Saudi Arabia sets high price for diplomatic ties with Israel


The price for establishing diplomatic relations with Israel is steep, and it’s not just Saudi Arabia that is demanding it—Israel has its own demands too.

Ron Dermer, a confidante of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the strategic affairs minister, is currently in Washington for talks with senior officials, including Jake Sullivan, US President Joe Biden’s national security advisor.

Netanyahu had a phone conversation with Biden last month, during which he expressed his desire for a security treaty with the United States aimed at deterring Iran as part of the process of normalizing relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

While US and Israeli officials might not openly admit it, the Israeli demand adds complexity to Biden’s already challenging efforts to formalize the existing informal ties between these two Middle Eastern nations.

Saudi Arabia has placed a high price on establishing diplomatic relations that cater to its security and geopolitical interests. The kingdom insists on security arrangements with the United States, US support for its peaceful nuclear program, and access to advanced US weaponry. Additionally, Saudi Arabia has made the resolution of Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians a pre-condition for any diplomatic progress.

Similar to Israel, Saudi Arabia is keen on a formalized security agreement, even though it may not target Iran as explicitly as Israel’s demand does. The recent China-mediated agreement in March to reestablish relations with Iran may prompt Saudi Arabia to be more cautious. However, the results of this agreement have only partially met Saudi Arabia’s expectations.

While the agreement has led to a reduction in regional tensions and exchanges between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the kingdom is still focused on its security and economic interests.

The ongoing tensions between the US and Iran have been largely targeted at US and Israel-related vessels in Gulf waters, sparing Saudi and Emirati oil infrastructure.

A potential informal agreement between the US and Iran involving a prisoner swap and the release of frozen Iranian funds could lead to Iran refraining from attacking US shipping. This does not signal a return to the 2015 nuclear agreement, although Iran has reportedly slowed down its nuclear program.

Netanyahu’s stance remains adamant that only the complete termination of Iran’s nuclear program is acceptable. However, the US position, articulated by Gen Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, emphasizes preventing Iran from having a “fielded nuclear weapon”.

While Saudi Arabia and Israel may be closer than they seem in their concerns about Iran, they adopt different tones. Additionally, Israel is less willing to engage with the current Iranian regime compared to Saudi Arabia.

A senior Saudi official recently likened Saudi-Iran relations to Europe’s relations with Russia, emphasizing diplomatic ties while recognizing the reality of adversarial dynamics.

The complexities of Saudi-Iran relations are intertwined with policies in Riyadh, Tehran, and Washington. This perspective adds a new dimension to Netanyahu’s demand for an Iran-focused security agreement with the United States. Netanyahu views diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia as a key foreign policy achievement and has made concessions to achieve this, even allowing Saudi Arabia to enrich uranium for research purposes as part of a US-Saudi deal.

The question arises: What does Netanyahu intend to achieve with his demand for an anti-Iran security deal? Such a deal could secure Israel’s position vis-à-vis Iran and potentially influence US-Saudi security discussions. Netanyahu’s motivations might complicate rather than facilitate diplomatic progress, depending on his interpretation of Israel’s interests.


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