YUSUF SELMAN İNANÇ
3rd November 2018
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) is under fire following the murder of prominent journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. U.S. President Donald Trump has remained reluctant to confront the issue at the beginning but has taken certain steps due to increasing national and international outrage. Still, the U.S. administration seems to be struggling to sidestep when it comes to the young prince. One of the countries, which preserved its silence over the murder, was Israel. The Israeli government believes that cooperation with Saudi Arabia under the leadership of MBS is possible. The murder, the stances of the U.S. and Israel, the statue of Jerusalem and the so-called peace plan in Israel and Palestine are closely interconnected.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has launched an initiative to develop positive relations with Gulf countries, and especially with Saudi Arabia, as MBS is known for his soft stance toward Israel. The two countries, namely Israel and Saudi Arabia, consider Iran the biggest threat to themselves. Saudi Arabia believes Iran funds certain groups in Yemen as well as in Syria and Iraq, while Israel claims Iran and its proxies or supporting groups, like Hezbollah, are existential threats to its soil. Israel and Saudi Arabia agree that Iran must be stopped and its power must be curbed at any price. It is noteworthy that Saudi Arabia considers Hamas as dangerous as Israel, since it believes the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates are a direct threat to it.
As part of Israel’s new policy, Netanyahu visited Oman, meeting the king, Sultan Qaboos bin Said in Muscat. Accompanied by the head of Mossad, Netanyahu’s visit is considered as an overture toward the Gulf. Similarly, Israel’s Minister of Culture and Sport Miri Regev’s visit to the UAE for a judo tournament last week demonstrated the country’s new type of relations with the Gulf. Considering that Israel has full diplomatic relations with two Arab countries, Egypt and Jordan, these visits pose great significance in terms of the future of the region. For instance, Palestinian presidential adviser Mohammad Shtayyeh called the situation, after the visits as “the start of a public normalization and the end of the Arab peace initiative.”
On the other side of the issue, there is the U.S. or putting it more aptly, the Trump administration. Since ascending to the presidential post, Trump’s priority in the Middle East has been the security of Israel and, in connection to this, curbing Iran’s influence. Therefore, Iran has become a common enemy for the Trump administration and the Gulf, particularly Saudi Arabian and U.S. policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has changed. Moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, implicitly pledging support to Israel’s recent nation-state law, excluding non-Jews and cutting aid for the United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestine were remarkable changes in U.S. policy. These changes have been seen so radical that France has recently declared its intention to tackle the Israeli-Palestinian issue through employing a peace plan if the U.S. fails to do so.
Another recent development, revealing the close ties between MBS and the Trump administration was a visit by evangelical figures. A delegation, including some of Trump’s advisers and groups that have relations with Israel, e-mailed a statement to agencies, saying, “It was a historic moment for the Saudi crown prince to openly welcome evangelical Christian leaders to the palace. We were encouraged by the candor of the two-hour conversation with him today.”