Israel and Saudi Arabia said in US-brokered talks to improve relations

Saudi Arabia has engaged in talks with Israel on economic ties and ‘security arrangements’ as it adjusts to changing attitudes in the Middle East, where the Jewish state is not is no longer universally seen as an unchallenged enemy, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

The kingdom has identified growing support among young Saudis for bonding and is moving towards advancing cooperation, according to the report.

Israel and Saudi Arabia do not have formal diplomatic ties, but secret ties have warmed in recent years, with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman increasingly viewing Israel as a strategic partner in the fight against terrorism. Iranian influence in the region.

Israeli and Saudi officials now say it’s not a question of if, but rather when, the two countries publicly improve relations, according to the report.

Sources familiar with the developments told the newspaper that the Biden administration was helping broker a deal for Israel’s commercial jets to have expanded access to Saudi airspace, while the Saudis seek to take control of two islands Red Sea strategies.

Currently, only flights between Tel Aviv and the United Arab Emirates, which normalized ties with Israel in 2020, fly over Saudi Arabia, passing through the northern tip. But Israel has not yet received such access for flights to India, Thailand and China, which are therefore much longer than necessary.

There is also an upside for Washington as it seeks to mend its ties with Riyadh. US President Joe Biden pledged during his election campaign to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which US intelligence says was ordered by Prince Mohammed. Improved ties with Israel could temper criticism of Biden over a possible meeting with the prince.

The United States wants Biden to visit Israel and Saudi Arabia as part of a trip that could advance the interests of all three countries.

US President Joe Biden listens to his virtual meeting with infant formula makers from the South Court Auditorium of the White House complex in Washington, June 1, 2022. (Susan Walsh/AP)

Saudi Prince Khalid bin Salman, brother of Prince Mohammed, recently visited Washington, where he said privately that polls showed a shift among Saudis under 30 in favor of diplomatic relations with Israel, people informed of the talks were quoted in the report as saying.

Riyadh has repeatedly stated that its official position is that it will normalize relations with Israel only after the establishment of a Palestinian state.

However, Saudi officials told the Wall Street Journal that support for the Palestinians was no longer a given, with many young people disillusioned with the Palestinian Authority. Additionally, there is Saudi resentment over Iran’s support for the Hamas terror group that controls the Gaza Strip.

“If Hamas is building a relationship with Iran to protect itself, then why don’t we have a relationship with Israel against Iran to protect ourselves? a Saudi official said in the report.

Those involved in the effort noted that formal diplomatic relations could still take years, but ongoing secret developments could speed up the process of establishing relations, as the two countries view Iran as a common threat.

The most likely first development, according to Israeli and Saudi officials, is an agreement for planes to fly over Israel and Saudi Arabia in security talks that would include the fate of the two Red Sea islands, Tiran and Sanafir. . The existence of the Island Negotiations was first reported by Axios.

This picture taken through an airplane window on January 14, 2014 shows the islands of Tiran (foreground) and Sanafir (background) in the Red Sea, in the Strait of Tiran, between the Egyptian peninsula of Sinai and Saudi Arabia. (Stringer/AFP)

A Saudi takeover of security control of the strategic islands requires Israeli approval, under the terms of the Israeli-Egyptian peace deal. There is an international force on the islands, between the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea. Sources close to the developments say the three countries are considering a proposal for the international force to leave and Saudi forces to take over instead, an arrangement that would also signal improved relations between Israel and Israel. Riyadh.

The kingdom refrained from signing the Washington-brokered Abraham Accords in 2020 as the United States and Israel had hoped, but it would have given the green light to Bahrain, where it retains decisive influence, to join the normalization agreement with Israel alongside the United Arab Emirates, Morocco and Sudan.

In late 2020, then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, alongside other Israeli officials and then-US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, would travel to Saudi Arabia to meet the crown prince, in the first high-level meeting between an Israeli leader and a Saudi leader.

In addition, Israeli businessmen were allowed to travel to Saudi Arabia to develop economic ties, sources familiar with the visits said. Saudi Arabia’s main sovereign wealth fund has already approved, for the first time, Jared Kushner investing money in Israeli companies. The fund invested $2 billion with Kushner’s Affinity Partners.

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