Despite reports, Saudis not about to sell oil to Israel

Several Israeli and Arab media outlets quoted Riyadh’s oil minister purportedly considering exports to the ‘Jewish state.’ But the stories were likely based on a hoax

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Illustrative photo of a Saudi Arabian oil facility. (Shutterstock images)
Illustrative photo of a Saudi Arabian oil facility. (Shutterstock images)

Saudi Arabia is most likely not willing to start selling oil to Israel, despite various news reports to that effect in the Israeli and Arab media this week.

Quoting the Kuwaiti news agency KUNA, several news outlets reported that Riyadh’s oil minister Ali Bin Ibrahim al-Naimi raised the prospect of exports to Israel during a conference of the Organization of Oil Exporting Countries last week in Vienna.

“We do not hold a grudge against any nation and our leaders promote peace, religious tolerance and co-existence,” many papers quoted al-Naimi as saying. “His Majesty King Abdullah has always been a model for good relations between Saudi Arabia and other states — and the Jewish state is no exception.”

This statement was quoted in many Israeli and international news outlets, including TheMarker, Israel Hayom, The Jewish Press and i24News.

Many Arabic news sites also carried the statement, quoting Israeli reports citing KUNA.

The reports are most likely based on a hoax. A thorough online search found no such story on the website of KUNA, the Kuwaiti news agency.

It seems that the apparently false news reports are all based on an article on an obscure website, which seems to regularly fabricate reports on Israel and the Muslim world.

A report on AWD News, which was likely the genesis of the apparent hoax, stated that al-Naimi, the Saudi oil minister, “told reporters that his country is after gaining money in the oil lucrative market and even if Israel intends to purchase oil Riyadh will supply Jewish State with abundant reserves, KUNA News Agency reported.” The article goes on to ostensibly quote al-Naimi, saying in the Saudi king’s name, that Riyadh “always emphasized on good mutual relations between Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and all countries and Jewish nation is not an exception.”

Dr. Joseph Mann, an expert on Saudi Arabia and the Middle East oil industry, said he was surprised when he read about al-Naimi’s supposed willingness to do business with Israel in the press this week.

“It’s sounds odd. He would have to get authorization from the king before saying such a thing. He’s smart enough to know not to say something like that,” he told The Times of Israel on Thursday.

Last week’s OPEC conference in Vienna, during which al-Naimi was supposed to have made the comments about “the Jewish state,” was one of the most important meetings for the oil industry in a decade, Mann said. “It’s unlikely that they had time to discuss trade with Israel.”

Furthermore, the reports quote al-Naimi as having made his statement on Sunday, November 30, at the sidelines of the OPEC conference. But the event, which received much international press coverage, had ended three days earlier.

The Foreign Ministry declined to comment but an Israeli official intimated the report was likely a fabrication.

The purported use by a Saudi minister of the terms “Jewish state” and “Jewish nation” to describe Israel also rather undermined the report’s credibility.

The Dubai-based AWD News regularly publishes reports that stretch the bounds of plausibility, including quirky conspiracy theories and news stories that sometimes have little in common with reality.

If the story is a hoax, this would not be the first time the site, whose acronym stands for Another Western Dawn, has managed to fool the media on a story about Saudi-Israel relations.

On August 21, during Israel’s military campaign against Gaza-based Hamas and other terror groups, AWD published a report quoting the Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal as saying that Arab states should rethink their hostility toward Israel.

“All Arabs must learn that futile and endless resistance against omnipotent and mighty IDF will only bring havoc, destruction and loss of lives for themselves… Hamas and Islamic Jihad are responsible for the catastrophe inflicted on Gaza. Therefore, I believe we must start to ponder over usefulness of animosity toward democratic Israeli government,” he was quoted saying.

 Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal gives a press conference in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, on October 13, 2014.  (photo credit: AP Photo/SPA)
Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, October 13, 2014. (photo credit: AP Photo/SPA)

While plainly fabricated, al-Faisal’s ostensible comments were widely reported in the Israeli press as fact. Even then-finance minister Yair Lapid appeared to have believed the report. During a speech in September, he quoted the Saudi minister’s purported statement as fact.

On September 6, AWD News published an ostensible interview with Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the country’s current defense minister and deputy prime minister, in which he also allegedly made some improbable statements.

The prince was first quoted as offering his “condolences to all victims of this war, Palestinians and Israelis alike.” He then ostensibly went on to lash out at Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal for his opulent lifestyle in Qatar, and lament that Israel did not finish its job in Gaza.

“One year ago, we could topple the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt with the help of Egyptian patriots and we hoped Israelis could emancipate Gazans from the rule of Hamas and its dark reign, but due to huge pressures exerted by the so-called human rights organizations , IDF’s objectives were not fulfilled,” he was quoted saying.

This report, too was evidently false.

All this having been said, Saudi Arabia was, however, less vocal in condemning Israel over this summer’s Operation Protective Edge than during past such conflicts. Jerusalem and Riyadh have numerous mutual interests and it is widely assumed that the two countries cooperate on a wide range of issues, including the exchange of intelligence, though not oil.

“The Saudis are pragmatists, and in recent years they have found that better ties with Israel can be beneficial to them,” Mann, the Bar-Ilan expert, told The Times of Israel.

With Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah and Islamic State, the two countries have several enemies in common. “However, they will never acknowledge any ties with Israel publicly, in order not to endanger their own regime’s stability.”

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