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An Israeli-Saudi accord requires US realism

Four realities the U.S. State Department must recognize for such an agreement to be achieved.

The flags of Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United States. Credit: OnePixelStudio/Shutterstock.
The flags of Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United States. Credit: OnePixelStudio/Shutterstock.
Yoram Ettinger
Yoram Ettinger
Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and head of Second Thought: A U.S.-Israel Initiative.

The conclusion of an Israeli-Saudi peace or normalization accord requires the U.S. State Department to demonstrate realism, by recognizing:

• The inherent constraints of the inter-Arab arena;

• The predominance of the Saudi—over the Palestinian—interest;

• The intra-Arab Palestinian track record;

• The critical role of Israel’s posture of deterrence.

Any accord will also have to acknowledge the endemic features of the inter-Arab arena, which has demonstrated—since the seventh century—violence, intolerance, endemic fragmentation (tribal, geographic, religious, cultural and ideological) and local over national identity/loyalty. The region has not enjoyed peaceful coexistence or democracy, but has rather been ruled by despots who ascend to—and lose—power through the bullet rather than the ballot. Hence the tenuous and unpredictable nature of the region’s rulers, their policies and accords.

The tenuous nature of the region’s rulers has been attested to by “the Arab Tsunami” (gullibly named “the Arab Spring”), which has traumatized the Arab street since 2010, as well as by the litany of violent regime changes in Egypt (1952, 2012, 2013), Iran (1953, 1979), Iraq (1958, twice in 1963, 1968, 2003), Libya (1969, 2011), Yemen (a civil war since the 1990s, 1990, 1962), Lebanon (a multitude of civil wars and violent regime changes), etc.

Saudi Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman (MBS) played a key role in orchestrating the Abraham Accords and has displayed exceptional courage and tenacity in modernizing Saudi Arabia, religiously, culturally, economically and educationally. However, he operates in the unpredictable, tenuous inter-Arab environment, as evidenced by the domestic and external threats facing the kingdom, including a power struggle within the royal family and the intensified tension between MBS and the puritan Wahabi establishment in central and southwestern Saudi Arabia, which was accepted until recently as the leading authority on Islam and an essential ally of the House of Saud since 1744. 

Saudi—not Palestinian—interests have guided MBS’ policy toward Israel, which he views as a vital ally, militarily, technologically and diplomatically, in the pursuit of his ambitious “Vision 2030.” This vision aims to leverage the kingdom’s geography and wealth to transform it into a regional and global financial, military and diplomatic power. MBS has no illusions about the volcanic nature of the Middle East, including his assessment of the lethal threat posed by Iran’s ayatollahs, irrespective of the resumption of diplomatic ties between Riyadh and Tehran. He considers Israel the most reliable ally in the face of mutual threats (e.g., Iran’s ayatollahs and Muslim Brotherhood terrorists), especially against the backdrop of the eroded U.S. posture of deterrence.

Israel’s technological capabilities are sought by MBS, in order to diversify the energy-reliant Saudi economy and expand sources of national income.

MBS is also aware of Israel’s positive stature on Capitol Hill (despite the antagonistic radical wing of the Democratic Party), which possesses the power of the purse and is co-equal to the Executive Branch in finalizing the sale of advanced military systems and the ratification of defense pacts, which are aspired to by Saudi Arabia.

The Palestinian inter-Arab track record—especially subversion and terrorism against Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Kuwait—has become a role model of inter-Arab rogue conduct, treachery and ingratitude. It has determined MBS’s attitude toward the Palestinian issue. The crown prince is also aware of the Palestinians’ intimate relationship with terror organizations in the Middle East (especially the Muslim Brotherhood), Europe, Africa and Latin America, as well as with Iran’s ayatollahs, North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba and the Soviet Bloc.  

MBS realizes that a Palestinian state would add fuel to the Middle East fire, and therefore limits his support of the Palestinians (mostly) to talk. He does not sacrifice Saudi interests on the Palestinian altar, and will not tolerate a Palestinian veto power over Saudi relations with Israel, which he perceives as an essential ally in the pursuit of “Vision 2030.”

Israel’s posture of deterrence has induced MBS to seek closer ties with the Jewish state. He appreciates Israel flexing its military muscle against Iran in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and even on Iranian soil, and Israel’s war on Palestinian and Islamic terrorism.

Israel’s posture of deterrence is upgraded by its determination to fend off U.S. pressure when it comes to critical national security matters, such as the bombing of Iraq’s and Syria’s nuclear reactors, which spared Saudi Arabia the wrath of a nuclear Saddam Hussein and a nuclearized civil war in Syria.

On a rainy day, MBS prefers a deterring—rather than a deterred—Israel.

Israel’s posture of deterrence has been substantially upgraded since 1967, upon regaining control of the mountain ridges of the Golan Heights, Samaria and Judea (the West Bank), which constitute the cradle of Jewish history, religion and culture, as well as the minimal security requirements in the volcanic and shifty Middle East.

A retreat from the mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria—which are a fixed national security asset—in return for an accord with Saudi Arabia—a variable national security asset in the violently tenuous Middle East—would transform Israel from a war- and terror-deterring country and a force-multiplier for the United States into a war- and terror-inducing country and a burden upon the United States. It will exacerbate Middle East instability, intensify the lethal threat to the pro-U.S. Arab regime, threaten the exportation of Middle East oil, enhance the fortunes of Iran’s ayatollahs, anti-U.S. Sunni terror organizations, Russia and China, while dealing a blow to vital U.S. interests.

In fact, major waves of Palestinian terrorism erupted following dramatic Israeli gestures/concessions, such as 1993 Oslo, the 2000 withdrawal/flight from Lebanon and the 2005 “disengagement” from Gaza, not following determined Israeli action, such as the reunification of Jerusalem, the application of Israeli law to the Golan Heights, the construction of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria and the destruction of Iraq’s and Syria’s nuclear reactors.

The bottom line

Is the U.S. State Department aware that Saudi Arabia’s policy is driven by Middle East reality and its own interests, not by Western conventional wisdom and Palestinian interests?

Is the State Department cognizant of the fact that while Saudi Arabia would rather avoid a “Zionist infidel” sovereignty in the “abode of Islam,” it respects Israel’s history and security-driven posture of deterrence, and its willingness to defy U.S. and global pressure?

Is the State Department mindful of the fact that the Saudi Crown Prince is preoccupied with “Vision 2030,” aware of Israel’s potential contribution to this mega-project and therefore encouraged the Abraham Accords, while concluding unprecedented commercial and defense agreements with Israel?

Is the State Department aware that Saudi frustration with the U.S. diplomatic option toward Iran is pushing the Saudis closer to China and Russia?

Originally published by The Ettinger Report.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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