Israel and Saudi Arabia

Written By: - Date published: 8:40 am, October 10th, 2023 - 28 comments
Categories: International, israel, war - Tags:

I don’t want to talk about Saudi Arabia but it’s time.

On Saturday, after the Hamas assault, the Saudi Foreign Ministry released a statement that did not explicitly denounce the Hamas attack on Israel and instead made it clear that the Saudi government had repeatedly warned “ of the danger of the explosion of the situation as a result of the continued occupation, the deprivation of the Palestinian people and their legitimate rights and the repetition of systematic provocations against its sanctities.”

Qatar said roughly the same thing, as did Egypt.

The Syrian foreign ministry doubled down on that line and called the Hamas operation an “honourable achievement that proves the only way for Palestinians to obtain their legitimate rights is resistance in all its forms.”

Iran was basically bouncing up and down with glee.

Whereas in the United States, President Biden’s top aides scrambled on Sunday to reaffirm their commitment to the idea of potential normalisation of diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel, even as Israel prepares for a full-scale war against Palestinian militants.

On several American talk shows, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken cast normalization as a choice between regional peace and the terrorism carried out by Hamas, the militant group in Gaza.

“It would really change the prospects of the entire region far into the future,” Mr. Blinken said on CBS News of Israel’s broadening of relations with Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, the most powerful Sunni Muslim nation in the region.

“Now, who’s opposed to that? Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran. So, I think that speaks volumes. And there are really two paths before the region.”

Mr. Blinken added an important caveat, which was that the drive for a diplomatic deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia could not be a substitute for a two-state solution to address the needs of the Palestinians.

I think it’s reasonable to assume that normalisation effort is on hold as of now.

What will likely occur from Israel is a counterattack sufficient in scale, as they usually hope, to serve a deterrent purpose and yet also weirdly keep Hamas in power. According to a 2017 research brief by the Rand Corporation, Israel has the military capacity to wipe out Hamas, but doesn’t for fear that an even more extreme organisation could come into power. As such, Rand’s study says, Israel’s grand strategy became “’mowing the grass’ – accepting its inability to permanently solve the problem and instead repeatedly targeting the leadership of Palestinian militant organisations to keep violence manageable.”

Well that didn’t work. So the likelihood of a big ground attack would now be pretty high even if Netanyahu tried restraint – which he now has little political cause to do so.

The opportunity within Saudi Arabia and Israel normalising relationships is very, very high.

Equally the elements for normalising relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia are not small. Saudi Arabia would get formalised security guarantees and US support and cooperation for the development of a Saudi civilian nuclear programme. In parallel, Saudi Arabia and the United States are expected to require Israeli concessions that minimally provide benefits to the Palestinians and that maximally reinforce the shared Saudi and US position of preserving the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

For the US, the benefit is essentially expanding its military security command over the Middle East as never before, all the while creating opportunity to push back on China’s rising influence in the region.

For Israel’s part, normalisation with the Saudis would not only bring untapped economic benefits, but also fundamentally reshape its place in the region and potentially in the broader Islamic world.

So, much to play for.

Unfortunately it’s pretty hard to see that surviving what happens next.

On the other hand the 1979 Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty saw them hand back the entire Sinai Peninsula through 1982. That is the scale of enduring peace that can be achieved in the Middle East.

What high wisdom does Netanyahu have to game through this Hamas outrage?

And what finger will the Saudi royal family hold up to stay this violence and restore the pathway to enduring peace?

28 comments on “Israel and Saudi Arabia ”

  1. Bearded Git 1

    UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said this today in response to Israel cutting off food, water and electricity from more than two million civilians in Gaza at the same time conducting a series of bombing attacks on Gaza:

    "While I recognise Israel’s legitimate security concerns, I also remind Israel that military operations must be conducted in strict accordance with international humanitarian law. Civilians must be respected and protected at all times. Civilian infrastructure must never be a target.

    The reality is that it grows out of a longstanding conflict with a 56-year-long occupation and no political end in sight. It’s time to end this vicious circle of bloodshed, hatred and polarisation."

  2. Anne 2

    I'm no student of Middle Eastern politics but it seems to me that no solution will ever be forthcoming while both Israel and Palestine choose to elect extreme governments – extreme Right on the one hand and extreme Left on the other. Not that simple I know but it would be a start.

  3. Dennis Frank 3

    there are really two paths before the region.

    Pathways to the future given binary framing ought to instead be thought of in a triadic relation to context or any negotiation process. The most relevant triad has been used in the region for two millennia: the vesica piscis, which is fundamental to christian art & architecture. Used to represent Christ as changemaker, it takes contemporary form as a generic formula.

    So in secular society we get world & better world represented by the two fish symbols within the holistic symbol composite. The overlap, central between these two mental realms, represents the transition to be made by the changemaker. Iconology 1.01

    Anyway, google vesica piscis to see contemporary presentations of this ancient symbol, then images…

  4. Sanctuary 4

    "…But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away…" – Isaiah 64:6

    And isn't it a fetching set of rags the Israeli government and the west are wearing at the moment.

    One worries though that when the Israeli defence minister, announcing a full siege on Gaza including "no electricity, no food, no fuel" and tells us that "We are fighting human animals and we are acting accordingly" explicitly dehumanising his victims as beasts while announcing a war crime whilst all along our media barely bats an eyelid and our governments offer unqualified support if we are reaching a point where Israel thinks they can stop even needing rags. And as Hannah Arendt tells us, when evil stops being a temptation and becomes a policy you know all is lost.

    In any event, I think Mouin Rabbani's analysis will do for me for now:

    "…So what is Operation Al-Aqsa Storm meant to achieve? It appears that the movement concluded, some time ago, that a repeat of previous confrontations with Israel, such as during the 2021 Unity Intifada, the first that Hamas rather than Israel initiated, would be insufficient to break the logjam, and that only a spectacle on the scale of what we witnessed on 7 October would serve to concentrate minds in Israel and other relevant capitals. In other words, the main objective would seem to be to render the status quo obsolete and put paid to the Israeli-Egyptian blockade, entirely or at least in its current form. Secondly, Hamas appears determined to free Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails, and additionally use those it has captured and abducted as leverage in negotiations on other matters, including for example those relating to the Haram al-Sharif.

    It is highly unlikely that undermining Saudi-Israeli diplomacy formed an important motivation, because the proposed deal faces too many insurmountable obstacles in Washington and Israel, and both Hamas and its allies understand this…",-Why,-and-Where-To

    • Dennis Frank 4.1

      On RNZ news just now, Hamas will start televised execution of Israeli captives the moment Israel bombs families in Gaza.

      This tit for tat strategy obtains more leverage via extension, just like any physical lever. UN chief complains, but peacemaking can't happen without incentives to resolve conflict. Can't expect a bureaucrat to know that, to be fair!

      • SPC 4.1.1

        Hamas behaving like Islamic state would undermine the Tet offensive narrative and lead to a do unto them what was done to Islamic State alternative.

    • Ad 4.2

      It doesn't matter what Hamas want because they aren't going to get anything out of it.

      Rabbani's commentary is typically pessimistic but that's what you get when you're just not one of the players in a complex diplomatic equation.

      What matters is the kind of Israel that emerges out of this.

      If Israel really do manage to near-permanently wipe out Hamas as a terrorist organisation, the the road back to an economic-political reconstruction plan for Gaza will be open. It's pretty hard to see any Gazan being allowed to work in Israel for a long, long time, but eventually Egypt, the Palestinian Authority, Israel and Saudi Arabia will sit down again afterwards.

      There will be a plan if there is no Hamas. The 2.2 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip deserve lives of peace and dignity. Hamas rule since June 2007 has brought them terrible misery and poverty.

      The question for Israel is whether this finishes Netanyahu and his government. He is not a partner for any constructive plan in the region. His government is sick with ultra-nationalistic and messianic ideas, lack of experience, and inferior intellectual capacity.

      This needs to finish Hamas and it also needs to finish Netanyahu. That would be the start of a start.

      • SPC 4.2.1

        A grand coalition is possible and one way to remove the religious zionists (actually a combine of ultra nationalists/fascists no one else has time for, formed by BN to realise a majority). Whether it would ease BN out is another matter.

        Whether the UN (nation building), or the PA would want to replace Hamas government in Gaza is another matter. The most obvious gain would be PA elections and administration unity – something for the SA to sponsor as part of getting a security deal.

        • Ad

          I look back on dudes who could deal for peace like Yitzak Rabin even that old bastard Shimon Perez, and holy mackerel Israel such a long way from that era or from those kinds of leaders.

          I had hoped to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem next year but dammit that just went.

          • SPC

            The last peace effort was 2000 by Barak (who ended BN's first term after Rabin's assassination), since then it declined to disengagement Sharon-Olmert and onto BN's return and a de facto annexation governance via PA proxy of the WB.

            The peace ready left (shrunk to 5%) was replaced by a secular (Lapid's) and blue and white nationalist (centre-right anyone but BN) alternative to Likud's god and mammon axis with religious Jews.

            Given the state of the western economy, SA buying security via assistance to PA was the best option going sans BN finally facing that last political stake/end of his political career. Like Putin and perhaps Xi, the ambition for legacy is destructive to civil society.

            PS – yeah avoid the Hizbollah fireworks response to the Gaza war mark 3.

      • Anne 4.2.2

        "This needs to finish Hamas and it also needs to finish Netanyahu. That would be the start of a start."

        yes yes

    • SPC 4.3

      It's reasonable opine, except for the fact that Hamas (and its ties to Iran) was one obstacle to the SA-Israel deal and this roadblock is about to be dismantled.

      Another one, the presence of ultra-nationalists in the current Israeli government might be short-lived, as their removal would be a requirement for a grand coalition.

  5. Roy Cartland 5

    Benjamin Netanyahu said. “What we will do to our enemies in the coming days will reverberate with them for generations.”

    Openly declaring collective punishment.

  6. adam 6

    Far right fucks doing what they do best, killing people.

  7. Tricledrown 7

    This conflict will spread Iran on Putins side is another escalation between the Putin puppets and the Western powers.This will take away the spotlight on the Ukraine.

  8. KJT 8

    Who are the "Terrorists" again?

    Israeli bombing


  9. Mike the Lefty 9

    The haters and wreckers on both sides have got what they want – war.

    New Zealand's should use its reputation as an international peacekeeper nation to try and halt the violence against civilians, whomever commits it, and ensure that people in New Zealand with connections to either side are not targeted by association.

    National once again show their unfitness for government by verbally charging into the fray before getting their facts straight.

  10. Anne 10

    New Zealand's should use its reputation as an international peacekeeper nation to try and halt the violence against civilians, whomever commits it, and ensure that people in New Zealand with connections to either side are not targeted by association.

    This. Needs to be writ in lights.

  11. Peter Bradley 12

    The situation is an almost too perfect salve for Netanyahu's government in resolving divisions in Israel and unpopularity with the hard right shift in government power. These divisions will now evaporate as the country shifts to a war footing and focuses on a land invasion of Gaza in pursuit of Hamas military assets and personal.

    A state of long term insecurity is extremely useful politically and economically as we saw with the US occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan – a conclusive outcome was never the goal but rather a state of permanent instability requiring ever larger sums of domestic spending on weapons and manpower.

    This is what I like to think of as a form of Keynesian economics such that the state provides a massive input of spending into the domestic economy without the annoyance of providing public services.

    Israel will now benefit from this political and economic shift in addition to a unified and subdued population as long as the threat of Palestinian attacks can be maintained.

  12. Roy Cartland 13

    It seems the medias ATM are doing a surprisingly ok job of separating the monstrous Hamas from the citizens of Palestine, who do deserve our compassion. And also criticizing Netenyahu's response. I hoped it wouldn't just be wall to wall 'righteous Israel' propaganda, like we've seen on past wars.

    • SPC 13.1

      It would be a hard sell given Israel has chosen not to warn where it will bomb so civilians can leave the area/areas.

      • Roy Cartland 13.1.1

        They've been telling citizens to leave, but sealed all the exits and are firing from the sea. Hearing the correspondent on Checkpoint was harrowing.

  13. GreenBus 14

    This will be the USA offramp to Ukraine. Probably the cause and reason.

  14. Anne 15

    Perhaps I'm looking in the wrong places, but I am surprised there has been little to no comment in the MSM as to the likely consequences for NZ if this war continues for any length of time. Apart from the obvious (petrol prices will soar beyond the means of half the population) there will surely be numerous other equally concerning outcomes. For example, the possibility/probability of copy-cat type incidents against ethnicities from both sides of the battle ground. That would seem to me to be a very real threat, yet the media is strangely quiet.

    • In Vino 15.1

      Anne, I think the market-based rating systems aimed at maximised advertising income have bred all intelligence out of our media. Ratings and advertising are all that matter to the marketing people currently in charge, and I don't think they would recognise an intellectual challenge with important implications if it kicked them in the derriere.

      I have also heard that the profit-seeking nature of the USA military-industrial complex has caused too much focus on financial gain, to the cost of the efficiency of the weapons being made. Western super-weapons have yet to prove dominance over the Russian primitive but practical weapons in the Ukraine fiasco..

      The great advance of the Market Economy may well be starting to show its failings.

      And good ol' NZ went further with that Market Economy nonsense than most other countries, and I think our news media became one of the most commercialised in the world.

      A sure recipe for failure?

      The market can be a very good servant, but I think we are now learning that it makes a very poor master.

      • Anne 15.1.1

        I don't think they would recognise an intellectual challenge with important implications if it kicked them in the derriere.

        I concur with that. Having watched many media stand-ups over the years, it never fails to amaze me how incredibly puerile some of the questions they ask of those being interviewed. Either they assume the general public are total morons or their own level of comprehension is verging on the moronic.

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