Pompeo: Many Saudis Want to Normalize Relations with Israel
by Hugh Fitzgerald
Israel has now normalized ties with four Arab states: the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco have all joined the Abraham Accords. Israelis themselves have been going great guns in weaving ties with these new partners, especially with the Emirates, which was first to sign on. But what the Israelis now hope for is that Saudi Arabia, the richest, most powerful, and most influential Arab state, will decide to join the Abraham Accords. The view of former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about the prospects for that happening, is reported on here: “Pompeo: ‘Many’ in Saudi Arabia Seek Normalized Ties With Israel,” i24 News, March 1, 2021:
Former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo said “many” people in Saudi Arabia want normalized relations with Israel, voicing hope the kingdom will join the Abraham Accords signed during former President Donald Trump’s tenure.
Pompeo, who served as Trump’s CIA director and top diplomat, made the comments in a recorded video address to the Combat Anti-Semitism Movement, which will give him its inaugural Global Leadership Award on Monday.
Under the Abraham Accords brokered by Trump last year, four majority-Muslim states — the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan — agreed to establish ties with Israel.
The Israeli press was rife with speculation about other Arab nations interested in joining the pact, with powerhouse Saudi Arabia widely regarded as a top prize for the Jewish state.
“Predicting the future has proven a struggle for me,” Pompeo said in remarks shared with AFP, adding that he thinks “many more” countries will seek ties with Israel.
“I hope that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia can find its way to join the Abraham Accords. I know that many inside that country want that to take place,” he noted.
Sources in Jerusalem have said Pompeo and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in November in the Red Sea city of Neom.
The meeting, denied by Riyadh, fueled frenzied speculation in Israel that a normalization deal might be close.
What do we know that makes such a normalization deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel more likely?
First, the staggering success of the Emirati-Israeli normalization has not gone unnoticed in Riyadh. Israelis have been doing their utmost to knit closer ties with all of these new partners, but especially with the Emirates, which was first to sign on, and the Arab state which has gone the farthest in its multifarious dealings with the Jewish state. Israeli and Emirati businessmen, bankers, entrepreneurs, salesmen, scientists, musicians, athletes, restaurateurs have been visiting, and criss-crossing, each other’s countries, scouting possibilities, making deals, signing contracts. Both Israelis and Emiratis are well pleased with the results so far. The Saudis, who are keenly aware of the need to diversity their own economy, just as the Emirates is doing, may see Israel as the Start-Up Country to emulate. There are several fields, too, including solar energy and wastewater management, in which Israel is a world leader, and Israeli advances in these areas answer the precise needs of sun-drenched, water-poor Saudi Arabia.
Second, the Saudis know that their most effective ally against Iran has been not the U.S., but Israel. It is Israel that since 2010 has been running circles around the Islamic Republic as it stymies its progress, and slows down Tehran’s march toward nuclear weapons. First, in 2010 there was Stuxnet, a computer worm that inserted itself into the programs regulating Iran’s centrifuges, used for enriching uranium, causing them to speed up so fast that 1,000 centrifuges destroyed themselves. Then there were the targeted assassinations of four of Iran’s top nuclear scientists between 2010 and 2012. In 2018, there was the night-time raid on a nondescript warehouse in Tehran, by Mossad agents who managed to blowtorch their way through 32 steel doors and find, make off with, and take back to Israel, Iran’s entire nuclear archive, which revealed nuclear sites that Iran had until then managed to keep secret. In 2020, there was an act of “sabotage” by Mossad that blew up an advanced centrifuge plant at Natanz. Finally, there was the killing of Iran’s nuclear mastermind, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, again by Mossad, which neither slumbers nor sleeps. The Saudis are well aware of, and suitably impressed by, all these Israeli acts of derring-do against their common enemy.
Third, the chief obstacle to Saudi Arabia joining the Abraham Accords is King Salman. He still maintains that Saudi recognition of Israel – much less normalization of ties – must come after a Palestinian state is established. His son Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman is known to disagree. MbS has been impatient with, even dismissive of, Palestinian demands on the other Arabs; he was surely struck by the hysterical language from Mahmoud Abbas, denouncing the Emirates and Bahrain for their “betrayal” of the Palestinians, whom they had “stabbed in the back,” by normalizing ties with Israel – that is, daring to put their national interests ahead of the Palestinian interest. The Crown Prince is also known to favor closer defense ties with Israel, beyond the intelligence sharing that has gone on for years.
But King Salman may be reconsidering his opposition, given that the Biden Administration has started to distance itself from Saudi Arabia, dismayed by the Khashoggi killing, by the killing of Yemeni civilians, and by the Kingdom’s human rights record. As leaving only one sure ally against Iran – Israel. No sooner did the Biden Administration remove the Houthis from a list of terror groups, than the Houthis picked up the pace of drone and missile attacks on the Saudis. And the decision of the Biden Administration to make public the damning report on the killing of Jamal Khashoggi was taken as an assault on the kingdom itself.
And there is one other thing to consider about the King: he is 85 and in poor health. How long will it be before MbS takes over as king, in which case the normalization of ties with Israel becomes much more likely?
Fourth, the Biden Administration’s initial insensate haste to return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the 2015 Iraq deal, has greatly alarmed the Saudis. They have watched appreciatively at how the Israelis are moving heaven and earth to try to persuade the Americans to rethink that position, from Prime Minister Netanyahu, IDF Chief Aviv Kochavi, and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi on down. A group of 1,800 retired Israeli generals, officers and Mossad operatives have written a letter to U.S. President Joe Biden urging him not to return to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. In the March 1 letter, the group, which goes by the name “Habithonistim,” stated that it has watched “with great concern” as the Biden administration seeks to return to the “flawed principles” of the JCPOA. The Saudis took note of this latest massive effort by Israel to change Biden’s mind.
Fifth, the Saudis listened carefully to the IDF Chief, Aviv Kochavi, when he spoke in late January about tasking his generals with preparing alternative plans to attack Iran should the Islamic Republic come close to producing nuclear weapons. They trust Israel’s unswerving commitment to ensuring that Iran will never be a nuclear power, while the Biden Administration does not display a similar resolve, given its continued willingness to return to the JCPOA, with its sunset clauses intact, including the most important one, which specifies that in January 2031, the 300-kilogram limit on Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium will expire, and Iran will be permitted to enrich uranium to levels greater than 3.67 percent uranium-235.
Both IDF Chief Kochavi and Prime Minister Netanyahu have promised that Israel will never permit Iran to become a nuclear power. The Saudis believe them.
Mike Pompeo says that from his experience, he’s concluded that “many” Saudis are ready to normalize ties with Israel: “I hope that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia can find its way to join the Abraham Accords. I know that many inside that country want that to take place.” There are good reasons for the Saudis to join the Abraham Accords. I’ve discussed five of them just above. I can’t think of a single convincing reason why they shouldn’t.
First published in Jihad Watch.