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Saudi-Israel Ties On Upswing


Saudi Arabia appears to have delayed plans to normalize ties with Israel until after US President-elect Joe Biden enters office on January 20, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.It speculated that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman “pulled back from a deal, according to the Saudi advisers and US officials, largely because of the US election result.”

The Journal added, according to Saudi aides, that the prince “was reluctant to take the step now, when he could use a deal later to help cement relations with the new American leader.”Reuters similarly speculated that normalization with Israel could be “a carrot to get (Biden’s) focus away from other issues, especially (Saudi) human rights,” according to a foreign diplomat in Riyadh.The news organization reported on the issue in the aftermath of Sunday’s surprise meeting in the Saudi city of Neom, among the Saudi crown prince, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.The meeting was kept secret and revealed by the media only a day later. According to the Journal, Netanyahu and Pompeo had hoped to “win assurances” with regards to a normalization deal, but the meeting ended without any conclusions on that score.
The meeting itself is seen as the latest breakthrough in Saudi ties with the Jewish state. Already in September, Saudi Arabia agreed to open its airspace to Israeli flights.The country is high on the list of Arab states that could potentially sign a normalization deal with Israel, particularly in light of the growing threat from Iran. The meeting itself is seen as a strong signal to Tehran there is growing regional alliance against Iran.

But the Saudi leadership has been split on the issue of normalization with Israel, even before US President Donald Trump’s electoral loss.The elder King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud is opposed to a deal with Israel, while the crown prince supports it.Pompeo, upon his return from the Saudi visit – a trip that also included a stop in Israel and the United Arab Emirates – told Fox News he expected more normalization deals would be reached between Israel and its Arab neighbors under the rubric of the Abraham Accords.“I expect more normalization announcements.  Whether they’ll come in the next 30 days or 60 days or six months is difficult to know, but the direction of travel is very clear, and the rationale for that has a little bit to do with American policy,” Pompeo said.Under the US-brokered Abraham Accords, Israel has already signed normalization deals with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Sudan has already committed to a deal with Israel, but it has not yet been formalized.Among the issues which could push forward an Israeli-Saudi normalization agreement in the last weeks of the Trump administration could be a US deal to sell arms to Saudi Arabia.In the aftermath of the UAE-Israel deal, the US approved the sale of the advanced F-35 fighter jets to the UAE. Saudi Arabia is also interested in a deal for advanced US weaponry, something that it would likely have an easier chance of achieving from the Trump administration than a Biden one.There has also been media speculation, including in The Guardian, that among the items under discussions on Sunday with the crown prince was the possibility of offering Saudi Arabia some form of custodian ship on the Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the al Haram al Sharif. Jordan now has a special and exclusive custodial relationship to the third-holiest site in Israel, which houses al-Aqsa Mosque.According to the Jordan News Agency, King Abdullah has spoken out against any attempts to change the status quo at the site in a letter he wrote to the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. He said it was important to stop any steps to impose a “new status quo in al-Aqsa Mosque/Al Haram Al Sharif.”On Sunday, the government is set to approve two agreements with the UAE as part of the larger normalization deal. The first is for cooperation in the fields of improvement and development of science and advanced technology, and the second is with respect to air service between the two countries.

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