Iranian president says Israel-Saudi ties would be ‘stab in the back’ to Palestinians

After Saudi crown prince says deal getting closer ‘every day,’ Raisi says normalization will not ‘bring security for the Zionist regime’

President of Iran Ebrahim Raisi holds a news conference in New York, September 20, 2023. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
President of Iran Ebrahim Raisi holds a news conference in New York, September 20, 2023. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on Wednesday accused regional rival Saudi Arabia of betraying the Palestinians by discussing the normalization of relations with Israel.

“The initiation of a relationship between the Zionist regime and any country in the region, if it is with the aim to bring security for the Zionist regime, will certainly not do so,” Raisi told a news conference as he attended the UN General Assembly in New York.

“We believe that a relationship between regional countries and the Zionist regime would be a stab in the back of the Palestinian people and of the resistance of the Palestinians,” he said.

Raisi also warned against an Israel-Saudi normalization deal on Monday, saying, “The normalization of relations with the Zionist regime does not create security.”

The US has been looking to broker a normalization deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel, a goal long sought by Jerusalem that could have a dramatic impact in the Middle East. Israel has already normalized relations with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, Egypt and Jordan.

Saudi Arabia and Israel have bonded in part over shared hostility to Iran’s clerical state, although Riyadh has moved to ease tensions with Tehran through talks brokered by China.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said Wednesday that “every day we get closer” to Saudi Arabia normalizing ties with Israel, while clarifying that the Palestinian issue is still a “very important” component of the process.

The comments represented rare public remarks in English by bin Salman regarding the normalization effort, offering an additional degree of optimism regarding its chances, hours after US President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed the issue during a meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Bin Salman, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia known colloquially as MBS, made the comments during an interview with Fox News.

The crown prince has long been seen as less hostile to Israel than his father King Salman, telling The Atlantic last year, “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.”

“But we have to solve some issues before we get to that,” he clarified, apparently referring to the Palestinians.

The US has long maintained that moves to advance a two-state solution are essential for a deal to succeed since the concessions will be needed to placate criticism of Saudi Arabia in the Muslim and Arab world, and in order to convince enough progressive Democrats in the Senate to forgo their reservations about Riyadh’s human rights record in order to back the agreement.

Netanyahu has long chafed at making concessions to the Palestinians and is now limited by a hardline coalition that overwhelmingly opposes a two-state solution.

In exchange for normalizing ties with Israel, Saudi Arabia is asking for a major defense pact with the US, significant arms deals, and US cooperation in establishing a civilian nuclear program on Saudi soil. Washington is looking for Riyadh to pare down its economic and military dealings with China and Russia.

AFP contributed to this report.

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