“All sides have hammered out, I think, a basic framework for what, you know, what we might be able to drive at,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters on unprecedented deal which could unite Jerusalem and Mecca on 30th September.
Benjamin Netanyahu in an address to the UN General assembly said Israel is “on the cusp” of an historic deal with Saud Arabia. Netanyahu proclaimed “peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia will truly create a new Middle East” on 22nd September 2023.
The news of Saudi-Israel normalisation talks have been doing rounds for a few months. The US seeks to broker a deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel in line with previously successful Abraham accords which normalised relations with UAE and Bahrain followed by Morocco and Sudan back in 2020. Saudi Arabia has overtly been criticalof Israel’s existence and has based its diplomatic relations with the Jewish state on the issue of Palestinian statehood but the Sunni country has been covertly allied in security and defence cooperation with the Israelis since the Egyptian and soviet backed republican regime in Yemen in 1960s.
Authorities from both the sides have expressed their will to commit resources to achieve the deal which could have potential to usher in an era of thaw in Middle Eastern relations. The Saudi Kingdom had opened its airspace for the Israeli flights for the first time in the history. In an interview with Fox News, Crown prince Mohammed Bin Salaman has said “everyday we get closer” to normalising ties with Israel.
Challenges to Israel-Saudi Deal
Saudi Arabia in a bid to secure a major defence pact and arms deal with the US is dedicated to closing a deal with the US which repairs its relations with Israel. The Saudi monarchy aspires to set up a civilian nuclear program on Saudi sand but has no motivation to compromise on the Palestinian question. As the custodian of Islam’s holiest sites Riyadh has positioned itself as the leader of the Muslim world and it cannot afford to discard the problem of Palestinian statehood. Crown prince has reiterated the Palestinian question would be a dealbreaker.
Benjamin Netanyahu faces the criticism back home by its coalition partners in the governments towards this Israeli-Saudi rapprochement. The extreme right wing Likud members have expressed their disapproval over the US brokered initiative stating nuclear race among the authoritarian governments in the Middle East can be detrimental to peace and security of the region. The far right coalition partners contest the issue of Palestinian statehood.
The Biden administration faces challenges from the US congress in proceeding with the deal as members even from within the Democratic party oppose any assistance to Saudi Arabia given the monarchy’s human rights track record against the backdrop of the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Previously pulled back by the Trump administration, Biden seeks to bring back the US at the centre of the Middle East affairs and ensure a lasting peace and security for the region. The Biden administration is suspicious of the Chinese and Russian influence and seeks to keep them from the security architecture of the region.
Iranian response to Israel-Saudi Deal
Iranian response to the deal would be of particular interest. Tehran might compromise its peace deal with Riyadh brokered by China back in March this year which was celebrated as a victory in international security. Iran has regional aspirations which would cause the Shia nation to aggressively challenge the Saudi’s claim over symbolic Islamic leadership .
Iran will raise the issue of the plight of Palestinian people and liberation of the holy city of Jerusalem which encompasses Al-aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam. Iran’s IRGC perceives Isarel as “cancerous tumour” in the Middle East that must be eradicated and it spent the past two years working to prevent Arab states from normalising ties with Isarel.
JCPOA has pushed Iran’s nuclear ambitions a few years back and Tehran would resent a nuclear Arabia. This might push Iran to undertake an offensive against the country. Tehran had carried out attacks on Arabian soil some years back when Saudis backed US led actions to curb Iranian nuclear program. Iran would avoid a direct confrontation but would carry out armed attacks through its proxies across the region.