsequent leaks pointed to a key role for the Saudis in pressuring the Palestinians. And when the crown prince made a three-week trip to the US last spring, he gave even louder signals about his intentions toward Israel, telling the Atlantic that the Palestinians should accept Trump’s plan or” shut up and stop deploring” about an issue that was no longer a priority compared to confronting Iran. MBS also explicitly accepted Jewish claims to Israel, testifying:” I imagine the Palestinians and the Israelis have the right to have their own land .” Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza burned pictures of the Saudi royals.

The crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman. Photograph: 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 named the al-Quds( Jerusalem) peak.” In Saudi Arabia, the sovereign is the one who decides on this issue now , not the crown prince ,” as a elderly Arab diplomat clarified. 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 qualification.” Kerry expected the Saudis to let[ Israeli airline] El Al fly over their territory ,” manifested an Israeli security expert.” And who got permission? Air India! it shows that the Saudis can be flexible but they cannot delude the Palestinians , not since they were enjoy them or rely them but because it is an issue for their people and the religious establishment- and too because of its own position vis-a-vis Iran .” Nevertheless, it fitted the narrative that Netanyahu has been eagerly promoting, that relationships with key Arab governments were” improving beyond curiosity” regardless of the Palestinian issue. In June the Saudi intelligence director Khalid bin Ali al-Humaidan reportedly connected Kushner and Trump’s envoy Jason Greenblatt, as well as the Mossad’s Yossi Cohen and his Palestinian Authority, Jordanian and Egyptian equivalents, in Aqaba to discuss regional security.

These increasingly cosy relations suffered a serious blow with the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in October 2018. Amid international condemnation and constantly changing Saudi responses, the Israeli government was initially silent. When Netanyahu eventually to consider the item, he deplored a “horrendous” occurrence, but alarmed it is crucial that Saudi Arabia remain stable- which was more or less exactly what Trump said, more. Saudi informants said his position was ” very 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 parties again- say commanders of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards- he’ll consult beings with some relevant ordeal ,” banked the security expert Ronen Bergman. Surveillance equipment manufactured by the Israeli company NSO was allegedly used to track the Saudi journalist, according to the Washington Post. And one of the two top aide-de-camps to MBS who were blamed for the killing was the most senior Saudi official to have visited Israel( in search of state-of-the-art surveillance engineering ), reported the Wall Street Journal. It revealed too that new arrangements had been put in place to allow Israel businessmen to calmly see the kingdom.

In public, however, 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 participants is a statement of our solution for a free Palestine ,” commented the correspondent Tariq al-Maeena.” As the Custodian of the two Holy Mosques, Saudi Arabia produces the heavines of the Islamic world and this form of commitment is necessary to ward off grand Zionist designings for “the regions countries” .” Last-place December the Saudis even opposed a UN resolution denouncing Hamas, together with all other Arab states.

Among the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, fright appeared to have abated. Surmise about how far MBS will dare to go in espouse Israel is no more than” gossipy insinuation”, said the Palestinian ambassador in London, Husam Zomlot, who was thrown out of Washington as part of the US offensive against the PLO. Saeb Erekat, the PLO’s chief negotiator, scorned the” imperialist fantasizes of the Trump team”, insisting that” the whole of Palestine remains close in the heart of every Arab- and is not going to fade away “.

Netanyahu is protruding to his dialogue: inspecting Chad in January, he boasted that Israel’s relations with that country had been renewed in the face of Iranian and Palestinian opposition, and that it was the result of improving links with the Arab world. But on the eve of the Warsaw conference, a leaked Israeli foreign ministry report was considered that the Saudis were not prepared to go further in developing overt relations. The same part was made by the Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal, another ex-spymaster.” Israeli public opinion should not be cheated into believing that the Palestinian issue is a dead issue ,” he was indicated in an unprecedented interview 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 allow them to reconcile geopolitical reasoning with popular sentiment, because it has not offered anything approaching an acceptable transaction for the Palestinians.” Everyone knows about 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 ,” resolves an Arab analyst in Abu Dhabi.” The presupposition is that if it was going to happen openly, it would have to be in return for something big-hearted, and it does not ogle as though that is going to happen .”

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


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