Netanyahu says Saudi Arabia’s deal with Iran could come with ‘misery’

Jihan Abdalla

The National  /  April 19, 2023

Prime Minister says Riyadh’s agreement with Tehran likely to be aimed at ending the conflict in Yemen.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in remarks aired on Wednesday that Saudi Arabia’s China-brokered agreement with Iran to resume diplomatic relations is fraught with the risk of “misery”.

In an interview with US broadcaster CNBC, Netanyahu said the deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran has very little to do with Israel and is more focused on Yemen.

“I think it has probably a lot more to do with the desire to de-escalate or even eliminate the long-standing conflict in Yemen,” Netanyahu said.

“I think that Saudi Arabia, the leadership there, has no illusions about who are their adversaries, and who are their friends in the Middle East.”

But, he added, “those who partner with Iran, partner with misery”.

On March 10, Saudi Arabia and Iran formally restored diplomatic relations in a move widely seen as aimed at fostering stability and improving the regional economy.

The China-sponsored agreement, which ended a seven-year rift between the two countries, has positioned Beijing to potentially assume a more prominent role in a region that the US has long dominated diplomatically.

On Monday, Iran invited Saudi Arabia’s King Salman for an official visit.

The unexpected rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran puts a pause in Mr Netanyahu’s long-time aim to isolate Tehran internationally due to its nuclear weapons program.

It also sets back Israel’s quest to normalize relations with Riyadh under the auspices of the US-mediated Abraham Accords.

“We’d like very much to have peace with Saudi Arabia,” Netanyahu said. “Because I think it would be another huge quantum leap for peace. In many ways, it would end the Arab-Israeli conflict.”

He went on to explain: “I’m not saying it would end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Palestinians are about 2 per cent of the Arab world, but it would end, in many ways, the conflict between Israel and the Arab states.”

The development comes at a delicate time in Israeli politics. Since January, thousands of Israelis have been taking to the streets to protest against a controversial judicial overhaul proposed by Netanyahu’s government.

And earlier this month, footage of Israeli forces beating Palestinian worshippers with batons inside Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan drew widespread condemnation, including from Saudi Arabia.

Underscoring China’s aim for more influence in the region, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday said that it was willing to play a more constructive role in promoting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

The US has long sought to forge a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians that would include the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

But the last time there was any development in the peace process was nine years ago and there is little sign of a potential resumption of talks in the near future.

During the interview, Netanyahu said he was not aware of China’s initiative to enable such talks.

“I’m not aware of any specific offer of this kind,” he said. “Look, we respect China, we deal with China a great deal. But we also know we have an indispensable alliance with our great friend, the United States.”