Iran wanted Saudi Arabia to drop Israel — but failed miserably
Saudi Arabia has yet to join anti-Western coalitions, even if Riyadh acts nice around them
Update: Since this article first appeared in the New York Post on 10/12, Reuters has reported that #Saudi Arabia said it has frozen normalization talks with #Israel. Such would be a natural step given everyone’s focus on the war in #Gaza. However, the Saudi announcement should not be mistaken for ending these talks. As argued in this article, the US and Europe imagine the Gaza War as an opportunity to eliminate Hamas and set the conditions for peace in the Middle East. The Saudi announcement does not disagree with such plan.
New York Post
At first glance, Thursday’s first-ever phone call between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi might suggest the two predominantly Muslim nations are coming together to support Hamas and its war on Israel.
But a closer look shows the two leaders were talking past each other.
The Saudi prince, known as MBS, wants peace with Israel and his country’s full integration into the world economy, an agenda that puts him fundamentally at odds with Tehran’s drive to destroy Israel and dominate the Middle East through a network of clients and proxies.
According to the Saudi readout of Thursday’s call, MBS “reaffirmed the kingdom’s unshakable position in championing the Palestinian cause and in supporting efforts to bring comprehensive and just peace, which guarantees the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.”
For Tehran, the Saudi reference to peace is intolerable because Israel’s existence is intolerable.
Hamas’ charter likewise states the group’s goal is to “liberate Palestine, from River Jordan in the east to the Mediterranean in the west.”
Despite restoring diplomatic ties with the Saudis in April, Iran may have instigated Hamas to launch its Oct. 7 attack on Israel because it feared the progress of Saudi-Israeli normalization talks.
At least as much can be inferred from top Iranian officials’ statements.
Ali Akbar Velayati, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s top foreign affairs aide, told Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad in a Monday phone call that “whoever thinks they can solve their problems through normalization with the [Zionist] entity … should know that they are exposing the region to the dangers of their naïve plans, such as building corridors through the volatile Middle East.”
The corridor Velayati considers so dangerous is the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor, a planned intercontinental trade route that would connect India to Europe via the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel.
If constructed, this route would likely overshadow China’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative, which goes through Iran.
Velayati warned “some countries in the region of the consequences of normalizing ties with the Zionist entity that is bound to collapse” and called on these countries to “change course and learn a lesson from what happened to countries that had taken this path in the past.”
Those words constitute an implicit threat against the UAE and Bahrain, which in 2020 signed the Abraham Accords for peace with Israel.
Velayati insists normal relations with Israel will bring the collapse of Gulf governments, just like they did to the government of Iran’s Shah Reza Pahlavi, in 1979, and will lead to the demise of normalizing leaders, such as in the case of the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, who had signed, that same year, the first peace treaty between Israel and one of its Arab neighbors.
Saudi Arabia was well into normalization talks with Israel, thus prompting Iran, per a Wall Street Journal report that the White House disputes, to instruct Hamas to turn the table and start war, which so far seems to have put Arab-Israeli peace efforts on hold but without killing them — at least this is how America and European powers understand the situation.
In their joint statement, the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy declared Hamas a terrorist organization and said they would “ensure Israel is able to defend itself” — read: to decimate Hamas — “and to ultimately set the conditions for a peaceful and integrated Middle East region.”
In other words, when Israel is done defending itself, Arab-Israeli peace and Middle East integration will resume.
When Tehran first restored its ties with Riyadh, the Iranians seemed to have been under the impression that Saudi Arabia had switched sides, abandoning America and the West and joining the Russia-China-Iran axis.
In March, Iranian TV reported that Saudi Arabia was planning to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
In August, Iranian media hailed Saudi Arabia for joining BRICS, the group of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
But once again, a closer look showed that appearances may be deceiving.
“We will consider BRICS’ invitation to join the bloc and decide accordingly,” said Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan.
Saudi Arabia has yet to join anti-Western coalitions, even if Riyadh acts nice around them.
Similarly, Saudi Arabia might seem on the same page with Iran and Hamas, but in reality, the kingdom is still on the Western side and seeking a military treaty with America and normalization of relations with Israel.
When Israel beats Hamas and the dust settles, Saudi-Israeli talks will likely resume.
Hussain Abdul-Hussain is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.