Saudi Arabia and Israel: It’s complicated
Once upon a time, Saudi nationals like myself were encouraged to believe that Israel posed a serious threat to the viability of the kingdom, and yet today we are led to believe that cooperation with our historic enemy is not only possible, but a necessity if we are to counter an even greater threat to the nation, chiefly that of Iran.
In recent years, the warnings coming out of Tel Aviv and Riyadh have been remarkably similar.
Saudi Arabia has always harbored concerns regarding Iran, especially following the 1979 revolution which saw the overthrow of the last Shah and the formation of an Islamic republic headed by Ayatollah Ali Khomeini, who quickly called for the overthrow of capitalism, American influence and social injustice in the Middle East and beyond. The Islamic Republic saw itself as a revolutionary beacon and we in Saudi Arabia immediately felt the heat.
Since 2001, coupled with the tragic mess of the Syrian civil war, Iran’s influence in the region has grown, and grown quickly. The toppling of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in 2003 and the election of a majority Shi’ite government in Baghdad was welcome news in Tehran. Having supported the Assad regime in Syria, Iran rather than Saudi Arabia emerged as the major player in the country.
Iranian influence in both Iraq and Syria gives the Islamic Republic access to wealth, strategic locations and important regional alliances. This is in stark contrast to Saudi Arabia’s involvement in Yemen and Lebanon. Yet even there, Iranian influence is felt.
Saudi Arabia has been always critical of Iranian meddling in Arab affairs. However, the stakes had already been upped considerably when the Saudi government accused Iran of supporting Shi’ite uprisings in the kingdom’s oil-rich Eastern Province a few years earlier.
But it isn’t only Saudi Arabia that views Iranian influence with suspicion. Many Western countries also see Iran as a source of destabilization in the region, with a very poor record of human rights. And then there is Israel, a country that views Iran as a threat not only to it, but also to Saudi Arabia.
Relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel first started to thaw following the 1982 Middle East Plan which called for an independent Palestinian state, but also included the apparent recognition of Israel’s right to exist. In 2002, the Arab Peace Initiative further supported a two-state initiative. Yet, in recent months, the talk is no longer of “peace” with Israel, but of cooperation, as they find themselves facing a common enemy. However, this new approach could prove to be a hard sell in Saudi Arabia.
For decades, we have been indoctrinated to hate the Jews and that is not something that can be easily erased with a sudden change of policy. As a student in Saudi Arabia I remember being bombarded with messages of hate, taught to believe that Jews were not only our biggest enemy but the source of all corruption in the world. The images coming out of Palestine poured ever more oil on the fire and many Arabs will always view Israel as an occupying force on Arab land. Even the Egyptians, who made peace with Israel back in 1978, still share this view in regard to Palestine and it ridicules any pretense of a normal relationship with their neighbor.
Saying that, Israel has never attempted to destabilize the Saudi government or undermine its regional influence in the Arab or Muslim world, so there is perhaps more scope for fuller cooperation between the two powers given their shared concerns regarding Iran.
But for many ordinary Saudis, there is an almost insurmountable challenge ahead. Saudi Arabia is viewed as the heart of the Muslim world and any relationship with Israel — no matter how strategic to self-interest — will remain nothing short of treason.
Therefore, if there is a genuine desire to move forward with Israel, the Saudi government needs to assess which path is the right one to take in order to achieve this goal. Will it be a move of focus away from Iran in order to foster a meaningful, long-lasting peace with Israel or will the Saudi government bet on an immediate alliance involving possible conflict, in which peace comes later with the defeat of a common enemy?
When the West has gambled and lost on its own short-sighted plans for the region, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman might be best advised to keep his eye on the bigger picture if the end goal is long-term stability.
Dr. Tareq Alabdi
Hotovely’s dismissal of U.S. Jews betrays Israel and Zionism
When I heard Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely speak on i24 News television about the Jews in America and her dismissal of egalitarian Jewish prayer in Israel as mere politics trying to be recognized, I felt like we were being destroyed again — this time from the inside. I was born in Poland before the war. I survived Auschwitz, and have the number 88987 tattooed on my left arm.
I am Israeli and I live in America, as does my family. I assure you that I have not forgotten what the world was like when there was no State of Israel. I have spoken at hundreds of schools and to thousands of American children about that, swearing that Jews will never again be prohibited from living Jewish lives freely and openly.
When Israel, of all places, makes Judaism illegal for some Jews, I feel like I am back in Poland again. Hotovely’s dismissal of American Jews as being too soft or spoiledand to understanding Israel’s complexity is both demeaning and destructive. Is Israel only eretz okhlei yoshveiha, a land that devours its inhabitants?! Have we built Israel now only to turn on each other?
Israel should not just welcome all Jews home. Israel should not just allow all Jews to be Jewish and pray as they wish. Israel should protect them, support them, and celebrate them when they do. Israel must help all Jews to thrive, live, love, prayer, learn and grow as Jews in any way we wish.
Do all Jews wish to be recognized by the State of Israel? Of course we do. That is what Zionism is supposed to be. When Hotovely derides that hope as mere politics, she betrays everyone I ever lost, and everything that Israel was meant to be.
Letters should be exclusive to Haaretz and must include the writer’s name, address and telephone number (an email address is not sufficient). Please note that letters are subject to editing. Please send your letters to firstname.lastname@example.org
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now