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Saudi Arabia seeks US security guarantees, nuclear assistance in return for Israel normalisation

March 12, 2023 at 10:35 am

Mohammed Bin Salman, Prime Minister and Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia [Royal Court of Saudi Arabia/Anadolu Agency]

Saudi Arabia is reportedly seeking a number of conditions to be met by the United States in return for its normalisation of relations with Israel, a report has claimed.

According to the New York Times, Saudi Arabia has said that it could potentially normalise ties with Israel if the US provides it security guarantees, assistance in its civilian nuclear program, and the lifting of restrictions on arms sales to the kingdom.

Those intentions and conditions were reportedly communicated to Washington by senior Saudi officials last year, when they talked to policy experts in the US such as members of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy – a pro-Israel think tank – who visited Riyadh in October.

Robert Satloff, the institute’s executive director and a member of the visiting delegation, then wrote in a report that senior Saudi leaders at the time had “bitterly noted what they believe was U.S. indifference to Saudi security concerns.”

The NYT cited two anonymous sources familiar with the matter, who said that the American negotiations are being led by the National Security Council’s coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, Brett McGurk, as well as President Joe Biden’s top aide for global energy issues, Amos Hochstein.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had reportedly initially played a direct role in the negotiations, but more lately they were taken over by the Saudi ambassador in Washington, Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud.

Neither the US nor Saudi Arabia have yet commented on the revelation, but analysts have noted that if Biden and his administration are willing to meet those demands, US Congress would likely be a major stumbling block due to the fact that many members – especially Democrats – have expressed opposition to special ties with the kingdom and have pushed to downgrade those relations.

READ: Establishing ties with Saudi Arabia will end Israel-Arab conflict, Netanyahu says

Senator Christopher S. Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat and a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, was quoted as saying that “Our relationship with Saudi Arabia has to be a direct bilateral relationship. It should not run through Israel”. Insisting that the Saudis “have been consistently behaving badly, over and over”, he asserted that “If we’re going to enter into a relationship with the Saudis where we’re doing more significant arms sales, it should be in exchange for better behavior toward the United States, not just better behavior toward Israel”.

Another prominent obstacle to such a deal is the increasing violence by Israeli Jewish settlers in the occupied Palestinian territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which has led to clashes between the settlers – protected by the Israeli military – and Palestinians. Along with that, Israeli forces have been stepping up their raids in cities and camps in the West Bank, killing dozens of Palestinians on a more frequent basis.

That rise has resulted in increased Saudi condemnation of Israel in recent months, and the kingdom has continued to espouse its stance that it will only normalise relations once a Palestinian state is established. Despite the NYT reporting that sources familiar with the discussions believe Riyadh is willing to compromise on that demand and its condemnations, it still remains a potential obstacle.

Martin Indyk, a former US ambassador to Israel during the administration of former president Bill Clinton, was quoted by the paper as saying that Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu “wants it [Saudi Arabia joining the Abraham Accords] badly, and he can only get it with Biden’s help.” Indyk added that it “creates a situation where Biden has leverage over Netanyahu to persuade him that nothing good can happen with Saudi Arabia if he allows the situation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to explode.”

Only hours after the revelations were released, Saudi Arabia agreed to restore diplomatic ties with Iran, seeming to provide yet another obstacle to Saudi-Israeli relations as Tel Aviv is betting on Riyadh’s rivalry with Tehran as a primary motivation for it to join the Abraham Accords. An Israeli official, however, has assured that the renewed Saudi ties with Iran will not harm the Netanyahu’s normalisation bid for the kingdom.

READ: Netanyahu slammed by political foes over Saudi-Iran rapprochement