Could Al-Aqsa Storm bring a change to Saudi foreign policy?


Could Al-Aqsa Storm bring a change to Saudi foreign policy?

TEHRAN – Before the October 7 operation by the Hamas resistance movement, many believed a normalization deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel was around the corner.

The first time Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and de facto leader acknowledged that the kingdom was moving towards normalization with Israel, was on September 20, 2023. “Every day we get closer,” Mohammad Bin Salman said during an interview with Fox News. He added that such a pact would be “the biggest historical deal since the Cold War”.

While Palestinians have vehemently condemned previous Arab-Israeli normalization agreements, labeling them as treacherous stabs in the back and betrayals to the Palestinian cause, Bin Salman argued that his deal with the Israelis would “ease the life of the Palestinians”.

Since the 1980s, Saudi Arabia has been a vociferous advocate of the two-state solution. The Fahd Peace Plan in 1981 and the Arab Peace Initiative proposed by Riyadh in 2002, which also garnered endorsement in 2007 and 2017, both proposed that Israel become a state recognized by the Arab League, contingent upon Israel withdrawing its forces from the territories it occupied following the Six-Day War in 1967. Additionally, the peace initiatives stipulated that Israel permit the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

“Despite the widespread embrace of the Saudi peace plan by the majority of Arab states, Israel’s reaction to both Saudi initiatives was unfavorable. Israel insisted on maintaining Jerusalem as a unified capital and also rejected the right of return for Palestinian refugees, impacting hundreds of thousands of individuals,” said Fuad al-Ibrahim, a seasoned expert on Saudi Arabia.

The expert further noted that with the passage of time and Israel’s firm rejection of the two-state solution, Saudi Arabia appears to have become less enthusiastic about championing the Palestinian cause. Instead, it seems to be prioritizing the advancement of its ties with Israel, potentially seeking stronger rapport with Washington.

“It seems that solidifying ties with Israel has become a prerequisite for maintaining a strong relationship between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. government. MBS appears to be actively fostering this relationship with Israel to secure his political career,” the expert remarked.

Reports indicate that as part of any potential normalization agreement with Israel, Saudi Arabia has pursued added concessions from Washington, such as a security pact, the sale of advanced weaponry, and assistance in developing a civilian nuclear program. Allegedly, Riyadh has also requested that Israel uphold the possibility of a two-state solution, although given recent events and the situation in Gaza, it seems impossible to envision Israel endorsing the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Following Israel’s aggressive actions against Palestinians in Gaza, Riyadh declared that the potential deal is on hold. Nonetheless, Israeli reports contend that Bin Salman has agreed to “build on” the US-mediated discussions aimed at normalizing relations with Israel once the conflict in Gaza is over. However, in light of shifting public opinion against the regime, it may prove challenging for the custodian of Islam’s holiest sites to resume talks with Israeli officials.
“From my perspective, Operation Al-Aqsa Storm and Israel’s subsequent response to the offensive create obstacles for MBS and others to move forward with normalization with Israel, potentially endangering their credibility and political careers. Nevertheless, this may be a transient situation, contingent upon the political dynamics within Israel and the military landscape in Gaza and the broader region,” emphasized al-Ibrahim.

Waters murkier between Riyadh and Washington after Hamas operation

Israel’s disproportionate response to the October 7 Hamas attack might have also served as a wake-up call for Saudi’s ruling family.

That’s because Riyadh, like everyone else, noticed that Washington’s reaction to the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and its reaction to the slaughter of thousands of civilians in Gaza were undeniably disparate. After Western media outlets turned the screw on the Saudi prince for his involvement in the murder of a royal insider-turned-critic, who was killed at the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate in 2018, Washington decided that backing its traditional West Asian ally in the particular case would be too costly. U.S. President Joe Biden promised to turn the kingdom into a pariah during his presidential campaign and proceeded to release a declassified U.S. intelligence assessment, confirming the crown prince’s complicity in the killing.

Though Bin Salman was able to avoid reckoning, his reputation was severely damaged as someone who liked to tout himself as a bold reformer pursuing new freedoms in the Saudi kingdom.
Meanwhile, the U.S. has shown unequivocal support for Israel’s killing campaign in Gaza, and refrained from bloviating its usual slogans of human rights to let Israel finish its stated mission of “eradicating Hamas”. Washington seems willing to help the Israeli regime omit its opponents, not caring that it has to stand against the entire world to make it happen.

The Khashoggi case was not an outlier. The U.S. pulled the plug on Riyadh when Yemen’s Ansarullah movement decided to attack Saudi Arabia’s main oil processing facilities in 2019, making no concrete efforts whatsoever to help its ally prop up its security apparatus. That’s while the Democrats and Republicans are working in tandem to secure a $14.5 billion military aid package for Israel, amid a budget deficit crisis in home.

Gaza war brings Saudis closer to China

Saudi Arabia had already begun to buttress its relations with China after getting the stiff-arm from the U.S. during the two instances. But the kingdom seems to have shifted even more towards Beijing’s orbit with the occurrence of the latest war in West Asia.

A delegation of Arab and Muslim ministers, including Saudi Arabia’s Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud, travelled to Beijing in November to push for an end to the war in Gaza with China’s aid.

The move largely sidelined the U.S., which has been the target of scathing criticism from its Arab allies since the beginning of the latest wave of Israeli attacks on Gaza.

Operation Al-Aqsa Storm seems to have defied previous predictions on many levels. Saudi Arabia may have to recalibrate its foreign policies, considering the amount of hate it may receive from Muslim masses across the world once it decides to move forward with normalization talks with Israel. It might also be less willing than before to count on the U.S. as a reliable partner, given Washington’s penchant for leaving Saudi Arabia alone, when a crisis strikes.

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