TEL AVIV, Palestinian Territories (Web Desk/APP) – Israel’s military intelligence chief has offered Saudi Arabia rare public praise for its efforts, under King Salman, to lead a “pragmatic” alliance of Muslim states confronting Iran.
Wednesday’s tribute by Major-General Hertzi Halevy at an international security forum followed years of veiled references by Israel to back-channel contacts with Gulf Arab powers – despite their lack of formal bilateral ties.
But Saudi Arabia, which sees itself as a leader of Muslim world, rejects recognition of Israel short of a wider settlement satisfying Palestinian demands for a state in the Israeli-occupied territory, and has always vehemently denied reports of any secret communications.
“This is not the same Saudi Arabia that we saw a year and a half ago. There is a different king, with a support network around him,” Halevy told the Herzliya Conference, referring to Salman’s accession, the Swissinfo.ch reported.
“Saudi is much more proactive, aspiring to lead the Sunni camp in the Middle East. It is the country that has perhaps taken the strongest stand in the face of Iran in the Middle East, and it is carrying out very deep structural reforms whose bottom line is to bring about a Saudi Arabia in 2030 with a different economy that is not dependent on oil, etcetera.”
Riyadh and other Gulf Arab states shared Israeli unhappiness with last year’s U.S.-led nuclear deal with Iran, saying it failed to sufficiently cap the Islamic Republic’s capacity to build a nuclear bomb.
“There is an interesting phenomenon here: Some of these pragmatic Sunni countries are getting close to our interests,” Halevy said. “This is an interesting matter. There is an opportunity here.”
Israel has long talked about a “new horizon” in the Middle East, in which it shares common ground with Sunni Arab states such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia due to their wariness towards Iran. Israel has also talked recently about its openness to a 2002 Saudi initiative for a comprehensive agreement with the Palestinians, although there appears to be little momentum in that direction.
Under Salman, Saudi officials still say they cannot work with Israel, pointing to its rejection of the Riyadh-sponsored peace plan offering normal relations in return for an end to occupation and solution to the Palestinian refugee problem.
Experts also believe Israel’s interest in the Saudi-Iran conflict over dominance in the Middle East will only escalate the already tense situation between the two major Muslim powers.