French news agency AFP revealed on Friday that the Saudi official who visited Israel last September was Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman; a disclosure that is of great importance and has long-term significance.
An Israeli official, as quoted by the agency, confirmed the identity of the Saudi guest, which comes in light of a lot of indicators that there is a dramatic development in the relationship between Riyadh and Tel Aviv.
The confirmation of the visit came after hints were made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that there is an “unprecedented” development in the relationship between his entity and “Arab states that do not have relations with Israel”, which was widely understood to mean specifically Gulf States and mainly Saudi Arabia.
Western and Israeli media have pointed out many aspects that reflect the development of secret relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel, including: political and security cooperation, and exchange of visits of executives on both sides.
According to some Israeli and Western media, former Mossad intelligence chief Meir Dagan and his predecessor, Tamir Pardo, visited Riyadh and held meetings with Saudi officials. The media also revealed that a visit to Tel Aviv was made by Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, former head of Saudi intelligence in 2006, where he held a meeting with former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
In addition, officials and princes of the Saudi royal family did not hesitate to engage in open normalisation activities with Israel.
The former Saudi intelligence chief, Turki Al-Faisal, met several times with former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and participated in media programmes and debates with the former National Security Advisor to Netanyahu, General Yaakov Amidror, and former head of the Israeli intelligence division Amos Yadlin.
On the sidelines of a security conference held in Germany in 2015, Al-Faisal also shook hands with Israeli Minister of War Moshe Ya’alon. He developed an intimate relationship with the Israeli Foreign Minister, Dore Gold, although he was considered the most prominent Israeli figure to incite against Saudi Arabia as he is the author of “The Kingdom of Evil” which is full of incitement against the Kingdom, referring to it as a “hotbed of terrorism”.
Saudi’s normalisation activities reached a peak during the visit of a delegation comprising Saudi elites led by retired Major General Anwar Eshki to Israel last year who met with a number of political and military officials in Tel Aviv.
The Saudi-Israeli rapprochement is due to a number of factors, some of which are linked to the convergence of interests between the two sides, and others are linked to considerations of Prince Mohammed Bin Salman personally. These factors include:
First: The convergence of interests in addressing the Iranian nuclear programme, which stimulated political coordination between Tel Aviv and Riyadh, in response to the disappointment of both sides in the way former US President Barack Obama dealt with this file.
Second: The Saudi and Israeli viewpoints towards the dangers of the Arab Spring revolutions are identical. The common perception of the dangers of the Arab Spring combined the Israeli role and the Saudi and Gulf role in supporting the coup led by Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in July 2013 in Egypt. While the government of the extreme right in Tel Aviv was keen on trying to secure international legitimacy for the new rule in Cairo, Riyadh and other capitals of the Gulf were keen on providing financial and political support for Al-Sisi.
Third: The two parties adopted the same concept of terrorism and agreed on the dangers of Sunni Islam movements, both political and jihadist. This trend was expressed clearly by the statement of Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir who considered the Palestinian movement Hamas a terrorist organisation, even though the movement is not hostile to Saudi Arabia and has not targeted it.
Fourth: Saudi and Israeli positions of what’s going on in Syria are very similar, where both refuse to allow greater Iranian influence there. And although the Israeli enthusiasm for the establishment of a Kurdish state in north-eastern Syria to spite Turkey is clear, the visit by Saudi Minister Thamer Al-Sabhan to the Syrian city of Raqqa after Syrian Defence Forces (SDF) seized it proves that Riyadh is very close to adopting the same Israeli position.
Fifth: It seems that Mohammed Bin Salman, who is seeking to take over the governance of Saudi Arabia, is keen on strengthening the relationship with Tel Aviv in order to secure an umbrella of American support for his authoritarian aspirations by reassuring friends of Israel in the US administration, Congress and powerful American Jewish organisations.
Sixth: The Saudi and Gulf fears of the US administration’s reduction of American intervention in the region, after completing the task of eliminating Daesh, is another reason for Riyadh and other Gulf capitals to strengthen their relationship with Tel Aviv, to face Iran.
Seventh: Saudi Arabia’s dependence on some of the techniques produced by Israeli military industries. Recently, the Israeli Defence magazine revealed that Elbit Systems, the Israeli company which produces military technology, exports many of its products to Saudi Arabia.
Strategic assessment forums in Tel Aviv expect Israeli investment with Riyadh to be reduced due to expected changes in the status of Saudi Arabia under the Bin Salman era.
According to a 26 September study, the National Security Research Centre in Israel predicted that the foreign and internal policies adopted by Mohammed Bin Salman would lead to a decline in Saudi Arabia’s regional standing, which would make Israel less interested in developing relations with it.
This article first appeared in Arabic on the New Khaleej on 22 October 2017.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.