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‘Washington thinks Israel-Saudi normalization possible’

Israeli National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi speaks with JNS in Cyprus.

Israeli National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi addresses the Israel Hellenic Forum in Nicosia, Cyprus, June 20, 2023. Credit: Cyprus Center for European and International Affairs.
Israeli National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi addresses the Israel Hellenic Forum in Nicosia, Cyprus, June 20, 2023. Credit: Cyprus Center for European and International Affairs.

The United States believes that a landmark diplomatic deal normalizing relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia is achievable, Israeli National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said on Tuesday.

The remarks come as the Biden administration has embarked on an intense diplomatic push to reach such an agreement, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said could pave the way to ending the Arab-Israeli conflict.

“There is an increased American involvement on the issue,” Hanegbi told JNS in an interview in Cyprus. “They believe that there is a possibility [to reach an agreement].”

Hanegbi said that the Americans had not yet updated the Israeli government on the contours of such an agreement or what their vision is, and said that the situation remains murky.

“There is more hidden than known,” he said, using the popular Hebrew saying.

At the same time, Hanegbi said that “generally speaking” he was “optimistic” that it was possible to enlarge the circle of Arab countries that have normalized relations with Israel since the historic Abraham Accords were signed under President Trump in 2020.

He noted, however, that in the case of Saudi Arabia the ball was not in Israel’s court.

“It’s up to them,” Hanegbi said. “We want normalization and peace, but they have their own demands of the Americans.”

Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia.

In return for normalization with Israel, Riyadh reportedly wants American support for its civilian nuclear program, something Washington has long opposed, as well as a strong security pact with the United States.

Israeli officials had previously said that intense efforts were underway to reach a normalization accord with the Saudis by the end of the year.

Netanyahu has called a deal with the Saudis a “quantum leap” for regional peace, which would effectively end the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Hanegbi said that the premier’s long-held vision for peace with the Arab world served as “a compass” for regional accords.

The Israeli national security adviser was in Cyprus to speak at the Israel Hellenic Forum in Nicosia, where he also met with the Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides.

“The reality is we are in a reality where we are challenged by terror attacks and engaged in the great vision of expanding the peace of the Abraham Accords,” Hanegbi told the gathering after four Israelis were killed in a Palestinian terror attack near Eli in Samaria.

“There are forces that don’t want us to build friendships and expand peace and just want to see us drowning in an ever-growing ocean of bloodshed,” he said. 

But after decades of growing up in a situation of never-ending war—including as a 10-year-old boy in the 1967 Six Day War, when he feared for the existence of the State, and then as a 16-year-old during the Yom Kippur War, where one of his teachers went to fight and never came back, and then fighting himself in the 1982 Lebanon War—Hanegbi said he was optimistic about the future.

Praise for trilateral ties with Greece and Cyprus

Hanegbi also cited the blossoming trilateral relations between Israel with Greece and Cyprus, which was the focus of the conference organized by the B’nai B’rith World Center.

“Now we have such close friends like Cyprus and Greece, after many years of no relationship with Greece,” he said.  “I see with my own eyes how intimate and crucial this relationship is.”

Greece established relations with Israel in 1990 after decades of supporting the Arabs, with ties flourishing with the Jewish state over the last decade and a half.

Referring to the energy talks underway between the three countries he said: “10 or 20 years ago it would have seemed like science fiction to bring [Israeli] gas through the ocean to the people of Europe.”

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