Saudi Arabia should make peace with Israel now - opinion

If MBS would make peace with Israel now, he would lock in support and deep gratitude from these two vocal and influential constituencies.

SAUDI ARABIA’S Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh in December 2019. (photo credit: BANDAR ALGALOUD/REUTERS)
SAUDI ARABIA’S Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh in December 2019.
I spent the weekend reading Ben Hubbard’s book, MBS, about Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Hubbard, who is the New York Times Beirut bureau chief, paints both a flattering and damning portrait.
Flattering, because it’s clear that MBS is a visionary who has had the courage to take on the kingdom’s Wahhabite religious fanatics who basically controlled the kingdom since 1979. The liberal reforms the prince is making are extraordinary, with women driving, movie theaters open, concert venues showing operas, and Saudi Arabia slowly opening to the West.
Damning, because Hubbard alleges that MBS has not improved, and indeed may have worsened, Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, with Jamal Khashoggi – whom Hubbard exposes as having been largely run by a Qatari operative – being the prime example of shocking political murder.
The net portrayal of MBS in Hubbard’s book? Flawed visionary who might just succeed in dragging Saudi Arabia, kicking and screaming, into the modern world and saving its economy from being based on the diminishing returns of fossil fuels.
But the most interesting part of the biography as it pertains to the Middle East is Hubbard’s portrayal of MBS as someone with zero animus toward Israel. Indeed, Hubbard confirms that MBS sees in Israel not just a country that poses no threat but a country that is technologically, economically and militarily a great potential ally.
This should be welcome news to the American Jewish community, which should welcome the prince’s outreach to Israel and do everything in its power to encourage the prince to make peace with Israel before US President Donald Trump leaves office.
I recognize that MBS may wish to wait for a new administration and use a potential peace treaty with Israel as leverage for other Saudi needs. But this would be a mistake.
Trump’s coalition consists of two key demographics that are vital to America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia: pro-Israel Jews and Evangelical Christians. Both groups wield enormous political influence and, should Saudi Arabia normalize relations with Israel, would go to bat for Saudi Arabia politically in the US.
The same is not true of many of President-elect Joe Biden’s core constituents, for whom Israel is – falsely of course – a human-rights-abusing occupier. And while this is not true for Biden himself – he has always been, with the exception of his lobbying for Obama’s Iran deal, a great friend of the Jewish state – it is certainly true for so many of those around him, like the odious Ben Rhodes and Susan Rice.
If MBS would make peace with Israel now, instead of having it become a negotiation that goes on for years, he would lock in support and deep gratitude from these two vocal and influential constituencies.
And make no mistake. Saudi Arabia, and not the Palestinians, is the whole ball game.
Not only is Saudi Arabia the richest and most influential Arab country, it is quite literally the epicenter of Islam and the focus of world Islamic pilgrimage. In one sweep, peace with Israel would have Muslims around the world thinking differently of Israel, even as extremists who hate Saudi Arabia and want to see it toppled would dig in their heals, thereby exposing just how far out of the mainstream they are.
In Israel, Saudi Arabia would gain a valuable ally against its existential enemy Iran, which has its sights fully fixed on the kingdom.
And make no mistake. Saudi Arabia faces a far greater threat from Iran than even Israel does.
To be sure, antisemitic and genocidal Iran, with its illegal and secret nuclear program, is a direct threat to Israel’s existence. If it could, Iran would murder every Jew on earth, especially the six million congregated in Israel, as it repeatedly threatens. But it also knows that if it ever were to drop a bomb on Israel, God forbid, it would face massive retaliation that would wipe it off the face of the earth. So any nuclear attack on Israel – which could kill millions of Jews – would be the end of Iran.
Not so, Saudi Arabia. With the Saudis the Iranians would not drop nuclear bombs. They would simply invade in order to take control of the oil fields and rescue their cratering economy. Saudi Arabia does not have an army strong enough to repel Iran. And unlike Israel, it does not have nuclear weapons that could be employed in a retaliatory strike, should the Iranians go nuclear. It would therefore have to rely on the United States, or an American-led coalition, to evict Iran, like the one president George H.W. Bush put together to evict the Iraqis from Kuwait.
There is scant American stomach for such an action, and, no doubt, MBS is well aware of that.
But in a peace treaty with Israel, he would cement an economic, diplomatic and military alliance with the Middle East’s strongest nation, whose air force alone could decimate much of Iran’s critical air defenses and infrastructure.
I am not suggesting that Israel would fight Saudi Arabia’s battles. I am suggesting that with a peace treaty between Israel and Saudi Arabia, the mullahs in Iran would be well aware that they were now ringed by allies acting in concert to stop their aggression and their undisguised attempt at Middle East hegemony. They would think twice before embarking on any kind of military adventurism.
Would Biden come to Saudi Arabia’s rescue? Now that America is the world’s foremost producer of oil, it’s much more doubtful.
But a Saudi Arabia that has made peace with Israel would have two boisterous political friends: Evangelical Christians and the pro-Israel Jews.
It shows you how far our world has come that we’re discussing American Jews, rather than American Muslims, potentially advocating for Saudi Arabia.
Just a few years ago, Saudi Arabia was the center of extremist Wahhabite ideology that was exporting its fanatical dogma to the rest of the world, with hundreds of millions funding madrassas and indoctrinating Muslim youth.
Now, MBS, who purchased Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi, is leading a cultural revolution in Saudi Arabia that is purging it of its soul-destroying censorship and is reaching out to the West. Last week he played host to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And if that isn’t revolutionary, nothing is.
In November 2017, when “the last Leonardo” was being auctioned by Sotheby’s in New York City, I happened to have walked past the auction house when it was open to spectators to see the Leonardo, and I, who love everything Leonardo and who attended the 500th anniversary exhibition in the Louvre in Paris last winter, could have walked in and seen it. I thought I’d go the next day, not realizing the auction was set for the next afternoon. That was it. Never got to see it.
So I, and no doubt so many other Leonardo enthusiasts, would welcome a trip to Saudi Arabia, having newly made peace with the ancient Jewish homeland and ushered in a new era of Middle Eastern understanding, to see glorious art, beautiful Arab culture and proof of the eternal brotherhood of all of God’s children.
The writer, “America’s Rabbi,” whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous rabbi in America,” author of The Israel Warrior, is the international best-selling author of 33 books. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @RabbiShmuley.