Saudi Arabia-Israel normalization deal estimated within one year

Confronted with the assertions, the Foreign Ministry had no official comment.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/REUTERS)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman
There are expectations among some of Israel’s highest echelons that there will be normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia by the end of 2021, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
There is high confidence among some that normalization will not come before the Trump administration exits nor in the early stages of the Biden administration, but certain trends will have some momentum within 12 months.
The assertions come following a series of sometimes complementary and sometimes seemingly contradictory statements by top Israeli officials in recent months as the normalization trend lurched forward.
Confronted with the assertions, the Foreign Ministry had no official comment.
Last week, Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen said a deal could come with the Saudis in the next few years but not before January 20; nor did he publicly specify that it would come by the end of 2021.
This came following Cohen’s statement on November 2 that a deal with the Saudis could be close, though he qualified his prediction in light of uncertainty at the time as to who would win the US election and future Iran policy.
On November 23, it was widely reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had recently met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) as part of a joint visit to the key Sunni country along with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
A flood of confirmations and denials – Netanyahu himself publicly refused to comment – appeared to indicate that the visit had happened and was viewed as a sign of relations moving forward, but it was supposed to have been kept secret.
Incidentally, the Post has learned before that MBS has previously secretly visited Israel.
On October 25, Channel 12 reported that Mossad Director Yossi Cohen had privately said to those around him that the Saudis were waiting until after the US election, but they could potentially announce normalization as a “gift” to the winner.
The implication from the report was that such an announcement could even come almost immediately after the election.
However, it was reported in these pages later on October 25 that the Channel 12 report either misunderstood or did not fully flesh out what the Mossad director had said. In actuality, Cohen’s comments in closed conversations in October had been more nuanced.
Speaking a week before the US election, the Post learned that the spymaster had said if US
President Donald Trump won, there could be an almost immediate announcement.
While the polls correctly predicted a [now President-Elect Joe] Biden election win, although the Saudis would still want a normalization deal with Israel, there would not necessarily be a clear timeline.
Cohen had emphasized that the Saudis did not want to give a gift to Trump and then get nothing for it upon a Biden administration taking over the reins.
Rather, Cohen understood then that a Biden administration may want to link normalization with the Saudis to progress in negotiations with the Palestinians.
This was the opposite tactic of the Trump administration. It tried to pressure the Palestinians to show flexibility in negotiations with Israel by moving forward with normalization deals without them.
What is interesting about the latest information mentioned here is that now, almost two months after the US election, there is once again higher confidence that there will be a deal with the Saudis by the end of 2021.
Before US Election Day on November 3 there was far more uncertainty from both Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen and Mossad Director Yossi Cohen about how the Saudis would conduct themselves with Biden. But now there are top officials who are indicating greater confidence about the issue.
Though some of this impression could arise from informal signals sent between Israeli officials and Biden transition figures, some of the confidence may come from a renewed understanding of the Saudis’ intentions regardless of how they are treated by the incoming administration.
Mossad chief Cohen first suggested the possibility of official ties with the Saudis in a rare on-record interview with Channel 12 in mid-September, and he has been secretly visiting there for years.
Former IDF chief of staff Lt.-Gen. (ret.) Gadi Eisenkot in 2017 publicly announced that Israel was sharing intelligence with the Saudis as the countries grew closer.