Will Saudi Arabia recognise Israel?


It is quite painful to see leading Muslim countries at the loggerheads these days. Muslim world has already been witnessing divisions and tumultuous times. The Israeli factor has just added fuel to the fire


Ansar M Bhatti

ISLAMABAD: Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reported visit to Saudi Arabia on November 22, 2020 and before that UAE and Bahrain’s recognition of Israel has led to many controversies. A new debate is on whether leading Muslim countries such as Pakistan and Indonesia will also recognize Israel or not. But before we discuss Pakistan, Indonesian or for that matter other Muslim countries reaction, let us try to understand as to what led the UAE and other countries to give outright recognition to Israel and thus invite ire from most of the Muslim countries albeit it appears to be purely an internal matter of the states seeking normalisation of relations with Israel or so is the stance of such countries.

We have to keep in mind that UAE-Israel interactions at various forums are not something new. As reports suggest, there are a number of people of Israeli origin living in the UAE for long time. Most of them have been actively engaged in business activities. Similarly, both countries, according to available data, have been cooperating with each other in the security domain also. The COVID 19 hit the UAE economy hard. Dubai especially suffered a lot as it had to undergo severe economic crunch because of the pandemic that restricted tourists to come to Dubai. UAE’s Israel initiative, it is believed, is likely to prop up otherwise the sagging and sinking economy of the Gulf state.

As regards Saudi Arabia, Riyadh appears to be very much on board and may be ready to normalize ties with Israel however it has not done so owing to certain factors. The Saudi leadership perhaps is waiting for any other big Muslim country such as Pakistan or Indonesia to first recognize Israel. If these two countries do so then Saudis can do it rather easily. Nevertheless, both Pakistan and Indonesia have categorically ruled out any such possibility. And that may be a major factor that has led to straining of Pakistan-Saudi Arabia relations.

Saudi Arabia is more concerned about its security for which it needs support and protection no matter where it comes from. The major threat, from Saudi perspective, stems from Iran. Well placed sources reveal that another factor that has contributed towards severing of Pakistan, Saudi ties happens to be the Iran factor. There is a view in Saudi Arabia that Pakistan, for past few years, has offered a number of incentives to Iran while completely disregarding its long-standing relations with the Kingdom- a view which, has been shelved by Islamabad many a time.

Israel ostensibly turns out be the major beneficiary in the whole exercise for it will have now the opportunity of strengthening its foothold in the Gulf region. This arrangement will allow Israel to keep an eye on Iran and Pakistan as well. Israelis are well known for one thing- you give them room for standing, they will make room for sitting themselves. And once they sit, it is next to impossible to dislodge them. Therefore after few years it is very much likely that people having Israeli origin may occupy key positions within the governments of countries they will be living in. This starch reality has to be kept in consideration while giving the Israelis recognition and space.

All said and done, it is quite painful to see leading Muslim countries at the loggerheads these days. Muslim world has already been witnessing divisions and tumultuous times. The Israeli factor has just added fuel to the fire. There seems no one who could do its part to cobble together this fractured relationship. The OIC seems to be the key victim of this wheeling and dealing. On 21 August 1969 a fire was started in the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Amin al-Husseini, the former Mufti of Jerusalem, called the arson a “Jewish crime” and called for all Muslim heads of states to convene a summit and thus OIC came into being. The OIC, therefore, after these recognitions will certainly lose its relevance.

Endnote: A top UAE diplomat who is quite familiar in Pakistan as well likely to be named as the first UAE Ambassador to Israel.