Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel Jubeir has denied there are relations between Riyadh and Tel-Aviv, in an apparent response to Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz making the first public disclosure of such ties. Steinitz, a member of Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu’s security cabinet, gave the first official confirmation of long-rumored secret contacts when he told Army Radio on November 19 that “ties are developing” with Riyadh and other Arab or Muslim states.
Last week, the Israeli military chief, Lieutenant General Gadi Eizenkot, told to the Saudi newspaper Elaph that Israel was ready to share “intelligence information” with Saudi Arabia, saying their countries had a common interest in standing up to Iran.
Jubeir told Egypt’s CBC television station on November 20: “There are no relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel. There is the Arab peace initiative, which shows the road map to reach peace and establish normal relations between Israel and Arab states.”
Saudi Arabia claims that any relations with Israel hinge on Israeli withdrawal from Arab lands captured in the 1967 Middle East war, territory Palestinians seek for a future state. Both Saudi Arabia and Israel view Iran as a main threat to the Middle East and increased tension between Tehran and Riyadh has fuelled speculation that shared interests may have pushed Saudi Arabia and Israel to work together.
This denial of relations may signify Saudi Arabia’s attempts to gauge the possible backlash of the Arab populace in the region if the relationship goes public. According to Brandon Friedman, a specialist on Saudi Arabia at Tel Aviv University’s Dayan Center, publication of the interview was a kind of trial to gauge reaction in the Arab world and inside Saudi Arabia to going public with the relationship.
“They want to assess how much room to maneuver they have with their own people and in the Arab world, to know what’s the backlash. It’s now a question whether they want to keep [ties] secret despite Jubeir’s comments,” he said.
In order to appear legitimate to their own people, the Saudis will need to be seen as advancing a fair and just resolution of the Palestinian issue, Friedman added.
“If they can get Israeli cooperation on the Iran issue and be seen by their own people as moving forward on a fair and just resolution of the Palestinian issue, that’s a win-win situation for them,” he said.