Israel-Hamas war brings Saudi normalization closer

Arab summit in Riyadh credit: Reuters Mustafa Kamaci
Arab summit in Riyadh credit: Reuters Mustafa Kamaci

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is satisfied with what is happening in the Gaza Strip, because a fatal blow to Hamas and Islamic Jihad means weakening Iran's proxies in the region.

The perception that the Israel-Hamas war harms regional political processes has taken root. However, the IDF's Sword of Irons War brings normalization with Saudi Arabia closer rather than further away.

To understand this, we need to delve into the ambivalence that characterizes Saudi Arabia in general and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in particular. Last weekend, an emergency summit of the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation was held in Riyadh on the subject of the war in Gaza.

At the end of the conference, which was attended by figures such as Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who both shook hands with bin Salman, only Israel was condemned. But concrete steps in response to Israel's military activity in the Gaza Strip was announced, while there was a call for the release of the Israeli hostages.

The Saudis fear Iran and its proxies. The Houthi rebels in Yemen, for example, caused damage to the Saudi oil industry by attacking its state-owned Aramco oil installations in 2021.

This is the reason why Mohammed bin Salman hosted Raisi. On the one hand, he follows a policy of keeping his enemies close to him. But on the other hand, the Saudi Crown Prince is satisfied with what is happening in the Gaza Strip, because a fatal blow to Hamas and Islamic Jihad means weakening Iran's proxies in the region. Moreover, if a war on the Lebanese border develops in which Hezbollah sustains a severe blow, Mohammed bin Salman will be even more pleased.

Saudi satisfaction on what is happening is reflected the oil sector. In contrast to 1967, when the Arab countries declared an oil embargo due to the events of the Six Day War, the Saudis have not take any steps on production, and openly makes it clear that this is not on the agenda.

Saudi Minister of Investments, Kahlid al-Falih told the Bloomberg New Economy conference in Singapore that "Saudi Arabia is trying to achieve peace through talks that seek peace."

Dr. Yoel Guzansky, Senior Researcher at Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) tells "Globes" that the weakening of Hamas will be very beneficial for Saudi Arabia's internal security considerations and its Gulf neighbors.

"Hamas is seen as a reactionary like the Muslim Brotherhood, and they are supported by Iran, which is hated by the Saudis," Guzansky says. "Hamas has a political Islamic hue. Therefore, the Saudis would be happy for Israel to do the work, and for Hamas to disappear from the world. On the other hand, woe betide them if Hamas comes out with pictures of victory. This might encourage the Muslim Brotherhood in different countries to raise their heads."

The concern is also shared by the other countries of the moderate Sunni alliance, who are not interested in images that would put wind in the sails of subversive elements at home.

No more than lip service

To the outside world, Riyadh makes sure to publish condemnations against Israel as a matter of routine, similar to other Arab countries - a policy which Guzansky describes as lip service. The same lip service can also be viewed on the Saudi Al-Arabiya network, although it recdently presented a very aggressive interview with senior Hamas official Khaled Mashal, in contrast with the comfortable interviews with him on Qatar's Al Jazeera and Turkey's TRT. Both networks regularly adopt the terrorist organization's narrative.

Beyond the media scene, a fundamental difference between Riyadh and Doha and Ankara is that the Saudis avoid both hosting senior Hamas officials and direct involvement in the Gaza Strip. This is the reason why Dr. Guzansky completely rules out the possibility of a Saudi physical presence in the Gaza Strip on "the day after." The possibility of a foreign supervisory force in the Gaza Strip has been raised in recent days by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who makes it clear that he is not ready for the Palestinian Authority, which pays salaries to terrorists, to return to be sovereign there.

"The Saudis will not send forces," concludes Dr. Guzansky. "The only thing they can do is donate money for reconstruction as part of a political process. The Saudi story is complicated. In the end, no Arab country wants responsibility for Gaza, they want to criticize and on the other hand help. These countries are not ready to do anything. There are statements, but nothing active. Even at the end of the war, it is doubtful if there will be anything to see, certainly not soldiers in the field. We will not see Saudi soldiers securing Gaza."

The visit of Mahmoud Abbas

As part of Saudi ambitions to present an achievement to the Palestinians as an integral part of normalization with Israel, beyond the interests of Mohammed bin Salman, including a defense alliance with the US and F-35 aircraft, it is possible that the crown prince will demand that the Palestinian Authority return to Gaza.

It is likely that bin Salman will not be able to prevent Israel from continuing security activities in the Gaza Strip, and therefore such a demand can only be accepted according to the conduct of Area B in the Palestinian Authority. That is, civilian control of the Palestinian Authority and security control by Israel.

Only two and a half months ago "The Wall Street Journal" reported that as part of the talks to promote normalization with Israel, Riyadh had offered to renew economic aid to the Palestinian Authority. Senior Saudi officials told the newspaper that they were also trying to ensure the openness of Palestinian Authority Chairman Abbas to developing ties with Israel, with the aim of obtaining additional legitimacy for the agreement.

Even before that report, the Saudi Ambassador to the Palestinian Authority Nayef bin Bandar al-Sudairi, who is based in Amman told the London Arabic newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat that over the years the Saudis had invested $13.6 billion (51 billion riyals) in the Palestinians - 29 billion riyals in direct aid to the Palestinian Authority, 4 billion riyals to UNRWA, and 18 billion riyals from the Saudi Development Fund.

However, since 2016, Riyadh began to complain to Ramallah about the corruption affecting the Palestinian Authority, and thus the aid dropped from $174 million dollars a year in 2019 to zero in 2021. The renewal of Saudi economic aid to the Palestinian Authority, which is struggling to make ends meet while Hamas and Islamic Jihad have been strengthening their grip on the Palestinian Authority, may encourage Ramallah to support normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - - on November 14, 2023.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2023.

Arab summit in Riyadh credit: Reuters Mustafa Kamaci
Arab summit in Riyadh credit: Reuters Mustafa Kamaci
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