Middle East Monitor / July 1, 2023
Former Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat considers the normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia “an important goal, but not at any price,” pointing out: “Israeli practices against the Palestinians do not determine Saudi Arabia’s position on normalization with Israel.”
Ben-Shabbat, who currently heads the Misgav: The Institute for Zionist Strategy and National Security, is one of the architects of the Abraham Accords that Israel signed with Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Morocco.
Ben-Shabbat wrote in an article, a copy of which was sent to Anadolu Agency on 30 June: “The normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia is a clear American and Western interest, through which the US will be able to distance Saudi Arabia from the strengthened Chinese-Iranian-Russian axis, and it will gain the points it needs in the framework of the struggle that is currently taking place over the demarcation of the new world order.”
In recent weeks, US officials confirmed their desire for an agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that this agreement is a strategic goal he will seek to achieve.
On more than one occasion, Saudi Arabia stipulated that the Palestinian issue be resolved first before engaging in any normalization process with Tel Aviv.
On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken remarked that it was “not in Israel’s interest” to have tensions in the Middle East.
Blinken made this statement at an event held by the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City, adding that Saudi Arabia and Israel: “Are interested in the prospect of normalization” but believes that reaching normalization between the two is: “Incredibly challenging. It is not something that can happen overnight, but it’s also a real prospect and one we’re working on.”
In addition, Israeli media reported in recent days that the Israeli escalation in the West Bank makes progress in the rapprochement between Israel and Saudi Arabia difficult.
In this regard, Ben-Shabbat commented: “We cannot underestimate the importance of the impact of the security reality in Judea and Samaria on the ongoing contacts in order to expand the scope of normalization in the region. Sensitivity regarding the positions of the street is high, and the leaders in most countries do not move in the opposite direction of public opinion.”
He added: “The images that come from Judea and Samaria provide ammunition for propaganda practiced by Islamist parties, pro-Palestinian organizations and other anti-Israel parties.”
Ben-Shabbat quoted US Secretary of State Blinken, who explained: “If there’s a fire burning in their backyard, it’s going to be a lot tougher, if not impossible, to actually both deepen the existing agreements as well as to expand them to include potentially Saudi Arabia.”
Ben-Shabbat responded: “This is what US Secretary of State Blinken said about the attempt to advance Israeli-Saudi normalization, and he described it as a step that faces great challenges.”
“However, it seems that Blinken is taking advantage of the Israeli enthusiasm to achieve normalization with Saudi Arabia as a tool of pressure on it in the Palestinian issue. Even before the outbreak of escalation in Judea and Samaria, since the Biden administration came to power, no tangible achievements were made in the field of normalization. Washington expressed a clear desire to continue the momentum witnessed by these agreements, but the results were minimal,” he noted.
Ben-Shabbat believes: “Normalization carries the potential to make Saudi Arabia an international logistical centre that will link Europe, Africa and Asia, and this will revolutionize global trade. In Israel’s view, normalization with Saudi Arabia is an important goal, but not at any price.”
“Making concessions on the Iranian issue, compromising on the issue of proliferation of nuclear capabilities in the Middle East, and making concessions on the security level in the Palestinian arena, is a price that is too heavy to be paid, even in exchange for such a tangible achievement,” he explained.
Ben-Shabbat was actively involved in reaching agreements with the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco in 2020.