Jerusalem Post Editorial: Saudis and the ‘Jerusalem Post

Starting in the beginning of 2014, representatives from Israel and Saudi Arabia held a series of secret meetings to discuss their common foe, Iran.

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz (photo credit: REUTERS)
Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz
(photo credit: REUTERS)
 Once upon a time Saudi Arabia was a country that worked openly to bring about Israel’s destruction.
In 2003, Dore Gold, a former ambassador to the United Nations, wrote a book titled Hatred’s Kingdom about the Saudis’ role in financing terrorism – including Palestinian attacks against Israelis.
Since Israel’s founding in 1948, consecutive Saudi leaders have wished for and actively promoted efforts to destroy the Jewish state. To this day, the Saudis have not officially recognized Israel’s right to exist.
But it is an open secret that with the rise of Iranian influence in the region, Israel and Saudi Arabia have begun coordinating on strategic matters.
Early testimony to this new cooperation was provided by documents released by WikiLeaks in 2010. A March 19, 2009, cable quoted then-deputy director-general of the Foreign Ministry Yacov Hadas as saying that the Saudis saw in Israel a lobbying partner in Washington to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
“Gulf Arabs believe in Israel’s role because of their perception of Israel’s close relationship with the US but also due to their sense that they can count on Israel against Iran,” Hadas said in the cable.
In 2013 there were news reports of a covert contingency plan to attack Iran in which Saudi Arabia would allow Israel to use its airspace.
Starting in the beginning of 2014, representatives from Israel and Saudi Arabia held a series of secret meetings to discuss their common foe, Iran.
During a joint appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington in June 2015, Gold and Anwar Majed Eshki, a retired Saudi general and ex-adviser to Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the former Saudi ambassador to the US, spoke of their mutual concerns about Iran’s belligerence.
This past summer a Saudi delegation, headed by Eshki, met in Jerusalem with Gold, now director-general of the Foreign Ministry, a position he announced on Thursday he will be stepping down from.
In June, Israel approved a deal that gives Saudi Arabia the means to control entry to the Gulf of Aqaba and the port of Eilat. Responsibility for two small islands – Sanafir and Tiran – which were captured by Israel during the Six Day War and given to Egypt with the signing of the 1979 peace accord, was transferred from the Egyptians to the Saudis with Israeli and US consent.
Yet another, more prosaic, sign that relations between the two countries are not as strained as in the past is the willingness of the Saudi government to allow its population access to The Jerusalem Post online.
In recent months, tens of thousands of Saudis have visited the site, according to the Post’s Internet traffic data.
It is unclear when the kingdom stopped blocking JPost.
com. However, the Saudis did prevent access to the website in 2013, according to Ahmed Abdel-Raheem, an Egyptian artist and PhD student and lecturer at Al-Lith College for Girls at Saudi Arabia’s Um Al-Qura University.
“Over the past week I have tried to access the website of the newspaper the Jerusalem Post, but every time I click the link of the paper, I have received the message: ‘Sorry, the requested page is unavailable,’” Abdel-Raheem wrote on the conservative British website The Commentator.
It is unrealistic to expect an era of normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel. Decades of propaganda and incitement against Israel are not easy to erase.
Even today the Saudis demand Israel accept the 2002 Saudi Initiative, which calls for the creation of a Palestinian state on the land that fell into Israel’s hands in the Six Day War, as a condition for establishing formal diplomatic ties.
Still, the Saudis and other Sunni countries that are threatened by Iran’s aggression can no longer credibly argue that Israel, due to the conflict with the Palestinians, is the source of tension and turmoil in the region. Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen are all glaring examples of how ridiculous such a claim is.
At the same time, we must not underestimate the impact of even small gestures – such as the Saudi decision to permit Saudis to be exposed to balanced news coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other issues affecting the region. We call on additional countries in the region to follow suit.