update deskMiddle East

Saudi Arabia seeks US security assurances in exchange for Israel ties

“A Wall Street Journal” report also notes Riyadh wants Washington to help build out its civilian nuclear program; both demands are viewed as “daunting obstacles” in political circles.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and U.S. President Joe Biden. Source: U.S. State Department/Joe Biden via Facebook.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and U.S. President Joe Biden. Source: U.S. State Department/Joe Biden via Facebook.

Saudi Arabia says it will normalize ties with Israel if the United States provides it with security pledges and helps build out its civilian nuclear program, The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.

The two Saudi demands are viewed as “daunting obstacles” to a deal, as “some Washington lawmakers will likely oppose those measures,” the report said.

In terms of security guarantees, Saudi Arabia has asked before and been rejected by presidents from both parties. And U.S. and Israeli officials fear that helping Saudi Arabia with a nuclear program for nonmilitary uses could lead it to develop its own nuclear weapon and spark an arms race with Iran.

“The nuclear issue is one of, if not the biggest, challenge for Israel and one Israelis should debate whether it’s worth the price for peace,” Yoel Guzansky, a senior research fellow at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies, told the Journal.

Such an agreement, however, has become a priority for the Biden administration, which wants a diplomatic victory, according to people involved in discussions.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is also eager for a deal, which he sees as part of a bulwark against a nuclear Iran. He has also said that peace with Saudi Arabia will go a long way in solving the Arab-Israel conflict.

Saudi Arabia has improved its security ties with Israel in recent years due to the Iranian threat. It has also tacitly supported the agreements with Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

Still, it has been reluctant to openly sign an agreement with Israel, fearing a backlash from other Arab states and its own population.

“Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto Saudi ruler, has indicated that he wants to see significant support among Saudi citizens before he agrees to any deal, according to people who have met with him to discuss the issue,” reported the Journal.

Saudi opposition to relations with Israel has dropped from 91% in 2014 to 38% in 2022, according to a recent poll by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies.

“The kingdom is committed to normalization with Israel,” Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the Journal. “Its requirements from Washington, even if they sound excessive to some, are an expression of Saudi security concerns and not a way to say no to Israel.”

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