WEB DESK: In a recent surprise development, a Saudi delegation headed by retired General Anwar Eshki, Chairman of the Jeddah-based Middle East Centre for Strategic Studies, was in Israel.
An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman told journalists that General Eshki held a meeting with the ministry’s Director General, Dore Gold, though he did not give any details of their discussions.
The visitor also called on Major General Yoav Mordechai, head of the military body that co-ordinates Israeli activities in the West Bank and Gaza. Notably, in June last year, General Eshki and Gold had shared a platform at the influential Washington-based think tank, the Council on Foreign Relations, where according to the Council website, “their speeches focused on the danger Iran posed to their countries, and they revealed that they had been in secret discussions for a year, and had now decided to go public with their talks”. And further that the two men had also met separately to discuss “opportunities and challenges in the Middle East”.
As the popular adage goes, in international relations there are no permanent friends or foes, only permanent interests. Saudi Arabia and Israel see a common challenge in Iran benefiting from the various conflicts in the region to rise as a pre-eminent power with allies in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria. They have been deeply perturbed to see the US directed P5+1 nuclear deal with Iran, leading to the lifting of international sanctions on the country.
The fear is that with its unfrozen funds and generating new oil revenues Iran would use that extra money to further enhance its influence in the region. If that was not bad enough from Riyadh’s perspective, the US went on to shift its focus in the ongoing conflict in Syria from Iran’s ally, the Assad regime, to the IS, deciding to let Assad stay for the time being. That together with the nuclear deal seems to have pushed Riyadh to openly seek better relations with Tel Aviv in an apparent attempt to get back at Washington via Israel enjoying firm support of the US’ powerful Jewish lobby, which wields immense influence over the country’s policymaking institutions. In other words, what General Eshki had been doing in Israel is an astute, pragmatic move to trump the administration’s policy towards Iran.
The strategy, however, is not without risks as the kingdom needs to balance its own interests with Arab people’s expectations vis-a-vis the Palestinian question. In fact, cognisant of the sensibilities involved, while reporting the arrival of General Eshki at the head of a delegation of “businessmen and academics” The Jerusalem Post said its mission was to promote the 2002 Saudi-led peace initiative. It may be recalled that the initiative, endorsed and re-endorsed by the Arab League, offered to recognize Israel’s right to exist and normalisation of diplomatic ties with it in exchange for Israel’s full withdrawal from Arab lands to pre-1967 borders.
Considering that the Israeli government continues to build illegal settlements in the occupied territories, rejecting the two-state solution proposed by its Western backers, it is unlikely to respond to this ostensible bid to promote the 2002 peace initiative. It remains to be seen how Riyadh deals with this trickiest of all Middle East problems as it looks to secure its own interests. If it decides to recognize Israel that would not be something new for an Arab state; Egypt and Jordan having signed peace agreements with Israel already maintain diplomatic ties with it. But considering Saudi Arabia’s status in the Middle East and beyond, for it to follow suit will have much greater effect on the region’s political scene.
Source: Business Recorder