Apr 14, 2022 - World

Israel hopes U.S. will mend ties with Saudi Arabia, ambassador says

Mohammed bin Salman in 2019. Photo: Charly Triballeau/AFP via Getty

Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Herzog said Thursday that it would be "very important for our region" if the U.S. and Saudi Arabia were to "fix" their relationship.

Why it matters: U.S.-Saudi relations have been rocky since the election of President Biden, who promised on the campaign trail to make the Kingdom a "pariah," and later released an intelligence report directly blaming Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

  • The Saudis have recently rebuffed U.S. requests to increase their oil output, opting instead to stick to a production pact reached with Russia.
  • The Israeli government is concerned that the tensions between the Biden administration and Saudi Arabia will push the Saudis towards Russia and China and lead to less U.S. engagement in the Gulf, which could embolden Iran.

Between the lines: Israel and Saudi Arabia have has a secret relationship for many years, handled through their intelligence agencies. One of their main shared interests is countering Iran.

What he's saying: "Saudi Arabia is a hugely important actor in our part of the world and in the Islamic world as a whole," Herzog said. "Strategically speaking, and I'm not ignoring all the difficulties, I think that is very important for our region" that relations improve.

  • Speaking at a breakfast briefing hosted by Al-Monitor, Herzog added that mending relations with Riyadh would be particularly crucial if the U.S. plans to restore the Iran nuclear deal, which Israel and Saudi Arabia both oppose.
  • Herzog also said Israel hopes Saudi Arabia will join other Gulf countries in growing the Abraham Accords and normalizing relations with Israel, but said that will be difficult if the U.S. and Saudi Arabia haven't restored their relationship first.
  • He did not address a question from Axios as to whether he has personally lobbied U.S. officials on this issue.

State of play: The Biden administration has been walking a tightrope, engaging with Saudi officials on security and energy issues while keeping the crown prince himself at arms' length.

The other side: 30 House Democrats — including Reps. Gregory Meeks and Adam Schiff — chairs of the Foreign Affairs and Intelligence Committees, respectively — wrote to Secretary of State Tony Blinken on Wednesday urging him to "recalibrate" the relationship.

  • "Our continued unqualified support for the Saudi monarchy, which systematically, ruthlessly represses its own citizens, targets critics all over the world, carries out a brutal war in Yemen, and bolsters authoritarian regimes throughout the Middle East and North Africa, runs counter to U.S. national interests and damages the credibility of the United States to uphold our values," they wrote.
  • While America's "genuine" allies stood by its side in condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine, they argued, Saudi Arabia was refusing to condemn Russia or to produce more oil.
  • "The United States can continue our status-quo of seemingly unconditional support for an autocratic partner, or we can stand for human rights and rebalance our relationship to reflect our values and interests," the authors concluded.

Flashback: Israel declined to criticize MBS over the Khashoggi assassination under then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and lobbied the Trump administration and Congress not to sanction the Saudis.

Worth noting: MBS has shown openness to a diplomatic deal with Israel but his father King Salman, who is a strong supporter of Palestinians, is believed to be blocking the move.

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