Some may interpret Hamas’ attack on Israel on Saturday as a response to Israel’s cruel policy towards the Palestinians in the face of the indifference of the rest of the world. Beyond the fact that the killing of civilians is never justified, the magnitude and timing chosen for the spectacular and surprising operation point to a geopolitical factor of crucial importance: the eventual establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia. Such a possibility raises the hackles of Iran and its allies in the axis of resistance, Hamas included.
Few know at what point the talks/negotiations between Tel Aviv and Riyadh are at. “The United States is doing everything possible and more for the kingdom to take the step,” a former senior Saudi official confided to this journalist a few days ago. According to leaks published in the media, the key is a defense pact that would elevate Saudi Arabia to a “major non-NATO ally” of the United States — the same level as Israel. This is on top of Saudi’s goal to have a civil nuclear program that includes uranium enrichment.
Israel has always sought recognition from its Arab neighbors and achieved important diplomatic success with the Abraham Accords (2020) and the subsequent normalization of relations with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco. Driving Saudi interest in restoring relations with Israel is its historical distrust of Iran, which it blamed for the attacks on its oil facilities in 2019. The recent reopening of embassies has not mitigated this distrust, which was made evident last Monday when the Saudi soccer team Al-Ittihad traveled to Isfahan to face the Iranian team Sepahan in an Asian Champions League match. The visitors left the stadium without playing when they discovered at the entrance to the field three busts of Qasem Soleimani, a Revolutionary Guard general assassinated by the U.S. in Baghdad. For the Iranians, he is a hero, but for the Saudis, he is a terrorist. Saudi Arabia saw the presence of the busts as a provocation.
Still, taking the step of establishing relations with Israel is no easy feat. Not even for the kingdom’s strongman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who since taking the reins of power has shown signs of great audacity. “It would be his riskiest decision, especially with the current ultra [Israeli] government,” says the aforementioned source, in the absence of minimal concessions to the Palestinians. In the opinion of this observer, the heir’s recent statements that the agreement with Israel “is getting closer every day” are a way of keeping the door open while weighing the cost-benefit of the deal.
In any case, the Hamas attack — a blow to that project — is not a response to Prince Mohammed’s words. Its complexity points to long prior planning. And the support of its main ally, Iran, which has not even bothered to hide its sympathies on the matter. “We support the commendable Al-Aqsa Storm operations,” General Rahim Safavi, the top military advisor to the Iranian supreme leader, was quick to declare. In case there was any doubt about where Iran stood.
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