Saudi Crown Prince MBS says Israel normalization getting ‘closer’

Al-Jazeera  /  September 20, 2023

In an interview with US broadcaster Fox, crown prince says Palestinian issue still very important to Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) has said that his country was moving steadily closer to normalizing relations with Israel, following similar moves from other Gulf countries, and amid a big push by the United States for a Saudi-Israeli deal.

“Every day, we get closer,” the crown prince told US broadcaster Fox News, according to excerpts seen by Reuters of an interview scheduled to air later on Wednesday.

The interview with the crown prince, widely known as MBS, came as US President Joe Biden’s administration presses ahead with an effort to broker historic ties between the two countries and its top Middle East allies, a development that could reshape the geopolitics of the Middle East.

The normalization talks are the centerpiece of complex negotiations that also include possible Israeli concessions to the Palestinians, as well as discussions of US security guarantees and civilian nuclear help that Riyadh has sought.

MBS told Fox’s Special Report program that the Palestinian issue was “very important” to Riyadh. “We need to solve that part,” he said when asked what it would take to get a normalization agreement.

“We got to see where we go. We hope that will reach a place, that it will ease the life of the Palestinians, get Israel as a player in the Middle East,” he said, speaking in English.

US officials have privately touted the potential benefits of a regional mega-deal, which would be a foreign policy win as Biden seeks re-election in November 2024.

MBS also said that if Iran obtained a nuclear weapon, Saudi Arabia would “have to get one”.

Saudi Arabia, along with Israel, has long been an adversary of Iran, but relations have improved since Riyadh and Tehran agreed to restore diplomatic relations in March.

Tehran has denied seeking a nuclear weapon, but has been at the centre of international suspicions about its nuclear program for years.

The broadcast of the crown prince’s comments will follow a meeting between Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, in which they pledged to work together towards Israeli-Saudi normalization.

Both leaders also said Iran could not be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon.

The interview with Fox’s anchor, Bret Baier, was the first by MBS on US TV since 2019. Saudi Arabia has been embroiled in controversy, particularly following the crown prince’s alleged role in the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, an allegation denied by Saudi Arabia.

After a week of lead-up interviews with various Saudi government and business leaders, Baier told Fox that he had seen the country undergo “tectonic changes at a scale and pace and degree that no country in modern times has seen”.

“These changes have been positive,” he added.



Saudi-Israeli deal ‘closer every day’, says Mohammed bin Salman

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  September 21, 2023

Crown prince discusses Iranian nuclear weapons and the murder of Jamal Khashoggi during wide-ranging interview in English.

A normalization agreement between Saudi Arabia and Israel is getting closer “every day”, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said on Wednesday during a rare interview with English-speaking media. 

“For us, the Palestinian issue is very important. We need to solve that part,” he told Fox News. “We hope that will reach a place, that it will ease the life of the Palestinians, get Israel as a player in the Middle East.”

The crown prince also described the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which he is accused of ordering, as “a mistake”.

For months, the United States has been leading efforts to strike a deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel that would establish formal ties.

Saudi Arabia has held out the offer to normalize ties with Israel since 2002 under the Arab Peace Plan, which calls for an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Asked if recent talks had been suspended, Mohammed bin Salman denied recent reports, stating: “Every day we get closer.” 

Fox News said it was the the crown prince’s first interview with a major American broadcaster since 2019. It was also the first wide-ranging discussion to be carried out entirely in English. 

The sit-down took place in Sindalah, a new Red Sea island resort built as part of the Neom megacity project. 

The crown prince signaled that Saudi Arabia would obtain a nuclear weapon if Iran did too. 

“We are concerned if any country getting a nuclear weapon… that’s a bad move,” he said. “They don’t need to get nuclear weapon because you cannot use it.”

“The world cannot see another Hiroshima. If the world sees 100,000 people dead that mean you are in a war with the rest of the world.”

But he added that if Iran were to get one, “we will have to get one, for security reasons, for balancing power”. 

Riyadh and Tehran have had a tumultuous relationship dating back to Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979, but officially restored ties after years of animosity during China-brokered talks in March.

Khashoggi and human rights 

Ahead of the five-year anniversary of the murder of Middle East Eye and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, the crown prince described the incident as a “mistake”. 

Khashoggi was murdered by Saudi agents at the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate in 2018. The CIA concluded that the crown prince had signed off the operation, an allegation Riyadh denies.

“We take all the legal measurements that any country took,” Mohammed bin Salman said.

“Also, we try to reform the security system to be sure that these kind of mistakes doesn’t happen again, and we can see in the past five years nothing of those things happened. It’s not part of what Saudi Arabia do.”

He claimed that all those who were involved had served jail time. 

Earlier this year, Saud al-Qahtani, a former senior aide to the crown prince and prime suspect in Khashoggi’s murder, was seen in public for the first time since the assassination. 

Qahtani was banned from entering the US, the UK and other European countries, and was among the 17 Saudis sanctioned by the US Treasury over Khashoggi’s murder, based on intelligence reports that he was involved in the operation.

The de-facto Saudi leader was also asked to confirm reports that Mohammed al-Ghamdi, a retired teacher, was sentenced to death for remarks made on Twitter and YouTube to a handful of followers.

“Shamefully, it’s true. It’s something I don’t like,” he said, adding that he wanted to change some of Saudi Arabia’s laws. 

“We are not happy with that. We are ashamed of that. But [under] the jury system, you have to follow the laws and I cannot tell a judge [to] do that and ignore the law, because … that’s against the rule of law,” he added.

“But do we have bad laws? Yes. We are changing that, yes.”

Pressed on whether he expected Ghamdi to be executed, the crown prince said he hoped the judge would be “more experienced” and look at it “totally differently”. 

Mohammed bin Salman also defended the Saudi Public Investment Fund’s decision to invest $2bn in Jared Kushner’s firm Affinity Partners. 

He said that in the event that Kushner’s father-in-law, Donald Trump, was re-elected, the investment would likely remain intact.

“If it’s not legal, then, definitely, we have to work it out, but if it’s legal, what’s the problem?” he said. 

‘I will continue doing sports-washing’

The crown prince swatted away criticism about Saudi Arabia’s increased investment in sports, which have been deemed by some as an attempt to “sports-wash” the country’s reputation. 

“If sports-washing [is] going to increase my GDP by way of one percent, then I will continue doing sports-washing,” he said.

“I don’t care. One percent growth of GDP from sport and I’m aiming for another one and a half percent – call it whatever you want, we’re going to get that one and a half percent.”