Politics is a constantly changing affair – not least in the Middle East. Yet one of the most interesting developments this year has been the curious courtship of Israel and Saudi Arabia. While Israel and Saudi Arabia still have no official diplomatic and trade relationship, it appears that things are beginning to change – and rather rapidly.
Since Israel’s declaration of independence on 18 May 1948, the nation’s relationship with its Arab and Middle Eastern neighbours has been fraught, if not deadly, even at the best of times. Yet shared interests and recent geo-political and economic events have set the scene in what has become an open secret – Israel and Saudi Arabia’s new found friendship.
With the plunge in oil prices over the last few years, Saudi Arabia is being forced to diversify and modernise its still wealthy (at least for the time being), but oil-dependent feudalistic economy. As it so happens, Israel has much of the technological know-how to make this transition happen. Some of the most startling recent developments in the nations’ relationship include a visit by Saudi officials to a Paris synagogue and the Saudi denouncement of the Gaza based Hama as an extremist and terrorist group. Such gestures point to a significant realignment of allegiances would have been almost unthinkable even 12 months ago.
More than anything else, it is the threat of a common enemy which has brought Israel and Saudi Arabia into each other’s arms: that common enemy is Iran. Iran’s alliance with Russia, and both nations’ heavy involvement over the last few years in Syria’s civil war, has massively increased Israeli anxiety and has seen Israel’s relationship with Moscow grow cold. The Iran nuclear deal struck by President Barrack Obama in 2015, an agreement which many fear may lead to Iran developing nuclear weapons, was opposed by both Israel and Saudi Arabia. The deal, along with the ensuring chaos in the aftermath of the Iraq war, has helped entrench the Sunni and Shiite divide in the Middle East and inflamed hostilities between Iran and Saudi Arabia, opening up a potential arms race as they fight out who will be the top dog in the region.
While Israel and Saudi Arabia’s new found friendship has raised a few eyebrows, it makes a lot of practical sense. Whether it becomes an enduring relationship or simply a relationship of convenience remains to be seen.
Ezra Christensen is an Australian writer.
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