Riyadh is convinced that rapprochement with Israel is the cornerstone of its desperate attempts to achieve any victory for Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman before he officially takes the throne. Many Arabs did not believe the Israeli Prime Minister’s statements over recent years that there was a great understanding between Israel and a major Arab country; they were a clear reference to Saudi Arabia.
Observers believe that Riyadh has lost the battle with Tehran in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. The Saudi stalemate in Yemen cannot be said to be close to a resolution, unless Riyadh makes painful concessions; if they are made, then the Saudis cannot claim that the objectives of Operation Storm of Resolve have been achieved. However, among the ruling elites in Saudi Arabia, there are some who believe that relief will come from Tel Aviv. The Israelis believe that the opportunity to attack the exhausted Hezbollah may not come again so easily; were they to eliminate the Lebanese movement it would be a serious blow to Iran. Saudi Arabia is enthusiastic about this and is trying to remove any cover for Hezbollah by encouraging the resignation of Saad Hariri as Prime Minister of Lebanon.
Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is the godfather of the Saudi-Israeli rapprochement. In an unannounced visit by Kushner, during which he met Bin Salman, the US envoy proposed the establishment of formal relations between Riyadh and Tel Aviv. Israeli calculations – which are very close to Kushner’s — are based on the assumption that the more tension there is between Riyadh and Tehran, the more that the Saudis will converge with Tel Aviv. It is no secret that this would gain Israel some much-desired “legitimacy” from Saudi Arabia, with all the religious symbolism that would represent; at the same time, the Palestinians, who still live under the world’s sole remaining colonial occupation, would not gain anything.
No one knows the sacrifices that Bin Salman would have to make in order for the US to bless his crowning as King of Saudi Arabia. President Trump, who supports the Crown Prince, wants the Saudis to sell Aramco shares on the New York Stock Exchange.
All the money that Trump earned on his famous visit to Saudi Arabia does not seem enough to help Riyadh achieve a single victory over Iran. Instead of confronting the government in Tehran, all that the Saudis have done so far is to impose a siege on Qatar that is difficult to understand.
So what is the price needed to enable Saudi Arabia to win against Iran? There are clear signs that the US is using blackmail to get as much Saudi money as it can, in addition to Washington’s drive to bring Tel Aviv and Riyadh closer together. This means that there is a financial price and a political price required of Prince Mohammed Bin Salman if he is to get a victory over Iran to help him in his domestic power struggle and get him crowned as King of the state that has declined significantly in recent years.
It looks as if Riyadh has to provide financial and political concessions in order for Israel to attack Hezbollah in order to weaken Iran. It is important for us to remember that Israel will normally only fight its own battles, whether with Hezbollah or any other party. This time, however, it is also blackmailing Saudi Arabia because the latter is militarily incapable of making a difference in its confrontations with Iranian proxies. Of course, we wish nothing but good for Saudi Arabia, but Riyadh is moving from the dynamic of failure towards self-destruction. What is happening suggests that whoever is advising the ruling clique in Riyadh is not intending good for the Kingdom and its people. Rapprochement with Israel carries a heavy price tag.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Arabi21 on 10 November 2017