Saudi Lobbyist Calls for Normalization With Israel

Salman al-Ansari, the founder and president of the Washington-based Saudi Public Relation Affairs Committee, made the comments in an op-ed piece on The Hill website.

Bloomberg

A U.S.-based Saudi lobbyist called for closer economic ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia in an op-ed on The Hill, in possibly yet another sign of a thaw in traditional Saudi hostility to Israel.

Saudi Arabia technically still does not recognize Israel's existence. In his op-ed, however, Salman al-Ansari, the founder and president of the Washington-based Saudi Public Relation Affairs Committee, asserted that "the prevailing political discourse might not only indicate that it is in the interest of [Saudi Arabia and Israel] to form a collaborative alliance, but in the interest of the greater Middle East and their global allies as well."

Ansari added that, although some may suggest that "rapprochement" between Israel and Saudi Arabia may be found in the common threat that they see in Iran, "a more solid foundation for establishing deep-rooted ties between the two countries could manifest in the context of a mutually beneficial economic partnership."

In July, a Saudi delegation headed by retired Saudi General Anwar Eshki that included Saudi academics and business people visited Israel, a development that would presumably not have been possible in tightly controlled Saudi Arabia without government consent.

And in a country where the press is also tightly controlled, the Saudi Gazette suggested last month that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas may have reacted too quickly in turning down a public invitation that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu extended to him to address the Knesset.

In his column on The Hill website, Ansari noted that Saudi Arabia is seeking to diversify exploitation of natural resources – presumably meaning beyond oil – and added that this represents "a rare, golden opportunity for Israel to participate in and help bolster the Saudi economy." Ansari also noted how Israel's expertise in water technology and desalination might help his country. And more broadly, Ansari wrote, normalization of relations between the countries, "will undoubtedly promote security and weaken extremism in the region."

The website of Ansari's Saudi Public Relation Affairs Committee describes the goal of the Washington-based group as aiming "to further strengthen the historic relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States, both politically and economically." He told the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya television, when his Washington office opened earlier this year that his office would be financed largely from "online subscriptions, conference fees, membership fees, as well as through US based corporations that are interested in the initiative, especially those who are interested in investing in Saudi Arabia.”

If it is also being used as a Saudi government mouthpiece, his op-ed takes on added significance.