Saudi Arabia and Israel do not maintain official relations, but by the time Crown Prince Abdullah published the Arab Peace Initiative 2002, bilateral ties between the two countries were already being established behind the scenes. In 2015, ties increased, some of them even formally as a result of the joint effort by both countries against the Iranian nuclear program. Saudis visited Israel and there were reports that the late Mossad chief Meir Dagan visited Saudi Arabia to coordinate on the Iran issue. Ties between the two countries have reached new heights in the past two years, against the backdrop of a reported meeting between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
If there was once talk of a moderate Sunni alliance against Iran, this term has lost all meaning in the last two years. The Middle East is now divided into two camps: The first includes Turkey, Qatar, Iran and Sudan. The second includes Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, and has the support of the United States and Israel. Both camps were born as a result of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Yemen’s boycott of Qatar and its growing ties to Iran and Turkey, and out of fear of a Saudi invasion.
There can be no doubt that the growing ties between Riyadh and Jerusalem are a result of the hostility between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Iran is aggressive in its attacks on Saudi Arabia, including in the cyber arena. In 2012, a cyber attack on Saudi Arabia’s national petroleum and gas company Aramco caused unprecedented damage, partially wiping or completely destroying some 35,000 of its computers. There have also been reports of Iranian hackers breaking into the bank accounts of Saudi princes to reveal how much money they have at their disposal.
Faced with these threats, Saudi Arabia established the National Cyber Security Authority to fight Iran and the hackers. In 2017, the authority was tasked with an additional goal: inciting the Arab world against Qatar. Abdullah adviser Saud bin Abdullah Al-Qahtani is responsible for the unit, which according to assessments employs some 4,000 people. The National Cyber Security Authority’s Twitter account has 400,000 followers. Employees operate online under false identities, and their job is to create hashtags that trend online and so moderate and control public opinion and of course vilify Qatar and its leaders.
The agency’s Twitter account tweets daily, and mostly against Qatar and Iran. It uses anti-Semitic terminology, referring to Qatar as “Qatariel,” a portmanteau of Qatar and Israel and claiming the Al Jazeera network “belongs to the Israeli Mossad.”
“The deal of the century” is a Qatari scheme to sell Palestine to the ‘Zionist entity,’ ” one tweet reads, while another alleges that the “Zionist” Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the father of Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, is scheming to divide the Arab states to fulfill the dreams of the “Zionist entity” and Iran. In yet another tweet, the authority alleges Qatar is “trying to destroy the Arab world to serve the enemies of the Muslim world: Israel and Iran.” These statements penetrate deep into the Arab consciousness and increase their existing hatred towards Jews and Israel.
The Saudis then are playing a double game. Behind the scenes, they send the Israelis the message that Iran is a common enemy and goad them to fight Iran and Hezbollah. At home, however, they say the enemy is first and foremost the State of Israel, followed by Iran. Their formula is clear: covert ties with Israel coupled with overt hostility to the Jewish state to satisfy the people, a majority of whom hate Israel.
The Saudi’s double game is reminiscent of the Egyptian model under the late President Gamal Abdel Nasser: While dozens of anti-Semitic articles are published on a daily basis, the Israeli audience is not exposed to the phenomenon and the politicians close their ears.
Following the signing of the 1994 Oslo Accords, the Palestinians asked Israel for permission to “moderately” incite against the Jewish state for “domestic needs.” This incitement turned deadly and was used as live ammunition for the boycott, sanctions and divestment movement. We must not give in and accept the incitement against us, and that is also true when Saudi Arabia is concerned. Incitement translates into action, and that action comes at a deadly price.
Dr. Edy Cohen is a researcher at the BESA Center and author of the book “The Holocaust in the Eyes of Mahmoud Abbas” (Hebrew).