Despite Israel having no established diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia, the UAE or Bahrain (nor fellow GCC members Qatar, Oman and Kuwait), informal ones have deepened over the past decade through business, military, security and intelligence relationships. This is motivated not only by Israel’s desire to bolster relations with Arab states in the absence of an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement, but also by a shared hostility to an increasingly assertive and regionally influential Iran.
Israeli-Saudi relations further grew following the election of President Donald Trump and the rise of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. Bin Salman’s ‘Vision 2030’ offered opportunities for regional cooperation including Israel, Egypt and Jordan; US efforts under Trump to “deliver” Palestinian acquiescence appeared to depend on the Saudis; and the IDF’s Chief of Staff called for cooperation with Saudi Arabia and other “moderate” Arab states against Iran. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has described Israel’s “below the horizon” relations with Arab states as “unprecedented”. Such statements constitute a post-modern hybrid of public diplomacy, strategic messaging and psychological warfare.
However, Israel–GCC interests do diverge. Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital apparently proceeded without Saudi acquiescence. Undoubtedly concerned about damaging its Islamic religious and Pan-Arab legitimacy, and seeking to rebuke charges of being “Arab Zionists”, Riyadh publicly reaffirmed its commitment to East Jerusalem being the capital of a future Palestinian state. Such dynamics present a powerful constraint on the development of open relations between Israel, the Saudis and their allies.
This project aimed to provide a coherent, analytical account of these developments using public evidence and background information. Discussions and interviews with Israeli, Arab and western officials, journalists, businessmen and experts, along with private contacts, were conducted to clarify the nature of ties between Israel and the Gulf states (primarily Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain).
Ian Black | Principal Investigator
Ian is a Visiting Senior Fellow at the LSE Middle East Centre.