Saudi Arabia and the US have resumed the talks about preparing for closer defense collaboration, which were halted following the outbreaks of Israel's war against Hamas, "Bloomberg" reports. Within the framework of the talks, US Senators met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman earlier this month in al-Ula in northwest Saudi Arabia and discussed the defense agreement, which includes normalization with Israel.
An interesting aspect of the meeting was the identity of two Democrat Senators who met with bin Salman and who in the not very distant past were critical of his regime. The first, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, signed a letter to Saudi King Salman expressing concern about the systematic violation of human rights, including the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. She visited Saudi Arabia together with Senator Mark Warner, head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who is 2018 criticized Riyadh for its "negligent bombing" of Yemen. They met with bin Salman together with Mark Kelly who was an officer in the US naval fleet in the First Gulf War.
They met with bin Salman at a complicated time for the Saudi Crown Prince. The Palestinian issue has become especially sensitive in Saudi Arabia as the keeper of the holy sites and therefore it cannot promote normalization with Israel. All the more so in wartime, even though the clear interest of the entire moderate Sunni axis is for Hamas to be defeated, which would weaken the Muslim Brotherhood movement.
Saudi Arabia's pan-Arab sensitivities have led to a dead end in contacts with Israel, because for normalization Riyadh demands the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. On the other hand, the current Israeli government strongly opposes this. Moreover, there are ministers in the Israeli government, including from the Likud, who took part in the conference this week calling for Jewish resettlement of the Gaza Strip.
Normalization with Israel
Saudi Arabia has been watching the war between Israel and Hamas and is concerned. They are pushing for a ceasefire and not because of Hamas. The Saudis are concerned about the development of a regional war that would suck them in, and in particular that would spark a renewal of the civil war in Yemen, where a fragile ceasefire has held for the past nine months.
Due to concerns about the Houthi rebels and their Iranian patrons, the Saudis are interested in significantly strengthening their military. For normalization with Israel, they are demanding F-35 stealth fighter aircraft, a defense pact with the US, and a civil nuclear program. Israel can handle a Saudi-American defense pact, whoich could even serve its interest vis-à-vis Iran, but F-35 aircraft and a civil nuclear program are sensitive issues. Providing advanced fighter jets to Riyadh will harm Israel's air superiority in the region, and regarding the nuclear program the important question arises: Can Saudi Arabia be trusted to keep the nuclear program just for civilian purposes?
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on January 31, 2024.
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