SHMULEY BOTEACH COLUMN
Will Riyadh ever be our friend?

IF the Saudis recognise Israel and, ideally, other states follow suit, it will force the Palestinians to come to terms with Israel as a permanent and powerful presence.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman recently went to Washington to meet President Donald Trump and was lauded for many of the reforms he is undertaking in Saudi Arabia.

Many of these, such as improving the rights of women, are commendable, but the country still has a long way to go in the area of human rights.

One decision that would win him significant goodwill in the West and improve conditions for peacemaking would be to normalise relations with Israel.

He has taken some encouraging positive steps, but needs to make the final, courageous leap.

Press reports have indicated that the Saudis and Israelis have been quietly working together to confront the threat posed by Iran.

For the Saudis, Iran poses an existential threat even if it does not possess nuclear weapons.

Iran is actively trying to undermine Saudi stability by provoking Shi’ites in the kingdom to oppose the government, by arming and funding rebels in Yemen who have directly attacked Saudi Arabia and its allies in that country, and by trying to create a “Shi’ite crescent” across the Middle East to challenge Sunni-led countries such as Saudi Arabia.

The Saudis have also been the most outspoken advocates of taking tougher measures to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

While antisemites and other detractors of Israel continue to falsely claim that Israel is trying to provoke America to go to war with Iran, the only country that called for military action to stop Iran’s genocidal intentions was Saudi Arabia.

While the Saudi crown prince was in America, he said that if Iran does get the bomb, it will develop its own nuclear weapons.

This is a reminder of what many critics of president Barack Obama’s disastrous nuclear agreement said from the beginning, namely that allowing Iran to continue its nuclear ambitions would encourage nuclear proliferation in the region.

Like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the crown prince believes the nuclear deal is fatally flawed and requires major changes.

With the excellent John Bolton now joining America’s administration as national security sdviser, we can expect to see greater pressure to finally repudiate the catastrophic Iran nuclear deal and stop Iran from becoming a nuclear power.

The Saudis and Israelis also share an interest in reforming the Palestinian Authority and moving it away from terrorism and incitement.

Many surmise that the Saudis have never cared much for the Palestinians and have mostly paid lip service to their cause.

In the past, the Saudis feared improving ties with Israel before an agreement was reached with the Palestinians because of the possibility of resulting upheaval in the kingdom; Egypt’s Anwar Sadat was assassinated after making peace with Israel.

The Saudi public, however, has become more inward focused and is looking to improve its own welfare.

The lack of reaction to the American decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, ignoring Palestinian calls for protests, was one indication of the change in perception of the centrality of the Palestinian issue.

In the past, the Saudis harmed the peace process by funding Hamas and the PLO, encouraging their violence against Israel. They have further undermined peace and stability in the region by their refusal to normalise ties with Israel.

But recent events — from Saudi Arabia allowing an Air India flight to Israel to enter its airspace to constant media buzz of military co-operation between Saudi Arabia and Israel — would indicate that Prince Mohammed bin Salman might want to take the country in a new direction.

Saudi recognition of Israel, even if it were to begin in a limited but public manner, would put the appropriate pressure on the Palestinians to finally move away from the incitement and sponsorship of terrorism.

The Palestinians need to be shocked out of their fantasies. Mohammed bin Salman can do it by recognising Israel and, in the process, help his kingdom by working with Israelis to neutralise the Iranian threat and take advantage of the technical expertise that Israel has to offer his people.


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