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The small gulf between the Saudi-led Arab world and Israel

"Our Middle East" with Dan Diker and Yechiel Leiter, Ep. 10

On this episode of “Our Middle East,” Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs president Dan Diker hosts JCPA’s General Director Yechiel Leiter, who recently visited the Gulf to meet with and consult political and thought leaders about Israeli-Gulf relations, especially in light of the recent yet conditional China-brokered Iranian-Saudi rapprochement. 

An apparent contradiction

“When we see the Saudi rapprochement with Iran, we immediately assume that the Saudis have left the Abraham Accords’ orbit or are down on the notion of normalizing relations with Israel. But that’s not necessarily the case at all,” says Leiter. “In personal relationships, we very often find people saying one thing and meaning something else. That happens in politics and international relations. You use the art of obfuscation in order to send messages to one state or another. When we find an apparent contradiction in terms or contradictions in policy, we have to penetrate a little bit more.”

America’s waning role in the Middle East

Leiter and Diker discuss how America’s policies in the Middle East have sent the Saudis toward China. 

“Whether we’re talking about progressive Democrats or isolationist Republicans, the United States is stepping back,” says Leiter.

This American military recession has caused the Saudis to reconsider the United States’ role as a regional stabilizer, they argue.

A message to Washington? 

Leiter has gleaned from Gulf sources that the Saudis plan to financially alleviate Iranian suffering in hopes of empowering its populace to eventually topple the government and reestablish ties fully.

The Saudi pivot to China also acts as a warning signal and nudge to the American government to recalibrate its foreign policy in the Middle East, he says.

The direction of American foreign policy depends upon the turn of its domestic politics: progressive or otherwise.

How are the Gulf States and Israel connecting?

Encouraging developments unrelated to the politics of petrol and Iranian hegemonic aspirations lie in societal, developmental and economic ties between the Gulf and Israel, says Leiter.

Gulf states find themselves grappling with modernity and Western ideas and are inspired by Israel’s relatively successful—compared to other Mideast states—balancing act in dealing with ethnic and religious diversity.

Likewise, Gulf Arabs are also beginning to acknowledge Jewish indigeneity and belonging in the Middle East, says Leiter, who has been approached by a Saudi journalist who wants to produce educational videos in Arabic about the Jewish connection to Jerusalem, of which many Arabs are uninformed, as well as exposés on Palestinian Authority corruption.

“Our Middle East: An Insider’s View” airs live on JNS TV YouTube Channel, Facebook and Twitter at 1:30 PM EST/8:30 PM IST. You can also listen to the audio version here. A Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs podcast produced by JNS.

You can catch the audio version on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or wherever you listen to your podcasts.

Dan Diker is the president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, a foreign policy expert and the former Secretary General of the World Jewish Congress.

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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