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Israel reportedly to establish ties with Himalayan Bhutan

Saudi Arabia said to have played role in Israel-Morocco normalization agreement

Reports say Riyadh edging toward own deal with Israel and is pushing other Muslim countries to establish ties with Jerusalem; Indonesia, Oman tipped as likely candidates

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, right, meets with presidential adviser Jared Kushner in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, September 1, 2020. (Saudi Press Agency via AP)
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, right, meets with presidential adviser Jared Kushner in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, September 1, 2020. (Saudi Press Agency via AP)

Saudi Arabia played a role in the Trump-brokered normalization agreement between Israel and Morocco, diplomatic sources told Channel 12 on Friday.

The report did not detail the Saudi involvement in the US-brokered deal, announced Thursday, and Riyadh has not officially reacted to the accord. However, Saudi Arabia plays a central role in the region, particularly among Sunni states, leading many analysts to speculate that none of the recent normalization deals would have been allowed without a green-light from Saudi Arabia.

In a sign of Saudi support, a prominent newspaper associated with the Saudi royal family put the Israel-Morocco deal on its front page, Channel 12 also noted.

Unnamed Israeli diplomatic sources told the TV channel that it was “very possible” that Riyadh would also be prepared to normalize relations with Israel soon. This is despite Saudi Arabia reportedly being furious with Israel over the leak of a meeting that took place last month between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Saudi resort city of Neom.

A report on Channel 13 TV, meanwhile, said that Saudi Arabia was working together with the Trump administration to get several other nations to sign normalization agreements with Israel, possibly before the Biden administration takes over next month.

The unsourced report said that bin Salman was following the matter closely in an effort to prepare the ground for an eventual Israel-Saudi deal. The report speculated that Oman, which praised the Israel-Morocco deal, would be next.

It also said that Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, was eager to have public ties with Israel.

US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia John Abizaid, left, and Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan, second from left, greet Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his wife Susan as they arrive at Neom Bay Airport in Neom, Saudi Arabia, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool)

Without citing sources, Channel 13 said that while a full normalization agreement with Saudi Arabia is unlikely in the coming weeks, it might be possible to convince Riyadh to take smaller steps toward normalization. Following the UAE-Israel announcement in August, Saudia Arabia agreed to begin allowing Israeli flights to use its airspace.

Separately Friday, Israeli reporter Tal Schneider, citing diplomatic sources, tweeted that Israel and the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan are expected to announce the forging of official diplomatic relations next week.

Israel’s lack of relations with the tiny Buddhist nation is not linked to the conflict with the Palestinians, but rather a result of Bhutan’s isolationist policies. It currently has ties with just over 50 countries.

On Thursday, Trump announced via Twitter that Morocco had decided to normalize ties with Israel after the US agreed to recognize Rabat’s sovereignty over the disputed territory of Western Sahara. Morocco becomes the fourth country to take such a step in four months, following the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan.

Following the announcement, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner said that an Israel-Saudi agreement was inevitable and the only question was when.

“Israel and Saudi Arabia coming together and having full normalization at this point is an inevitability, but the timeframe… is something that has to be worked out,” Kushner told reporters in a briefing following Trump’s announcement of the fourth Arab-Israel agreement in four months.

Kushner added that an Israeli-Saudi agreement would require “strong US leadership in the region.”

“If you look at where we’ve come in last six months, the region has essentially gone from a solid to a liquid and it feels like there’s a lot more fluidity,” he said.

Moroccan King Mohammed VI waves to the crowd as he arrives for the opening session of the Moroccan Parliament in Rabat, on Friday, Oct. 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Abdeljalil Bounhar)

Also following the Moroccan announcement, a senior Israeli official told Kan news that an additional unnamed country could announce a normalization deal with Israel within days.

Meanwhile, an Israeli diplomatic source told Channel 12 that Jerusalem is in normalization talks with Muslim states in both Africa and Asia.

Neither report could be independently verified.

In September, Trump claimed anywhere between five and nine other countries were on the path to peace with Israel. Numerous Israeli officials have also repeatedly said a number of countries are holding clandestine talks on the possible normalization.

A Saudi agreement on normalization is seen as the big prize, given Riyadh’s elevated status in the region. While the countries have taken steps toward stronger ties in the past several months alone, many analysts speculate that the kingdom is not yet ready for such a dramatic move, particularly while current King Salman is still alive.

Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal al-Saudi speaking at the IISS Manama Dialogue, December 6, 2020 (screen shot IISS)

Saudi Arabia has insisted that any normalization between it and Israel can only happen alongside a lasting peace deal involving a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The kingdom publicly continues to state its unwavering support for the Arab Peace Initiative, a 2002 Saudi-sponsored deal that offers Israel full ties with all Arab states in return for Palestinian statehood on territory Israel captured in 1967.

At a conference in Bahrain last week, Prince Turki al-Faisal, the Saudi former intelligence chief who is said to be close to top leadership, gave voice to the strong support that the Palestinian cause still has in the region, with a fiery presentation.

He described the Jewish state as a belligerent and apartheid-practicing occupier, and said that peace will remain elusive until the creation of a Palestinian state along 1967 lines.

“Israeli governments have arrested thousands of the inhabitants of the lands they are colonizing and incarcerated them in concentration camps under the flimsiest of security accusations — young and old, women and men who are rotting there without recourse or justice,” al-Faisal said.

Saudi Arabia has yet to comment on the Morocco-Israeli normalization announcement.

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