Stalemate In The Sands: Geopolitical Calculus Stalls Saudi-Israeli Conciliation – OpEd


The US had said that normalizing relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel seemed possible. Since 2020, the US has been pushing Saudi Arabia to recognize Israel officially and establish formal ties. As part of this deal, the US has offered Saudi Arabia advanced military equipment and help with developing a civilian nuclear programme, reports Grey Dynamics, a UK-based investigative media outlet.

However, talks have stalled since the attack by Hamas on Israel on October 7, 2023. Since then, Saudi Arabia, a key leader in the Sunni Muslim world, has insisted that Israel must outline a clear plan for creating a Palestinian state before discussions can move forward. Israel, on the other hand, sees an independent Palestine as a security risk and has firmly rejected Saudi Arabia’s proposals.

Critical Assessment 1: Saudi Arabia’s stance on Palestinian statehood has impeded normalization with Israel.

  1. According to a BBC report in January 2024, Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed-bin-Salman, emphasised the significance of the Palestinian issue and the need for measures that would improve the lives of Palestinians. However, he did not explicitly state that these measures would rely on progress towards establishing an independent Palestinian state
  2. The Saudi Arabian ambassador to the UK has expressed a desire to improve relations with Israel following the war in Gaza. However, they have emphasised that any potential agreement should include the creation of a Palestinian state. This statement was made during an interview with the BBC on January 9
  3. Normalizing relations with Saudi Arabia, a key Sunni Muslim country and home to two of Islam’s holiest sites, could potentially lead to broader acceptance of Israel in the Muslim world and strengthen an emerging Arab-Israeli defence alliance against Iran. However, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s far-Right coalition partners strongly oppose any concessions to Palestinians and have threatened to dissolve the government if such steps are taken, according to a May 2024 report by The Guardian

Critical Assessment 2: Iran’s nuclear ambitions and its role in destabilizing the Middle East are, possibly, the main reasons behind the trilateral normalization talks.

  1. Since 2020, the US has aimed to form an Arab-Israeli defence alliance which includes Saudi Arabia. Achieving this coalition would be a significant policy success, especially during an election year, according to a report by Grey Dynamics citing information from The Guardian
  2. In an August 2023 report by The Washington Institute, it was stated that Crown Prince Muhammad-bin-Salman has three main demands for a potential normalization deal with Israel: 
  • US security guarantees
  • Access to advanced American military equipment, and
  • Technology and support for a domestic civilian nuclear programme

The last demand is particularly challenging for Washington because it involves access to uranium enrichment technology, which can be used to make nuclear weapons. The report also mentioned that, while Saudi Arabia does not seek to build a nuclear bomb, it would quickly pursue one if Iran developed one first

  1. Since 2023, Iran has attacked Israeli territory through various means, including proxy forces and missile strikes. Iran does not recognize Israel’s right to exist and aims for its destruction. The country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has called Israel a “cancerous tumour” that “will undoubtedly be uprooted and destroyed”, according to an April 2024 BBC report, which was further confirmed by Grey Dynamics

Critical Assessment 3: Israel and Saudi Arabia will, probably, wait until the war in Gaza ends to resume normalization talks. This way, both can use the outcome to influence their plans for Palestine’s future.

  1. In May 2024, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Al-Monitor he was unsure if Israel was willing to make the necessary compromises to normalize relations with Saudi Arabia, particularly regarding a path to a Palestinian state. He noted that this would require ending the Gaza war and establishing a credible path to a Palestinian state
  2. As of May 2024, Prime Minister Netanyahu did not commit to a plan for Palestine after the war in Gaza. On May 8, Benny Gantz, a member of Israel’s War Cabinet, suggested a six-point plan that included a joint administration by the US, Europe, Arab nations and Palestinians. However, Saudi Arabia has called for a more defined path to Palestinian statehood, according to a May 2024 report by Al-Jazeera
  3. Since October 2023, Netanyahu has been leading a war government and holding onto his political position through emergency powers. The Gaza war is expected to bring an end to Netanyahu’s government. The fall of his coalition could open the doors for potential compromises, according to a May 2024 report by Al-Jazeera

In Conclusion

Grey Dynamics concludes that Saudi-Israeli normalization talks are unlikely to resume until the war in Gaza ends. This assessment is based on information from government reports, think tanks and various media sources. More details on Israel’s post-war plans for Gaza would improve the accuracy of this judgment.

Girish Linganna

Girish Linganna is a Defence, Aerospace & Political Analyst based in Bengaluru. He is also Director of ADD Engineering Components, India, Pvt. Ltd, a subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany. You can reach him at: [email protected]

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