THE British newspaper Times reported on Saturday (June 17) that in a dramatic move Saudi Arabia and Israel are in talks to establish economic ties that perhaps explains why Saudi Arabia and its allies have imposed a sweeping blockade on Qatar, in an effort to force the Gulf state to drop its support for Hamas, who control Gaza.
The Times quoted Arab and American sources as saying that the links would start small: allowing Israeli businesses to operate in the Gulf, for example, and letting El Al, the Israeli airline, fly over Saudi airspace.
Sources close to Saudi Arabia, however, dismissed the idea of improved relations as wishful thinking on behalf of a White House keen to demonstrate immediate results from president Trump’s recent visits to Saudi Arabia and Israel, the paper said and added:
‘The prospect has become a source of controversy in the White House. Jason Greenblatt, the president’s top envoy to the region, has taken a conventional approach to the peace process, trying to lure the Israelis and Palestinians back to talks, but he has clashed with Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, who has become close to Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi deputy crown prince. They have discussed an ‘outside-in’ approach, by which Gulf States would improve ties with Israel as a prelude to a peace agreement — and full recognition of Israel by Gulf and Arab states.’
The British daily pointed out that Israel and the Gulf States have been quietly building security ties, motivated by a mutual fear of Iran. ‘A Saudi delegation led by a retired general made a trip to Israel last year and senior Israeli officials are keen to expand the alliance. ‘I think it’s much better to co-operate on economic issues than the fight against terror,’ said Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli defence minister. He praised efforts to isolate Qatar.’
Riyadh has demanded that Qatar cease support for Hamas and it expel several of the group’s leaders, including Salah al-Arouri.
Michael Binyon of The Times wrote there are huge risks in reviving the idea of an Israeli liaison in Saudi Arabia:
‘Any concession to Israel without a move by the Jewish state would be seen by Muslims as a betrayal of the Palestinian cause. It would further embolden Isis and other Islamist groups to denounce the House of Saud as illegitimate. And it would reinforce the perception on Arab streets that America was intent on dividing Arab governments.
‘Small steps — allowing over flights or participating with Israel in regional economic gatherings — are easier. The diplomatic coup of the boycott of Israel being ended by a country claiming leadership of Sunni Muslims could easily backfire, and Saudi Arabia already feels challenged on almost all its frontiers.’
Turkish mediation efforts
MEANWHILE, against the background of continued tensions between Qatar and the Saudi-led group of countries, Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, held talks in Saudi Arabia with the king, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, on Friday.
‘The meeting was positive,’ AFP news agency reported, quoting diplomatic sources, but there were no specifics.
Cavusoglu travelled to Mecca, where Salman is based for the last days of Ramadan, after meeting his Kuwaiti counterpart on Thursday. Cavusoglu was in Doha on Wednesday where he called for dialogue after meeting Qatar’s emir and foreign minister.
‘Although the kingdom is a party in this crisis, we know that King Salman is a party in resolving it,’ Cavusoglu said earlier. ‘We want to hear the views of Saudi Arabia regarding possible solutions and will share with them our views in a transparent way… We pay a great attention to our relations with them.’
Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al Sabah, the emir of Kuwait, which has not cut ties with Qatar, has also been trying to mediate.
According to Al Jazeera, Rex Tillerson, the US secretary of state, has cancelled his scheduled trip to an Organisation of American States (OAS) meeting in Mexico next week to stay in the United States and work on resolving the Qatar crisis.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Tamara Kharroub, a senior analyst and assistant executive director at the Arab Centre in Washington, DC, said Tillerson’s latest move is ‘a clear sign this is a priority and in the next week, we will see some serious efforts to mediate and resolve the conflict’.
‘Now we hear from Saudi Arabia of a list of grievances, rather than demands,’ she said. ‘That, I believe, is a signal that Saudi Arabia is not intending to escalate this crisis any further… trying to lessen the issue from demands to grievances.’
Countercurrents.org, June 18. Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the chief editor of the Journal of America.
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