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Israel–Saudi Arabia relations

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Israel–Saudi Arabia relations
Map indicating locations of Israel and Saudi Arabia


Saudi Arabia

Israel and Saudi Arabia do not have any official diplomatic relations. However, news reports have surfaced indicating extensive behind-the-scenes diplomatic and intelligence cooperation between the countries, in pursuit of mutual goals against regional enemy Iran and recently, Turkey.[1][2] At the same time, the Saudi relationship with the Palestinian National Authority and Mahmoud Abbas is deteriorating.[3]


According to Haaretz, there are regular meetings between Saudi and Israeli officers in the joint war room where Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United States coordinate.[4][vague][clarification needed]

In August 2016, some journalists in Saudi Arabia reported that Saudi Arabia had started shifting their tone towards Israel and had started to criticize anti-Semitism in Arab countries. Some sections of the Israeli media described it as an apparent media campaign by the country to shape a positive public opinion for deepening of ties between the two nations.[5]


Saudi Arabia does not have official diplomatic relations with Israel. In 2005, Saudi Arabia announced the end of its ban on Israeli goods and services, due to its application to the World Trade Organization, where one member country cannot have a total ban on another. However, as of August 2006, the Saudi boycott was not cancelled.[6][7]

According to a May 2015 article by The Times of Israel, the London-based Arab paper Rai al-Youm reported that Israel had offered to provide Saudi Arabia with Iron Dome technology against rockets from bordering Yemen. The proposal was reportedly sent via American diplomats during a meeting in Amman, Jordan, and subsequently refused. Official sources have not confirmed the report.[8]

On 23 July 2016, a retired Saudi general visited Israel, heading a delegation of academics and businessmen seeking to encourage relations. MK Issawi Frej stated that Saudis wanted to open up to Israel and that it was a strategic move for them. He further stated that they wanted to continue what former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat started (with the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty).[9]


After Egypt agreed to the transferring the Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia in April 2016, the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia said that his country would honor the terms of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty regarding the islands however they will have no direct contact with Israel over the matter.[10] The Israeli government did not signal any opposition to the deal. Tzachi Hanegbi who heads the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee said that the deal does not threaten Israel and welcomed it as a closing of ranks by Sunni Arab states that share Israel's hostility to Iran, Hezbollah and the Islamist extremist insurgents racking the region.[11] Israel's Defence Minister said on 12 April that Saudi Arabia had given it written assurances over freedom of passages in Tiran Straits.[12]

Arab–Israeli conflict

A charter member of the Arab League, Saudi Arabia has supported Palestinian rights to sovereignty, and called for withdrawal from the West Bank and other territory occupied by Israel since 1967.[13] In 1947, Saudi Arabia was one of several Middle Eastern states that voted against in the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine. Saudi troops were sent to fight against Israel in the 1948 and 1973 wars.[14][15] The 1981 Israel operation Operation Opera, a preemptive strike on nuclear reactor purchased by Iraq from France in 1976, allegedly[by whom?] took place with the cooperation of Saudi Arabia, as the flight path was over Saudi territory.[citation needed]. In recent years[when?] Saudi Arabia has changed its viewpoint concerning the validity of negotiating with Israel[citation needed], which it previously refused[citation needed]. It calls for Israel's withdrawal from territory occupied in June 1967. In 2002 then-Crown Prince Abdullah extended a multilateral peace proposal based on withdrawal that would follow the borders of a two-state solution. At that time, Israel did not respond to the offer. In 2007 Saudi Arabia again officially supported a peaceful resolution of the Arab–Israeli conflict in which Israel was to concede to withdraw to the borders set in the two-state solutions, which generated more official negative reactions from Israeli authorities, citing the Oslo Accords and the Saudis' deviation from those accords. At this time, no demands were made of any other party other than of Israel.

Israeli–Palestinian conflict

Saudi Arabia played an active role in attempting to bring the Palestinians towards a self-governing condition which would permit negotiations with Israel.[citation needed] It has done so primarily by trying to mend the schism between Fatah and Hamas, most notably when King Abdullah invited the two factions to negotiations in Mecca resulting in the Mecca Agreement of 7 February 2007. The agreement soon failed, but Saudi Arabia has continued to support a national unity government for the Palestinians, and strongly opposed the war in Gaza in early 2009.

Camp David Accords

Saudi Arabia rejected the Camp David Accords, claiming that they would be unable to achieve a comprehensive political solution that would ensure Palestinian Arabs can all move to Israel and the division of Jerusalem. In response to Egypt "betraying" the Arab States and signing peace with Israel, Saudi Arabia, along with all the Arab States, broke diplomatic relations with and suspended aid to Egypt; the two countries renewed formal ties in 1987. Simultaneously Saudi Arabia and Israel initiated their early steps towards a secret dialogue.[16]

2014 Israel–Gaza conflict

During the 2014 Israel–Gaza conflict, Middle East Eye editor David Hearst wrote an article claiming that Saudi Arabia was supportive of Israel's actions in the conflict, and that officials from Mossad and the Saudi intelligence agencies met regularly.[17] The Saudi ambassador to the United Kingdom, Mohammed bin Nawwaf bin Abdulaziz, denied that the Saudi government was allied with Israel, describing Israel's actions against civilians in Gaza as "crimes against humanity" - however he did not deny that the two countries had contact, saying that "any dealings by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with Israel have been limited to attempts to bring about a plan for peace".[18]

Arab Spring

After the Arab Spring, Israel views the Saudi government as "guarantor of stability", according to the New York Times. In 2011, Israel approved a German sale of 200 Leopard tanks to Saudi Arabia.[19] The approval came from Uzi Arad, the national security advisor to Benjamin Netanyahu.[20]

Iran proxy conflict

The Times has reported that Saudi Arabia has tested the ability to stand down their air defenses to allow an Israeli strike on Iran to pass through their airspace.[21] Both nations have denied this.[22][23]

In spite of not having official diplomatic relations, they cooperate with each other by intelligence exchange, especially about Iran[citation needed]. In a meeting at the Washington office of the Council on Foreign Relations, Anwar Eshki, a retired major general in the Saudi armed forces and Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, discussed "their common interests in opposing Iran".[24]

In June 2017, former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon stated that “We and the Arabs, the same Arabs who organized in a coalition in the Six-Day War to try to destroy the Jewish state, today find themselves in the same boat with us … The Sunni Arab countries, apart from Qatar, are largely in the same boat with us since we all see a nuclear Iran as the number one threat against all of us,”.[25]

Leaked diplomatic cable

A diplomatic cable from Israel's foreign ministry to its overseas embassies instructed Israeli diplomats to back the Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen, and to back Saudi Arabia in the Iran–Saudi Arabia proxy conflict, as a way to exert pressure against Iran and Hezbollah, which are rivals of both Israel and Saudi Arabia. The cable was leaked to Israel's Channel 10 News in November 2017.[26][27]

Remarks by Israeli officials

On 19 November 2017, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said that Israel has had covert contacts with Saudi Arabia amid common concerns over Iran. This is the first public admission of cooperation between the two countries by a senior Israeli official.[28]

In November 2017, the Israel Defense Forces chief of general staff gave an exclusive interview to Saudi media. Lieutenant General Gadi Eizenkot confirmed Israel's willingness “to exchange experiences with moderate Arab countries and exchange intelligence to confront Iran” and noting that on certain matters, “there is complete agreement between us and Saudi Arabia.”[29]

In November 2018, Netanyahu publicly defended Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman in the wake of the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, stating "it is very important for the stability of the region and the world that Saudi Arabia remain stable", and privately urged the U.S. administration to maintain its strong security relationship with Saudi Arabia.[30]

In December 2018, the Wall Street Journal wrote that Ahmad Asiri, the general thought to be central in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, had also been central in the connections between Saudi Arabia and Israel. He had visited Israel several times, being the highest placed Saudi official to do so.[31][32][33]


The General Authority of Civil Aviation forbids aircraft traveling to Israel from overflying Saudi airspace, but an exception was made for Air India from March 22, 2018 when they launched a flight from Delhi to Tel Aviv that would normally not fly over Saudi airspace.[34]

On September 2, 2020, Saudi Arabia announced that flights to the United Arab Emirates "from all countries" would be allowed to use Saudi airspace. This was in response to the normalization of Israel–UAE relations and the launch of direct flights between the two nations in August 2020.[35]

Coalition against Turkey

In August 2020, Mossad's chief Yossi Cohen, on his statement to the Saudi, Egyptian and Emirati counterparts, had openly named Turkey as a new threat for the peace of the region, and even further single out a number of allies Turkey would gain potential support like Azerbaijan and Qatar, the former has strong relations with Israel since 1990s.[36] Both Saudi Arabia, Israel, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have viewed Turkish expansionism under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan represent a new danger for the Middle East since 2018, due to ongoing conflicts with Turkey in Syria, Iraq, Sudan and Libya, with Saudi expert Saud al-Sarhan viewing it as mirroring the Ottoman pan-Islamist policies in World War I.[37]

During the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Israel supported Azerbaijan, an ally of both Turkey and Saudi Arabia, against Armenia; but after the Turkish leader blamed Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for inflaming the conflict in Caucasus, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz accused Turkey of terrorism and destabilization.[38] Saudi Arabian Head of Commercial Chamber Ajlan al-Ajlan called for anti-Turkish boycott after President Erdoğan's perceived anti-Saudi remarks.[38]

See also


  1. ^ Greg Myre (25 September 2006). "Olmert reportedly held secret meeting with king of Saudi Arabia". International Herald Tribune. Retrieved 6 January 2014.
  2. ^ Yasser Okbi; Maariv Hashavua (5 January 2016). "IDF officer to Saudi paper: Israel has 'common language' with moderate Arab states". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 5 January 2016.
  3. ^ "Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian Authority – Ties Are Fraying". Jerusalem Center For Public Affairs. 14 November 2016. Retrieved 14 November 2016.
  4. ^ "Direct From Tel Aviv to Mecca? Israel Tries to Arrange Hajj Flights for Muslim Pilgrims". 14 July 2017 – via Haaretz.
  5. ^ "Some in Saudi media criticize anti-Semitism, warm up to Israel". The Times of Israel. 12 August 2016. Retrieved 1 July 2017.
  6. ^ ELI LAKE (21 June 2006). "Saudi Ambassador Says Trade Boycott of Israel Will Not End". New York Sun.
  7. ^ "Arab League Boycott of Israel" (PDF). (42.1 KB) CRS Report for Congress by Martin A. Weiss. Order Code RS22424. 19 April 2006
  8. ^ "Saudi Arabia 'rejects Israeli offer to supply Iron Dome'". The Times of Israel.
  9. ^ "Former Saudi general visits Jerusalem, meets Israeli officials". The Times of Israel. 23 July 2016. Retrieved 23 July 2016.
  10. ^ Stuart Winer (11 April 2016). "Saudis pledge to honor Israel peace terms for islands given by Egypt". The Times of Israel. Retrieved 12 April 2016.
  11. ^ Dan Williams (12 April 2016). "Israel signals no opposition to Egypt's return of islands to Saudi Arabia". Reuters. Retrieved 12 April 2016.
  12. ^ Gili Cohen (12 April 2016). "Israel: Saudi Arabia gave written assurances over freedom of passage in Tiran Straits". Haaretz. Retrieved 16 April 2016.
  13. ^ Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Ministry of Foreign Affairs. "Kingdom Stance on Palestinian Issue". Retrieved 9 May 2017.
  14. ^ Uthman Hasan Salih. DAWR AL-MAMLAKA AL-'ARABIYYA AL-SA'UDIYYA FI HARB FILASTIN 1367H/1948 (The role of Saudi Arabia in the Palestine war of 1948), Revue d'Histoire Maghrébine [Tunisia] 1986 13(43–44): 201–21. ISSN 0330-8987.
  15. ^ Edgar O'Ballance (1979). No Victor, No Vanquished: The Yom Kippur War (1979 ed.). Barrie & Jenkins Publishing. pp. 28–370. ISBN 978-0214206702.
  16. ^ Bligh, Alexander. 1985. “Towards Israel-Saudi co-existence?” Jerusalem Quarterly, no. 35, 24 - 35.
  17. ^ Hearst, David (20 July 2014). "Saudi Israeli alliance forged in blood". Middle East Eye. Retrieved 26 July 2014.
  18. ^ Mohammed bin Nawwaf bin Abdulaziz (26 July 2014). "Saudi Ambassador responds to David Hearst" (Press release). Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the United Kingdom. Retrieved 26 July 2014.
  19. ^ "German Leader Criticized for Report of Tank Deal". New York Times. 6 July 2011.
  20. ^ "Tank Exports to Saudi Arabia Signal German Policy Shift". Der Spiegel.
  21. ^ "Saudi Arabia gives Israel clear skies to attack Iranian nuclear sites". The Times. 12 June 2010.
  22. ^ "Israel denies Saudis gave IDF airspace clearance for Iran strike". Haaretz. 1 January 2009.
  23. ^ "Saudi denies Israel airspace deal against Iran". 14 June 2010.
  24. ^ Snager, David E. (4 June 2015). "Saudi Arabia and Israel Share a Common Opposition".
  25. ^ JNi.Media. "Ya'alon: No More Arab Coalition Against Us, Also Containment Is VictoryThe Jewish Press - JNi.Media - 11 Sivan 5777 – 5 June 2017 - JewishPress.com". www.jewishpress.com. Retrieved 9 June 2017.
  26. ^ Ravid, Barak (7 November 2017). "The Iranian Threat: Israel aligns itself with Saudi Arabia against the involvement of Tehran and Hezbollah in Lebanon". Nana 10. Archived from the original on 17 November 2017. Retrieved 24 November 2017.
  27. ^ Jonathan Cook (10 November 2017). "Israel instructs diplomats to support Saudis: Cable". Al Jazeera.
  28. ^ "Meet the new friend of Israel: Saudi Arabia". theindependent.in. 20 November 2017.
  29. ^ "Israel and the Arab States". foreignaffairs.com. 26 January 2018.
  30. ^ "Netanyahu: Khashoggi killing was 'horrendous,' but Saudi stability is paramount". Times of Israel. 2 November 2018.
  31. ^ Covert Saudi Outreach to Israel Sputters After Journalist’s Murder, by Felicia Schwartz, Margherita Stancati and Summer Said, December 18, 2018, WSJ
  32. ^ Israeli-Saudi ties reportedly set back by fallout from Khashoggi killing, December 18, 2018, Times of Israel
  33. ^ Saudi outreach to Israel 'faces setbacks' after Khashoggi crisis, Al Jazeera
  34. ^ Varadhan, Sudarshan; Cornwell, Alexander (7 March 2018). Bigg, Matthew Mpoke (ed.). "Air India says gets Saudi's nod to fly from New Delhi to Tel Aviv over Saudi airspace". Reuters.
  35. ^ "Saudi Arabia says flights to, from UAE can fly over kingdom". Star Tribune. Retrieved 2 September 2020.
  36. ^ https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/loose-cannon-turkey-is-rattling-its-neighbours-72032kp0z
  37. ^ https://icsr.info/2019/05/23/erdogan-and-the-last-quest-for-the-greenmantle/
  38. ^ a b "Azerbaijan–Armenia war: Saudi Arabia calls for boycott of Turkish goods, Israel urges NATO action against Turkey". News24 English. 6 October 2020. Retrieved 7 October 2020.

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