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Thursday, February 2, 2017

Bloomberg has a fascinating article on Saudi-Israeli business ties which are under the table but thriving.

[Shmuel Bar, head of an Israeli software intelligence company] says he meets freely these days with Saudis and other Gulf Arabs at overseas conferences and private events. Trade and collaboration in technology and intelligence are flourishing between Israel and a host of Arab states, even if the people and companies involved rarely talk about it publicly. When a London think tank recently disinvited Bar from speaking on a panel, explaining that a senior Saudi official was also coming and it wasn’t possible to have them appear together, Bar told the organizers that he and the Saudi gentleman had in fact been planning to have lunch together at a Moroccan restaurant nearby before walking over to the event together. “They were out-Saudi-ing the Saudis,” he says.

Peace hasn’t come to the Middle East. This isn’t beating swords into plowshares but a logical coalescence of interests based on shared fears: of an Iranian bomb, jihadi terror, popular insurgency, and an American retreat from the region. IntuView has Israeli export licenses and the full support of its government to help any country facing threats from Iran and militant Islamic groups. “If it’s a country which is not hostile to Israel that we can help, we’ll do it,” Bar says. Only Syria, Lebanon, Iran, and Iraq are off-limits.

The Saudis and other oil-rich Arab states are only too happy to pay for the help. “The Arab boycott?” Bar says. “It doesn’t exist.”

The Arab embargo of Israel, nominally in force since the Jewish state’s founding in 1948, necessitates that all business between Israel and most Arab states remain strictly off the books, cloaked by intermediaries in other countries. But the volume and range of Israeli activity in at least six Gulf countries is getting hard to hide. One Israeli entrepreneur set up companies in Europe and the U.S. that installed more than $6 billion in security infrastructure for the United Arab Emirates, using Israeli engineers. The same companies then pitched Saudi Arabia to manage overcrowding in Mecca. Other Israeli businesses are working in the Gulf, through front companies, on desalination, infrastructure protection, cybersecurity, and intelligence gathering.

But what about the Palestinian issue? While on the record it is still the prerequisite for normal ties, Gulf countries are only paying it lip service. This section of the article is most telling:
Salman al-Ansari, a former banker and media executive who runs a new Saudi advocacy group in Washington, sent an even stronger signal in October. In an article for the Hill, he wrote that Saudi Arabia and Israel should form a “collaborative alliance,” rooted in open business ties, to assert their rightful place as the “twin pillars of regional stability.” Arab critics skewered al-Ansari for not mentioning the Palestinians in the article. He says the omission was intentional, reflecting his wish to change the old narrative of conditioning everything on Palestinian statehood.
The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs published an article about how much Arab governments care about the US embassy move to Jerusalem. This part was most interesting:
We recently received from Palestinian sources, a report about what happened in a meeting between Abbas and King Salman at their December 21, 2016, meeting. According to this report, while the two were sitting in the king’s palace in Riyadh, a telephone call from President Sisi of Egypt was received to update the king that he had decided, while Mahmoud Abbas was in the king’s presence, to withdraw the Egyptian Security Council resolution against Israel. [It was submitted later by other Security Council members.] The King told Sisi, “Go ahead.” Abu Mazen said, “At least resist Trump’s decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem,” but Sisi said, according to the sources, “I am with Trump,” while the King of Saudi Arabia kept silent.

In fact, Saudi Arabia has reason to want Israel to continue to control Jerusalem:
Augmenting the importance of Jerusalem may play on the nerves of Saudi Arabia as well, especially since the Saudis are anxious to preserve the supreme holy status of Mecca on the background of the Shiite-Sunnite split and the targeting of Mecca by Shiite missiles from the Yemen.

Actually, Jerusalem is very important to the Palestinian Authority and the Muslim Brotherhood and is less important to other Arab countries and Saudi Arabia in particular, since the status of Mecca is now challenged by the Shia. The Saudis cannot tolerate a rivalry posed by Jerusalem.
Only a couple of weeks ago, Tzipi Livni openly met with Saudi Prince Turki al Faisal in Davos at the World Economic Conference:

Palestinian supporters are really upset. Electronic Intifada gave a great, mournful summary:
BDS Gulf, an activist group that supports the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign, said the meeting in Davos was part of “repeated and escalating violations” of the boycott of Israel.“What compounds our concern and dismay is that this violation is not the first of its kind by Turki al-Faisal and others, but is part of a series of flirtations between the prince and Zionist officials,” BDS Gulf added.Turki al-Faisal has been leading a rapprochement between Israel and Saudi Arabia rooted in their common hostility toward Iran. This warming embrace included a high-level delegation to Israel led last summer by former Saudi general Anwar Eskhi.Last February, al-Faisal publicly shook hands with Israel’s then-defense minister Moshe Yaalon at a conference in Germany.In May, al-Faisal held a public discussion with former Israeli national security advisor Yaakov Amidror at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank affiliated with the Israel lobby group AIPAC.Previously, al-Faisal has appeared publicly with Amos Yadlin, the former head of Israeli military intelligence.recent report by one of Israel’s most influential think tanks – headed by Yadlin – noted the growing ties with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf regimes as one of the positive regional trends for Israel.
While they whine, they know the truth: Israel has a lot to offer Saudi Arabia and the other Arab countries, and "Palestine" has nothing at all positive to offer. Instead, it would be another avenue for the Muslim Brotherhood, via Hamas, to get a toehold in the region.

It seems certain that behind the scenes, Gulf countries are telling Abbas that if he doesn't accept a peace plan then he will risk losing Arab support altogether.

(h/t Zvi)

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