Israel-Saudi normalization: the pros and cons

US President Joe Biden and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman credit Reuters Mandel Ngan
US President Joe Biden and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman credit Reuters Mandel Ngan

From Saudi Arabia's request for a nuclear program and F-35s, to concessions to the Palestinians and a US defense pact, "Globes" sets out the advantages and disadvantages.

Leaders of the region, and even the entire world, are looking at the normalization that is getting closer "every day" between Israel and Saudi Arabia, as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman defined it. Unlike the Abraham Accords, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defined as "peace for peace", in the case of the Saudis this will not be the case.

Last Friday, "Reuters" reported that, as part of the normalization agreement with Israel, Saudi Arabia may agree a defense pact with the US, in the existing framework with Asian countries, but if Congress refuses Washington could offer Riyadh a defense agreement in the existing framework with Bahrain.

At the same time, three sources in the region told "Reuters" that the Palestinians will receive concessions from Israel, but similar to the Abraham Accords, they will not receive a state.

These are not the only demands Riyadh is making from the US and Israel. "Globes" sets out the four main pillars of the normalization outline that is emerging: the civilian nuclear program, the defense alliance, the Palestinians and the F-35 aircraft - with their advantages and disadvantages.

The nuclear program

Saudi Arabia is interested in a nuclear program for civilian purposes, including uranium enrichment capabilities on the kingdom's soil. In Riyadh's case, it needs civilian nuclear capabilities for less polluting electricity production.

Advantages - Saudi Arabia produces about 99.3% of its electricity from fossil fuels, while according to its official targets it wants to reach zero net carbon emissions by 2060. Nuclear energy may be very useful for Saudi Arabia in significantly reducing carbon emissions, and for this purpose it is enough for Riyadh to enrich uranium to low levels of 3-5%.

It is clear to everyone that the Saudis will not give up a civilian nuclear program. Therefore, if the US does not provide them with the capabilities, then they will turn to China, the great rival of the Biden administration. Beijing, which has already established and operates infrastructure in Saudi Arabia, has the capabilities to provide the answer on the issue. Therefore, normalization with Israel is probably Washington's last option to prevent the establishment of Chinese nuclear power plants in the heart of the kingdom.

Disadvantages - Mohammed bin Salman acquired his problematic image following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul five years ago. As a result, there is a fear that nuclear knowhow will be used to enrich uranium to high levels, with the high end being about 90%, which is enough for a nuclear warhead.

According to the Stockholm Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Israel possesses 90 nuclear warheads. If this is true, it may lose regional supremacy. Moreover, in an interview with "Fox", the crown prince said that "if Iran has nuclear weapons, Saudi Arabia should have them as well."

At the same time, Saudi Arabia's civilian nuclear program may encourage the nuclear ambitions of other countries in the region, and the construction of Chinese-made power plants in other countries in the region.

Defense pact

A defense pact ensures that if a US ally is attacked, Washington will immediately come to its aid, as is the case with its alliances with countries such as Japan and South Korea. However, the US does not have a top-tier defense alliance with a Middle Eastern country. Saudi Arabia understands the consequences of normalization with Israel on Iran, and fears that it will attack them in response.

Advantages - There is no doubt that Riyadh does not see Israel as a threatening factor. The Saudis want the defense pact with the US because of who they see as the greatest danger: Iran - the Shia country, which in 2019 punished the Trump administration by attacking the facilities of Saudi national oil company, Aramco.

"The enemy of my enemy is my friend" is a relevant statement concerning the Israeli struggle to contain Iran. Therefore, if there is a high-level mutual defense pact, and Riyadh activates it following an Iranian attack, they will do the job for Israel in bringing the Americans into direct combat with Iran.

Disadvantages - US defense pacts are diverse, and due to distaste by quite a few members of Congress for the crown prince, it is possible that they will firmly refuse to approve an alliance at the level of Article 5 of the NATO alliance, which states that if one of the members is attacked, all members are obliged to come to its aid.

The Palestinians

Ramallah understands that if the Abraham Accords, which included the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco, created a positive momentum from Israel's point of view, normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia would create a shock wave.

Such a shock wave would include bring normalizations, resulting from the fact that Saudi Arabia is the guardian of the Islamic holy places and leader of the Sunni world. Therefore, Palestinian Authority head Abu Mazen wants to get as much as possible out of such a move, including the renewal of Saudi economic aid to Ramallah.

Advantages - unlike in the past, when there was really no one to guarantee political moves with the Palestinians, Saudi Arabia has such economic capabilities that levers of pressure that are "small money" for it are expected to be very significant for Ramallah. In a situation where the Palestinian Authority does not prove its control over the territories, Saudi Arabia will assume in Judea and Samaria the role that Qatar holds in the Gaza Strip: controlling order, through financial grants.

Disadvantages - As part of normalization, the Saudis demand significant steps from Netanyahu, who will obviously receive criticism and even opposition from members of his government. These steps may include an official Israeli commitment to the establishment of a Palestinian state. Moreover, Riyadh is expected to demand construction freezes of Jewish settlements and even the transfer of areas C (Israeli security and civil control) to areas A (Palestinian security and civil control).

F-35 aircraft

The F-35 is one of the most advanced stealth fighter aircraft in the world, manufactured by Lockheed Martin, and Israel is the only country in the region that posseses them. Saudi Arabia wants to strengthen its air force with these planes.

Advantages - Iran has developed its missile program over the years, but the Iranian Air Force is one of the oldest. Therefore, it aims to purchase Sukhoi 35 aircraft from Russia.

A situation in which both Israel and Saudi Arabia will possess F-35 aircraft will lead to broad and quantitative air superiority against the Iranian Air Force.

On the economic side, the sale of F-35s also has an impact on Israel's booming defense industries. Elbit Systems is involved in the F-35 by virtue of being a manufacturer of displays and helmets for aircraft.

Disadvantages - The US has okayed a sales boom of F-35 aircraft to European countries, but in the Middle East, Washington is concerned about maintaining Israel's air supremacy. As soon as Saudi Arabia gains such aircraft, Israel will lose regional air supremacy.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - - on October 2, 2023.

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

US President Joe Biden and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman credit Reuters Mandel Ngan
US President Joe Biden and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman credit Reuters Mandel Ngan
Twitter Facebook Linkedin RSS Newsletters גלובס Israel Business Conference 2018