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In subtle shift from official Saudi line, MbS says Israel can become a “potential ally”

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (Photo by AFP)

Saudi Crown Prince and de facto ruler Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) says he sees Israel as a potential ally with shared interests, not an enemy, as the Tel Aviv is working behind the scenes towards normalization of diplomatic relations with the Persian Gulf kingdom.

“For us, we hope that the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians is solved,” the prince told US monthly magazine The Atlantic, according to remarks carried by the official Saudi Press Agency.

“We don’t look at Israel as an enemy, we look to them as a potential ally, with many interests that we can pursue together,” Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler said.

“But we have to solve some issues before we get to that,” he added.

Earlier this year, a high-ranking official at the Israeli ministry of foreign affairs said Tel Aviv is working clandestinely towards normalization of diplomatic relations with Indonesia and Saudi Arabia.

“These are the two countries we want to reach an agreement with, but it is a slow process that takes a lot of time and effort. We hope for the best,” the unnamed official noted at a media briefing in early January.

Even though Israel and Saudi Arabia do not have formal diplomatic relations, Riyadh has taken a number of steps recently toward normalizing relations with the Tel Aviv regime.

Saudi authorities were said to have given a behind-the-scenes green light to the UAE forging ties with Israel in 2020 and have since allowed Israeli aircraft to use the kingdom’s airspace for direct flights to Dubai and Abu Dhabi. 

On January 6, an independent nongovernmental organization advocating human rights in Saudi Arabia said the Riyadh regime is making use of arbitrary arrest to silence vociferous opponents of normalization of diplomatic relations between the kingdom and Israel.

The London-based rights group ALQST said Saudi officials have kept writer and researcher Abdullah al-Yahya behind bars since December 24 last year, after he criticized normalization with the Israeli regime in a series of posts published on Twitter.

Iran relations

On Iran, Prince Mohammed said the Islamic Republic was its neighbor so the two countries should find a way to coexist.

“We have had discussions, and we have heard many statements from Iranian leaders that are very welcome in Saudi Arabia,” he said. “I hope we can reach a position that is good for both countries, and a bright future for Saudi Arabia and Iran.”

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister says rapprochement with Iran is possible as the kingdom is planning to schedule a fifth round of direct talks with the Islamic Republic.

“The kingdom is interested in a positive relationship with Iran including a relationship that delivers benefits for both of us. So we are not just interested in some political détente, but we are interested in a relationship,” Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud said at the 58th Munich Security Conference (MSC) in the German capital.

He said Riyadh is looking to schedule a fifth round of direct talks with Iran, adding, that the restoration of Tehran-Riyadh relations requires progress on the issues that "concern Saudi Arabia and its neighbors."

Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic relations with Iran in January 2016 after Iranian protesters, enraged by the Saudi execution of prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr, stormed its embassy in Tehran.

For years, the kingdom pursued a confrontational foreign policy toward the Islamic Republic, but it appears that it has recently changed tack.

The two Middle East heavyweights have held four rounds of talks in Iraq since last April, including a meeting in December under the administration of President Ebrahim Raeisi, who assumed office in mid-2021.


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