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Why Israel is silent against the Gulf monarchies | News of the world



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MeIn mid-February 2019, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, traveled to Warsaw for a very unusual conference. Under the auspices of U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, he met Foreign Ministers of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other two golf states that have no diplomatic relationship with Israel. The main issue of the agenda was to contain Iran. There were no Palestinians present. Most of the links between Israel and the Gulf have kept secrets, but these conversations did not. In fact, Netanyahu's office leaked a video of a closed session, pledged with Arab participants.

The meeting publicly showed the remarkable fact that Israel, as Netanyahu was so willing to advertise, is gaining acceptance of some of the richest countries in the Arab world – even though the prospects for solving the Palestinian problem for a long time is at a historic low. This unprecedented approach has been driven mainly by a shared animosity towards Iran and by the new disturbing policies of Donald Trump.

The hostility towards Israel has been a characteristic characteristic of the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East since the creation of Israel in 1948 and the expulsion or flight of more than 700,000 Palestinians, which the Arabs call the Nakba or the catastrophe that he has accompanied him. However, over the years, Panamanian solidarity and the boycotts of the "Zionist entity" have largely vanished. The last Arab-Israeli war was in 1973. Israel's peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan are unpopular, but they have lasted decades. The 1993 Oslo agreement between Israel and the Organization for the Liberation of Palestine (PLO) was a historic success, although it was finally disappointing. And what is happening now with the Gulf states is a very important change.

The evidence is that the closer ties between Israel and five of the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) increase, and none of them have formal relations with the Jewish state. Trump highlighted this rapid change in his first foreigner travel as president – in the Saudi capital of Riyadh – flying directly to Tel Aviv. The hopes for Saudi to help with his "traffic of the century" so passionate about ending the Israel-Palestine conflict have faded since then. However, Netanyahu tries to normalize relations with Saudi Arabia. And there has even been speculation about a public meeting between him and Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), the prince of the Saudi crown, who was widely blamed for the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi last October. This would be a sensational and highly controversial moment, which is why the Saudis frenetically point out that it will not happen. Even so, the meeting with Netanyahu in Warsaw went well beyond everything that happened before. The abnormal is becoming normal.

The original impulse to develop these relations between Israel and the Gulf states was a mutual displeasure for Barack Obama. In the first years of the Arab spring, he infuriated the Saudis and the UAE, and alarmed Israel, leaving Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and then expressed his support for the popular uprising in Syria and called for resignation from Bashar al-Assad. In 2015, when the nuclear agreement signed by the United States with Iran, Israel and most of the Gulf states were opposed vehemently. This September, Russian military intervention in Syria marked the beginning of the end of the Assad crisis. The strong support of Tehran to his ally in Damascus, and his support for Hezbollah in Lebanon – Iran's "axis of resistance" was considered with identical disgust in Jerusalem, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi.

"The Obama Administration was hated by Saudi Arabia and Israel, because it avoided both of them," said a senior Saudita. A veteran Israeli official made the same argument: "There was a feeling that we were seeing an American administration that was not so committed to traditional American friends. We had to make a common cause because there was a feeling of leaving it, Let's do it for ourselves. Undoubtedly, Obama contributed significantly to the accumulation of relations between us and the UAE and the Saudis. "

Netanyahu's play plan is to promote relations with the Gulf and beyond, and thus marginalize and pressure the Palestinians. "What is happening with the Arab states has never happened to our history, even when we signed peace agreements," is his formula carefully polished. "Cooperation in different ways and at different levels is not necessarily visible above the surface, but what is below the surface is much greater than in any other period." Dore Gold, Netanyahu's national security adviser, made a smile. the words are "written very carefully to give a positive message without spilling the beans."

The priority of the Saudis and their allies is to resist Iran, which in recent years has consolidated its position in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, where it supports the Houthis rebels. MBS remarkably described Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, as a "new Hitler." Netanyahu compared Obama's nuclear agreement with the Munich 1938 agreement – and after Trump had left it last summer, Netanyahu indicated Israel's willingness to join an "international coalition" against Tehran. "We planned to see Israel as an enemy of the Arab countries," says an Arab Emirates analyst. "The reality now is that the Israelis are there, whether they like it or not. We have common interests with them – and it's Iran, of interests, not of emotions."

There is also a pragmatic recognition in the Gulf capital of the benefits of security, the technological and economic links with a powerful undefeated Israel, not only for its own sake but also for the approval of the U.S.. Israel sees the links with the Gulf as an important way of demonstrating its own influence in Washington. "It's doubtful whether the reach of American aid in the Arab countries could have been sustained without the support of Aipac (the main pro-Israel lobby group) and Jewish organizations," says Eran Lerman, former deputy chief of the National Security Council of Israel.

Nothing that means that the Palestinian question has disappeared. The "normalization" (of relations with Israel) remains a dirty word for millions of Arabs, which is why the autocratic leaders of the Gulf fear the popular opposition to their new convenience with Netanyahu. Formally, all the GCC states remain committed to the Arab peace initiative of 2002, which offers Israeli recognition in return for a Palestinian state in the territories occupied in 1967, with Jerusalem as the capital of the # 39; Est. But even this is much more than Netanyahu will never accept: he will consider only a Palestinian "state-less" and will openly refuse to dismantle the illegal settlements that divide the West Bank into disconnected enclaves. The many Israeli critics of Netanyahu – angry about the accusations of corruption that are presented to the approach of the elections next month – have complained to exaggerate both the Iranian threat and the importance of its diplomacy of the golf, completely ignoring the existential crisis of the own garden of Israel. the lack of peace with the Palestinians.


NEtanyahu's meeting with the Saudis and the emirates in Warsaw was not the first dramatic issue of the public about this changing reality in the Middle East. Last October, the Israeli Prime Minister held talks in Muscat, the capital of Oman, with his ruler, Sultan Qaboos bin Said. On the following day, his party colleague Likud, the culture and sports minister Miri Regev, was visiting Abu Dhabi in the UAE, while the Israeli athletes competed in Doha near Qatar.

The news of Netanyahu's trip to Muscat included video footage of his talks at the ornate Palace Bait al-Baraka. The Prime Minister, wearing a suit and a blue tie, was exchanging nice things with the Sultan, with a turban and a traditional white robe. The wife of the Israeli leader, Sara, was there with other members of her delegation, including an impassive middle-aged man named Yossi Cohen, head of Mossad's intelligence service.

During his stay in the United Kingdom in Abu Dhabi, where the main judo team in Israel was participating in a tournament, he cried for a camera like Hatikvah, the national anthem of Israel (the words in Hebrew on Zion's yearning). Later he traveled through the opulent Mosque Sheikh Zayed, commemorating the founder of the UAE, a faithful supporter of the Palestinian cause. These two Israeli ministerial visits to the Gulf capitals gave a strong impetus to the impression of dramatic changes in the alliances of the region.

But as news came about Netanyahu's visit to Oman, he remembered the risks of a reaction. Six Palestinians were killed and 180 wounded by snipers of the Israeli army on the Gaza Strip border, where weekly protests challenge the blockade imposed on Israel by 2007.

Palestinian protesters on the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, October 2018



Palestinian protesters on the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, October 2018. Photo: Mohammed Saber / EPA

"Our [Gulf] The Arab brothers … have stabbed us to the front and back, leaving politically while embracing Israel, "complained of Palestinian activist Kamel Hawwash." Israeli flags could soon fly to the heavens; Some Gulf states, while pushing Palestinian leadership to accept a "peace" agreement that is unacceptable. "He described" ill-fated images of a burst … Netanyahu – the leader of an oppressive state apartheid, with loads of blood Palestinian and other Arabs in their hands, being well received … by the Sultanate of Oman. "

Netanyahu was not, in fact, the first Israeli leader to visit Muscat. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin met Qaboos in 1994, just like his successor, Simón Peres. But in the mid-1990s, the Oslo peace process, although it was already in ruins, was still being persecuted by the Israeli Israeli release organization and Yasser Arafat. It was still possible, almost, to believe in a happy ending of the most difficult conflict in the world. Today, on the other hand, there have been no peace talks between Israel and the PLO since 2014, when the Obama administration finally threw the towel. This is a very significant difference.

But despite these recent flashes of publicity, the evidence of Israeli relations with the Gulf states is still rare, as they are still largely undercover.

The links are most visible with the UAE, where Israel, in a unique way, has an official diplomatic presence at the headquarters of the International Renewable Energy Agency in Abu Dhabi, although the two countries emphasize that they do not have relations bilateral Avi Gabbay, leader of the opposition Labor Party, held talks last December. It is believed that Netanyahu met Cyprus in the lead of Emirates in 2015 to discuss how to deal with Iran. But the secret contacts between the two countries were routine since the mid-1990s, some of which were registered on US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks. The Emirates "believe in the role of Israel because of their perception of the close relationship between Israel and the United States, but also because of their sense that they can count on Israel against Iran," goes said an Israeli diplomat in 2009 and added that, in general, the Arabs of the Gulf "believe" Israel can work magic. "

These "bottom-up" relationships suffered a terrible setback in 2010 when a successful Mossad team killed Hamas Mahmoud al-Mabhouh's operations at a Dubai hotel. Mabhouh was the Hamas arms recruitment link with Iran. The Emirates prohibited any person identified as an Israeli from entering the country, even if they traveled with a foreign passport. But it was not long before the resumption of discreet diplomatic and commercial bonds. "In these cases, just keep your head down and wait until everything is finished," said an Israeli businessman based in Switzerland. In 2013, Israeli president Shimon Peres spoke from Jerusalem via satellite to 29 foreign ministers from Arab and Muslim countries who attended a conference in Abu Dhabi.

The Israelis calmly participated in joint military exercises with UAE forces, both in the United States and Greece as of 2016. Last year, UAE military personnel visited an Israeli air base to review the operations of F-35 combat aircraft manufactured by the United States. denied by Israel. It is believed that clandestine cooperation includes surveillance of Israeli intelligence in Iran and the sale of Israeli drones used in the Yemen war.

The alliances of Israel in the Persian Gulf

But the clearest evidence of overlapping interests between the Gulf and Israel has been present on occasions public declarations of Golf officials. In the insular kingdom of Bahrain, where the Sunni monarchy Al Khalifa oppresses a Shiite majority and the protests were crushed by Saudi intervention in 2011, the Foreign Minister was convicted last year when he spoke of the right of Israel to defend itself after the Iranian missiles began from Syria. . In social media in the Arab language, opponents of normalization exploded in outrage. But by the end of 2017, when Trump announced the controversial decision to transfer the American embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, The Foreign Minister of Bahrain tweeted: "It is not useful to choose a fight with the United States on secondary problems, while fighting against the clear and present danger of the Islamic Republic of Theo-Fascist." It is said that the capital of Bahrain, Manama, may be the next destination of the GCC of Netanyahu.

Qatar, the informer of the peninsula, has long behaved more independently, and even more so than a coalition that includes Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt imposed a blockade on Qatar on 2017, to pressure him on his support for Islamist groups. perceived tolerance of Iran. But in recent years, Doha has played an increasingly public role in the mediation between Israel and Hamas, which controls Gaza, with the Qatar emissary packing bags filled with millions of dollars in cash to pay official salaries and alleviate the Increasing humanitarian crisis in Gaza. its blockade by Israel. Qatar is criticized by the Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank, to legitimize Hamas, its Islamist rival.

Oman also goes bad with the Saudis and the Emiratis, since he has always had friendly relations with Iran, which caused speculation that Netanyahu's trip was destined to send a message to Tehran. Omanese sources believe, however, that the Sultan's invitation was to publish their pro-Israeli credentials in Washington, where Trump's national security team is suspected of linking Oman to the Islamic Republic. Iran's foreign minister, Javad Zarif, later revealed that he had been warned in advance about Netanyahu's trip and accused Israel of attempting to break into the Gulf.


FIran, above all, has joined Israel and the Gulf states. The suspicion of Tehran dates back to the 1979 Iranian revolution, but it has intensified in the last two decades. The invasion led by the United States in Iraq in 2003, which greatly increased the Iranian influence in the region by eliminating a long-time enemy, Saddam Hussein's dominated regime, arrived a year after the # 39 Exposure to a secret uranium enrichment facility revealed that Iran had not abandoned nuclear ambitions. This emphasized the regional aspirations of the Islamic Republic, including a potential threat to the undeclared nuclear monopoly in Israel.

In 2004, King Abdullah of Jordan warned of the emergence of a "growing Shi'a" ranging from Damascus to Tehran through Baghdad, where the Shiite majority of Iraq had been enabled by the suppression of Saddam . The assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri in 2005 led to Syria and the Shiite-backed Iran-Hezbollah organization. In January 2006, Basà al-Assad of Syria met Iranian hard-line president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In December 2005, at the top of the Organization of Islamic cooperation in Mecca, Ahmadinejad had used a speech to deny the Holocaust, described by an observer as "a blatant act of a solution that left Saud [Saudi Arabia’s ruling family] mortified and unable to respond ".

The key point of investment was the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah. The 34-day conflict marked a change in regional dynamics. Riyadh condemned Hezbollah's incursion into Israel and the abduction of two Israeli soldiers, describing that it was not a "legitimate resistance," but rather a "mistakenly calculated adventure." Saudis and Israelis had a "common interest in successfully treating Hezbollah and Iran," recalled Daniel Kurtzer, who had been the US ambassador to Israel until the previous year. The Saudi clerks officially sanctioned Hizbullah excoriated, while opponents of Saudi Arabian rulers "took advantage of the war to reveal prudence, immobility, impiety and, in some cases, the illegitimacy of the Saudi regime," he said. how a later study concluded In August, Assad insulted the rulers of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan as "half men" because of their animosity towards the Lebanese militia.

UN peacekeepers pass a sign that shows the late Iranian leader, Aiatollah Khomeini, after the war between Israel and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, September 2006



United Nations peacemakers with an advertising panel showing Iran's leader Ayatollah Khomeini, after the Israel-Hezbollah war in Lebanon, September 2006. Photo: Francois Mori / AP

The secret diplomacy between Israel and the pro-Western Arab states was intensified. In mid-September 2006, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert traveled to the Jordanian capital, Amman, to meet Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador for a long time in Washington DC, known as "Bandar Bush "due to its close ties with the presidential family. He was now a national security adviser to King Abdullah. In Riyadh, the Saudis were furious when leaked news from the meeting, as an old Israeli intelligence official told me, and denied that it would have taken place. Publicly, Olmert only said he was "very impressed by various movements and statements related to Saudi Arabia." Nor did he talk about meeting with Bandar when he published his memoirs a decade later. (Israeli clandestine relations with Arab countries continue to be considered as a matter of national security by the military censorship authorities and a ministerial commission that makes veterans publications by officials and former officials and politicians).

One of the key players on the Israeli side was the head of the Mossad, Meir Dagan, who is credited with a proactive partnership building strategy with Arabs and other partners, partly as a means to allow the killings of # 39 Israel of Iranian scientists and the sabotage of the Tehran nuclear program. "Israel and the Gulf states were in the same boat," observed David Meidan, who ran the international Mossad department.

"Suddenly, the Mossad was teaching Persian", he marveled at an old intelligence officer. Around this moment it was reported that a meeting had been held in the town of Aqaba, located on the Jordanian red sea, between Dagan, Bandar and the Jordanian information chief, who decided to "accelerate and accelerate intelligence exchanges "to face Iranian threats. The visible presence of Dagan's successor, Yossi Cohen, called "the model" due to his fashionable clothes, next to Netanyahu in Muscat last October could have been destined to send a signal so subtle to the Iranians about the intellectual access to Israel of the Gulf capitals.

One of the former US diplomats told me that Iran's threat today has a unifying effect comparable to the Saddam Hussein invasion of Kuwait in 1990, which provoked an unacceptable US military presence in Saudi Arabia. "If it were not for the Palestinian question," said the former diplomat, "this relationship with Israel would be very public, and it would be very welcome, because we need its military equipment and its technology."

Jamal al-Suwaidi, founder of the Center for Strategic Research and Research (Emirates Center) for the government, said: "The Palestinian cause is no longer at the helm of Arab interests, as it did for many decades; it has lost its priority sharply in light of the challenges, threats and problems facing the countries of the region. " In the same way, he added, the question of Israel was not comparable to the "threats posed by Iran, Hezbollah and terrorist groups."

There is still an audible discrepancy in the Gulf over the development of rapprochement with Israel. "I am against normalization," Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a political scientist at Dubai, insists. "I am against dropping the Palestinian problem because others are taking advantage of it politically. Although Palestine is not the first issue, it is still a problem, perhaps in the heart, not so much in the mind. UAE priorities can be found in the strict state controls imposed on the media: news sites affiliated with Qatar and Iran are blocked, but Israeli websites are not.

In addition to the contempt shared by Iran, the Gulf and Israeli states have been reunited by a common hostility against Islamist parties. Media in Arabic and English associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, in Turkey and Qatar usually expose the ties between the Arab Emirates to Israel. Al-Jazeera, based in Qatar, is an important source of these stories, like the Middle East Eye website in London. The Emirates responded by recalling that the first Israeli mission to the Gulf opened in Qatar on the honeymoon after Oslo in 1996. (Representation offices in Israel in Qatar and Oman closed after # 39 ; burst of the second intifada or the Palestinian uprising in 2000, but they continue discreet ties.)

Many important events in the evolution of relations between Israel and the Gulf have not been announced because they are masked by contradictory public positions and, sometimes, by lies. In December 2008, when about 1,400 Palestinians died in Gaza in the Israeli operation, Operation Cast Lead, the Saudis publicly criticized Israel. Soon after, however, Riyadh seemed to accept more Israeli military actions against Hamas, in the form of air strikes against Iranian weapons convoys in Sudan on the way to Gaza. The cables in the United States proved that the Israelis mounted a diplomatic campaign to prevent them from getting rid of weapons. When it failed, they initiated long-distance attacks through the Red Sea to Sudan in early 2009, but reported the Saudis, according to informed sources.

Then, according to the deputy head of the Israeli National Security Council, "high-level professionals in the fields of intelligence and security in Israel and the Gulf countries collaborated." The same sources confirm, as it has been reported occasionally but always officially denied, that the Saudis agreed to look at Israeli aircraft through its territory in the event of an Israeli strike at the nuclear facilities of Iran, before the idea was abandoned because of Obama's opposition in 2012.


MeIsraeli trade with the Gulf states is currently estimated to cost 1 billion dollars a year, although no official statistics are available from anywhere. However, the potential is very broad: in technology, especially in cybersecurity, irrigation, medical supplies and the diamond industry, among others, it could reach up to 25,000 million dollars a year, according to a new detailed study .

Israeli businessmen who use foreign passports regularly fly to the UAE, usually on commercial flights through Amman. "There is a huge amount," says the Israeli representative of a multinational company that travels to Arab states with a community passport.

AGT International, owned by Israel Mati Kochavi, provided electronic billboards and surveillance equipment worth $ 800 million to protect the boundaries and oil fields of the UAE. Those responsible for the Egyptian Emirates described this as a non-political decision motivated by national security interests. In 2014, Haaretz was the news when he first saw a mysterious weekly private flight from Tel Aviv, via Amman, to Dubai. Nowadays direct flights between the Gulf and Israel, although not yet publicly explained, are frequently posted on social networks. Israeli companies operate in the UAE via registered companies in Europe. Charges for knowledge from an intermediate country are held, often in Jordan or Cyprus.

Like the Emirates, the Saudis have committed Israeli companies, especially in the security field. An Israeli company was a subcontractor of the high technology barrier built as of 2014 by the EADS European Defense Giant along the Iraqi realm border, a veteran veteran of the defense of Israel in an interview.

In 2012, when hackers broke the computer system of Saudi Aramco, the national oil company, they called on Israeli companies. Israel reportedly sold drones in Saudi Arabia through South Africa, but denied that it had sold the "Iron Dome" system to defend the kingdom from the attacks with rebel rebel missiles supported by Iran in Yemen. The military censors allowed the Israeli media in 2018 to inform that the Israeli and Saudi chiefs of state met in a Washington conference for the commanders of the allied armies of the United States. The Saudites denied the story.

Buildings hit by the Houthi rockets in Najran, Saudi Arabia, August 2016



Buildings hit by the Houthi rockets in Najran, Saudi Arabia, August 2016. Photo: Reuters

Intelligence cooperation between Israel and the Gulf states is even more secretive, although Israeli politicians and officials refer occasionally to it. By the end of 2017, the Israeli army chief of staff was notified when he was offered to share information about Iran with Saudi Arabia, and noted that his Countries shared "many common interests". Western sources confirm the existence of this cooperation. "The intelligent Israeli people who have gone to these countries have met with the leaders," said a former US diplomat. "They know each other pretty well." Obama's first Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, "knew that the UAE and Saudi Arabia … worked together behind the scenes with the Mossad to counter Iran's influence."

Unofficial Saudi spokespeople say that cooperation with Israel is limited to Iran's subjects and anti-terrorism and complain that Israelis exaggerated its spread for propaganda purposes. As a well-connected Saudi journalist tweeted, with typical destitution: "Fetishizing the non-existent collaboration among the Saudi / GCC and #Israel states has become a trend in the Western media / thinktank circles." Foreign governments close to both countries believe that they both maintain a direct line for emergencies and are regular contacts. "Now there is contiguity between the Israelis and the Saudis," says a source of western information. "You actually have the kind of security relationships between countries that exist when they share a border. There are practical things that need to be resolved, so you end up with a routine relationship that can create a more senior contact and a more strategic vision of the two parties. "

It's a pretty open secret. Al 2013, Bandar bin Sultan, al capdavant de la intel·ligència general saudita, es va reunir amb el llavors cap del Mossad, Tamir Pardo, pel que un ancià font britànic va descriure com un "sopar llarg i booz" en un hotel de Knightsbridge. "Mai hi ha hagut una cooperació activa entre els dos països, quant a anàlisi, intel·ligència humana i intercepció a l'Iran i moviments lleials a ell com Hezbollah, els Houthis i les unitats populars de mobilització iraquiana", va informar un butlletí d'informació especialitzat el 2016 Es va dir que els funcionaris saudites eren tan "agradats com cops".

Pel costat saudita, però, hi ha queixes que la relació és desigual. Israel, segons es diu, no sempre ha respost a les sol·licituds d’intel·ligència, fins i tot quan es va presentar a través dels EUA. I hi ha, de fet, indicis d'un debat intern a Israel sobre el valor dels vincles amb el regne. Les seves pròpies capacitats de vigilància sofisticades no es corresponen amb el que els saudites han d’oferir, ja sigui que s’hi coneguin les tribus iemenites o els àrabs a la província khuzestana iraniana, segons un israelià amb una llarga experiència en tractar amb Riad.

Encara hi ha una manca de confiança entre les dues parts. "Puc entendre que els israelians no haurien donat informació confidencial als saudits perquè no podrien confiar que els saudites haurien protegit la font i això hauria creat un seriós problema de contra-intel·ligència", va dir un altre veterà de la intel·ligència. "No són socis naturals. Tenen cultures d'intel·ligència molt diferents. Els israelians són de classe mundial i els Gulfies no ho són. Els israelians no entraran en relació si no reben dividends adequats ".


TEl desenvolupament de vincles entre Israel i el Golf va rebre un impuls significatiu per l’arribada de Trump a la Casa Blanca, tot i que els primers plans d’Estats Units d’una reunió entre Netanyahu, MBS d’Aràbia Saudita i el príncep de la corona Emirats, Mohammed bin Zayed, no van poder materialitzar-se. Però la tendència ja estava clara a Obama. Els signes d’aprofundiment de les relacions israelianes-saudites es van multiplicar quan el rei Salman va arribar al tron ​​el 2015 i, més encara, ja que el MBS –que va ser informat per les intel·ligències israelianes sobre les ordres de Netanyahu– va ser promogut a príncep hereu.

El 2016 Israel va donar el vistiplau a Egipte per traslladar a Aràbia Saudita les illes del Mar Roig de Tiran i Sanafir, a la desembocadura del golf d'Aqaba. Un grup de pressió saudita, Salman Ansari, va demanar una "aliança col·laborativa" amb Israel per ajudar el pla de visió 2030 de MBS per a la reforma econòmica i la diversificació. Tots dos països es van enfrontar a "constants amenaces de grups extremistes … recolzats directament pel govern totalitari d'Iran", va argumentar. El projecte de 500 milions de dòlars Neom megacity, prop de les fronteres de Jordània, Egipte i Israel, va atraure un fort interès israelià. L’estret de Tiran, el bloqueig del qual per part del president d’Egipte, Gamal Abdel Nasser, va desencadenar la guerra de 1967, ara es va enfrontar a un futur millor, va reflectir el comentarista Abdelrahman al-Rashed, "un on preval la pau i la prosperitat".

La decisió inflamatòria de Trump del desembre del 2017 de traslladar l’ambaixada nord-americana a Israel de Tel Aviv a Jerusalem, que va suposar un consens internacional de llarga data, es va reunir inicialment a Riyadh. El seu gendre Jared Kushner va discutir el "tracte definitiu" del president per resoldre el conflicte Israel-Palestina amb MBS. Les filtracions posteriors van indicar un paper clau per als saudites en la pressió dels palestins. And when the crown prince made a three-week trip to the US last spring, he transmitted even louder signals about his intentions toward Israel, telling the Atlantic that the Palestinians should accept Trump’s plan or “shut up and stop complaining” about an issue that was no longer a priority compared to confronting Iran. MBS also explicitly acknowledged Jewish claims to Israel, declaring: “I believe the Palestinians and the Israelis have the right to have their own land.” Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza burned pictures of the Saudi royals.

The crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman



The crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman. Photograph: AP

Unusually, MBS was then reined in by his father. In April 2018, at the Arab League summit in Dhahran, Salman announced that it would be named the al-Quds (Jerusalem) summit. “In Saudi Arabia, the king is the one who decides on this issue now, not the crown prince,” as a senior Arab diplomat explained. The resumption of Saudi financial aid to the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority – which was also a response to Qatari support for Hamas-ruled Gaza – was another clue.

In the background, however were other signs of Saudi flexibility: in March 2018 a commercial flight from Delhi to Tel Aviv was allowed for the first time to cross Saudi airspace. But there was a significant qualification. “Kerry asked the Saudis to let [Israeli airline] El Al fly over their territory,” reflected an Israeli security expert. “And who got permission? Air India! it shows that the Saudis can be flexible but they cannot betray the Palestinians, not because they love them or trust them but because it is an issue for their people and the religious establishment – and also because of their position vis-a-vis Iran.” Nevertheless, it fitted the narrative that Netanyahu has been eagerly promoting, that relations with key Arab states were “improving beyond imagination” regardless of the Palestinian issue. In June the Saudi intelligence director Khalid bin Ali al-Humaidan reportedly joined Kushner and Trump’s envoy Jason Greenblatt, as well as the Mossad’s Yossi Cohen and his Palestinian Authority, Jordanian and Egyptian counterparts, in Aqaba to discuss regional security.

These increasingly cosy relationships suffered a serious blow with the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in October 2018. Amid international condemnation and constantly changing Saudi responses, the Israeli government was initially silent. When Netanyahu eventually addressed the issue, he deplored a “horrendous” incident, but warned it was important that Saudi Arabia remain stable – which was more or less exactly what Trump said, too. Saudi sources said his position was “much appreciated” in Riyadh. Israel’s intelligence community was said to be alarmed by MBS’s recklessness. “Let’s hope that if he wants to assassinate people again – say commanders of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards – he’ll consult people with some relevant experience,” wrote the security expert Ronen Bergman. Surveillance equipment manufactured by the Israeli company NSO was allegedly used to track the Saudi journalist, according to the Washington Post. And one of the two top aides to MBS who were blamed for the killing was the most senior Saudi official to have visited Israel (in search of state-of-the-art surveillance technology), reported the Wall Street Journal. It revealed too that new arrangements had been put in place to allow Israel businessmen to quietly visit the kingdom.

In public, however, Saudi Arabia’s relationship with Israel remains cautious and reticent. Unlike the UAE, Bahrain and Qatar, it refuses to allow Israelis to attend international sports events. “Not hosting a chess tournament with Israeli participants is a statement of our resolution for a free Palestine,” commented the columnist Tariq al-Maeena. “As the Custodian of the two Holy Mosques, Saudi Arabia bears the weight of the Muslim world and this form of commitment is necessary to ward off grand Zionist designs for the region.” Last December the Saudis even opposed a UN resolution condemning Hamas, along with all other Arab states.

Among the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, alarm seems to have subsided. Speculation about how far MBS will dare to go in embracing Israel is no more than “gossipy innuendo”, said the Palestinian ambassador in London, Husam Zomlot, who was thrown out of Washington as part of the US offensive against the PLO. Saeb Erekat, the PLO’s chief negotiator, scorned the “imperialist fantasies of the Trump team”, insisting that “the whole of Palestine remains close in the heart of every Arab – and is not going to fade away”.

Netanyahu is sticking to his script: visiting Chad in January, he boasted that Israel’s relations with that country had been renewed in the face of Iranian and Palestinian opposition, and that it was the result of improving links with the Arab world. But on the eve of the Warsaw conference, a leaked Israeli foreign ministry report assessed that the Saudis were not prepared to go further in developing overt relations. The same point was made by the Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal, another ex-spymaster. “Israeli public opinion should not be deceived into believing that the Palestinian issue is a dead issue,” he said in an unprecedented interview with an Israeli TV channel.

The attitudes of Gulf governments have clearly changed. But the bottom line is that Israel has failed to provide the incentives required for the Saudis and their allies to come out of the closet, to allow them to reconcile geopolitical logic with popular sentiment, because it has not offered anything approaching an acceptable deal for the Palestinians. “Everyone knows about the rapprochement with Israel, but no one can talk about it publicly, and no one can advocate it because there is nothing for the Palestinians in return,” concludes an Arab analyst in Abu Dhabi. “The assumption is that if it was going to happen openly, it would have to be in return for something big, and it does not look as though that is going to happen.”

Many Israelis agree. Even the ex-Mossad director Pardo argues that the cosiest clandestine connections are no substitute for public engagement, reiterating that without significant concessions to the Palestinians, Israel’s relations with Arab states will continue to be limited, security-focused and largely secret. Netanyahu’s purpose, as another critic concluded after his Muscat trip, was to “prove that there was no basis to leftwing claims that the occupation and Israeli settlements hinder normalisation of ties with the Arab world”. The Palestinians, in other words, will simply not go away – whatever else happens.

Ian Black, former Guardian Middle East editor and diplomatic editor, is a visiting senior fellow at the Middle East Centre at LSE, who have just published his new report, Just Below the Surface: Israel, the Arab Gulf States and the Limits of Co-operation. His latest book, Enemies and Neighbours: Arabs and Jews in Palestine and Israel, 1917-2017, is out now in Penguin paperback and available at guardianbookshop.com

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