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Saudi Arabia and Iran Normalize Ties: The Implication for Israel

March 13, 2023

by: Ilse Strauss

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The map shows how countries of the Middle East were aligned before the recent surprising agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Monday, 13 March 2023 | The Middle East is a region where the unexpected is often the norm. In a prime example of such a surprise shift in the status quo, on Friday long time regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran reached an agreement to reestablish relations.

The Chinese-brokered treaty signals one of the most fundamental shifts in Middle Eastern politics in recent years. It brings to a close seven years of hostilities between the Sunni kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Shiite powerhouse that have threatened regional stability and fueled the fires of war and strife in neighboring nations like Yemen and Syria. As part of the deal, Riyadh and Tehran will reopen respective embassies and missions and implement security and economic cooperation agreements inked more than 20 years ago.

The Middle East is also a region where major events are like boulders tossed into a small pond, with the ripple effect touching everybody, including Israel. And the renewed friendship between the Saudis and Iran is no different. So what is the implication of the Riyadh–Tehran pact for Jerusalem?

There can be no doubt that the deal comes as a disappointment to Israel. Jerusalem and Riyadh do not have diplomatic relations, but the Jewish state has been holding out hope that the Kingdom would follow in the footsteps of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco to establish ties with their Jewish neighbor.

While rumors regarding the possibility of Israeli–Saudi peace deal waxed and waned, Riyadh has remained firm that recognition of Israel hinges on a two-state solution with the Palestinians. Friday’s deal does, however, lay those rumors to rest once and for all.

Israel’s desire for a Saudi peace partner is fueled by a host of benefits, including trade, economy, tech and so forth. However, the driving force behind Jerusalem’s courtship of Riyadh is strengthening a regional alliance against what used to be a mutual enemy: Iran. Yet Saudi Arabia’s act of turning its back on Israel in favor of its former foe—and Israel’s arch foe—can arguably be interpreted as a message to the Jewish state.

According to Saudi analyst Aziz Alghashian, the idea of an Israeli–Saudi peace deal to fortify a regional front against Iran has always been “superficial,” the Agence France-Presse reported.

“This idea of ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’—Saudi has seldom operated in that way, especially not strategically,” the AFP quoted Alghashian as saying. Friday’s deal, he says, clearly shows that “Saudi Arabia has prioritized a rapprochement with Iran over an overt rapprochement with Israel.”

While the chances of a formal agreement in the near future remain slim, the freeze between Jerusalem and Riyadh is not absolute. In fact, the Jewish state and Arab kingdom have enjoyed covert cooperation for the past few years, with a step up in the last months. Recently, a number of Israeli journalists were granted approval to visit Saudi Arabia. At the same time, Riyadh opened its airspace to “all carriers,” including Israel’s. And in October, the Arab Israeli head of an Israeli bank visited a Saudi investor forum and hailed the opportunities in the kingdom as “amazing.” Then, late last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Saudis were willing to normalize ties with Israel in exchange for the US providing security pledges and help to build its civilian nuclear program, both demands to which the US would arguably not agree.

Ironically, a day after the Wall Street Journal’s claim, Saudi Arabia did sign a normalization agreement, but not with Israel.

So what does this boil down to? The deal between the Saudis and Iran leaves Israel isolated as it seeks to rally regional support against its arch foe and perhaps more importantly, as it threatens military action against the mullahs’ race to the nuclear bomb.

“It’s a blow to Israel’s notion and efforts in recent years to try to form an anti-Iran bloc in the region,” Yoel Guzansky, an expert on the Persian Gulf at the Institute for National Security Studies, an Israeli think tank, told AP News. “If you see the Middle East as a zero-sum game, which Israel and Iran do, a diplomatic win for Iran is very bad news for Israel.”

The bottom line? As the unexpected continues to bring surprise shifts in the status quo in the Middle East, only one thing remains certain. Therefore, we join with Christians around the world as we pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Ps. 122:6).

Posted on March 13, 2023

Source: (Bridges for Peace, March 13, 2023)

Photo Credit: Noah/

Photo License: wikimedia

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