Saudi-Israel Normalization Unlikely To Materialize

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Zafar Bangash

Rabi' al-Awwal 16, 1445 2023-10-01


by Zafar Bangash (Opinion, Crescent International Vol. 53, No. 8, Rabi' al-Awwal, 1445)

Image Source - Pixbay Free Content

American president Joe Biden’s normalization plan between Saudi Arabia and Israel appears quite constipated. There is little discernible movement despite US officials landing in Saudi Arabia for talks with its de facto ruler, Mohammad Bin Salman (MbS), on several occasions in recent weeks (see also here). Their aim? To persuade him to normalize relations with the zionist entity.

Why are the Americans, and particularly Biden so keen for the so-called normalization? Establishment of relations between the UAE, Bahrain and the zionist entity have not yielded the results desired by either the Americans or Israel. These Arab statelets are small potatoes. Saudi Arabia is the big catch. Should MbS agree, it will be a major achievement, or so the Americans think.

Biden has become a prisoner of his own ill-conceived policies. During his election campaign, he had targeted MbS for his involvement in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi at the US consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018. Biden vowed to make him a pariah.

Let us be clear: MbS is a nasty creature. There is little doubt that he was the one who ordered Khashoggi's murder. It was carried out by his henchmen sent specifically for this purpose.

After becoming president, Biden huffed and puffed, like the big bad wolf, but could not bring down MbS or his house. Then, on July 15, 2022 he landed in Jeddah to an inglorious reception that must have bruised his inflated ego considerably, to meet MbS, the very man he wanted to turn into a pariah.

What forced Biden’s climbdown? The war in Ukraine led to his humiliation. In an attempt to isolate Russia, the American president wanted MbS’ help to pump more oil. The Saudi upstart got his chance to payback in kind. When Biden raised the issue of Khashoggi’s murder, however timidly, MbS shot back by reminding him about Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, and the choking death of George Floyd in Minnesota by a white policeman. “I can’t breathe” has become the rallying cry for black Americans struggling against their barbaric treatment at the hands of the police.

The reason why Biden’s normalization plan is unlikely to succeed is because each party is pursuing its own agenda that is at odds with that of the others. Biden has had no foreign policy successes during his presidency. The US-NATO proxy war in Ukraine against Russia has turned out to be an unmitigated disaster.

Far from undermining Russia’s economy, it has devastated the economies of western Europe. Ukraine has been pulverized and there is no end in sight to its misery. It has become a drain on US and European economies.

Advancing Israeli interests, however, is the overriding priority for every American politician. More so for Biden who is a self-confessed zionist despite his Catholic upbringing. If he can secure Israel’s interests, he can resurrect his sagging fortunes with the pro-Israel lobby in America. He is trailing in the polls and his chances of re-election in the 2024 presidential elections appear low.

For MbS, there is a laundry list of items that he wants from the US in return for normalization with the zionist entity. He wants a security pact with the US that would guarantee his rule. He has also demanded sophisticated military hardware from the US. For what, one wonders since the Saudis are so incompetent that they cannot tie even their shoe laces in a hurry. Shiny new weapons, however, have their own appeal.

And then there is the nuclear energy project. MbS has demanded that the US supply him with nuclear reactors to produce energy. It could be asked, quite legitimately, as to why the biggest oil producer in the world—Saudi Arabia—needs nuclear power? The simple answer is that possessing nuclear reactors is a matter of prestige.

That is where Israel comes into the picture. Netanyahu will have to agree to the supply of nuclear reactors to Saudi Arabia. Israel is the only nuclear weapons state in the region. MbS has agreed to nuclear oversight by the UN atomic watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, in order to mollify Israel. The latter stubbornly refuses to countenance any inspection of its nuclear facilities.

Instead, successive Israeli rulers have for decades raised the bogey of Iran’s alleged plans to acquire nuclear weapons. The Islamic Republic has no desire to do so. Nuclear weapons are not part of its defence strategy. Instead, Iran has concentrated on developing missile technology in which it has achieved notable successes.

One other point that MbS has periodically raises is the issue of Palestine. He wants an ‘independent’ Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. It would, however, be simplistic to assume that MbS really cares for the Palestinians.

Even if a Palestinian state were to emerge—a big if—it would be little different from the current entity under the corrupt and completely compromised Palestinian Authority. Nor, of course would the racist and duplicitous Netanyahu allow any such state to emerge.

So, what does Netanyahu want? His regime is dominated by neo-Nazis who have repeatedly vowed to wipe out the Palestinians. They will not relinquish an inch of Palestinian territory through negotiations or any deal. Palestine will have to be liberated from their clutches through armed struggle.

Netanyahu, however, can sell normalization with Saudi Arabia as a major victory for him. He is facing tremendous pressure from the people over his plan to gut the judiciary. Every week, tens of thousands of Israelis hold protest rallies. Internal divisions have reached a point where nearly 40% of Israelis are planning to leave the country. For a settler-colonial entity, this is a major blow.

For Netanyahu, normalization would mean recognition of his hard-nosed policy of not giving an inch of Palestinian territory. Instead, a belligerent Israeli policy will be presented as having brow-beaten the Arab rulers, the most important of whom is MbS of Saudi Arabia, into submission.

Despite all the optimistic talk, normalization, however, remains just that: talk, for now.

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