Israeli official: Chances of breakthrough with Riyadh slim this year

The consensus is that an agreement on normalization would take at least several months.

By Ariel Kahana, Israel Hayom via JNS

Against the backdrop of renewed efforts by the Biden administration to normalize ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia, Israel Hayom‘s reporting indicates that a breakthrough in relations is unlikely to occur in the coming months and almost certainly not this year.

The conventional wisdom among Israeli policymakers is that the thaw in relations is only in its initial phase and that a full-fledged agreement on having the two sides normalize relations would take at least several months and perhaps even a year.

One of the main stumbling blocks in any breakthrough is the categoric objection Israel will likely raise to the Saudi request to get a green light from Washington for a civilian nuclear program. A diplomatic source told Israel Hayom that Jerusalem has long opposed the idea of any other Middle Eastern actor having nuclear capabilities. Riyadh has recently included this request as part of its conditions that have to be met before it moves to normalize ties with Israel.

Officials in Jerusalem have stressed that regardless of Israel’s stance, the chances of a breakthrough hinge more on President Joe Biden’s willingness to pivot away from his current policy towards the kingdom, which has seen relations reach a low point.

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The U.S. has so far refused to change its posture towards the de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, whom Biden has accused of being behind the assassination of American resident and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi.

Israeli policymakers hope that even without a diplomatic opening with Saudi Arabia, the kingdom will continue with its balancing act: Having recently agreed to let China broker a rapprochement agreement with Iran, Riyadh might decide to bolster its relations with Washington in order to maintain its good standing with the other major world power.