Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince and Minister of Defense Mohammed bin Salman (right) meets with Secretary of Defense Ash Carter as Carter arrives in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia Apr. 19, 2016. Carter is visiting Saudi Arabia to help accelerate the lasting defeat of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and participate in the U.S. Gulf Cooperation Council defense meeting. (Photo by Senior Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz)(Released)
This is pretty impressive.
The combination of Barack Obama and Donald Trump has created a watershed of events in the Middle East that could not have been contemplated just a couple of years ago. Obama’s contribution was favoring Iranian imperialism and whatever random terror group he could find (see Libya, Egypt) as well as setting off a genocidal spate of ethnic cleansing in Syria that has demonstrated what America can do when it sets its mind to a task. This had the collective effect of scaring the bejeezus out of most of the Arab world as well as Israel. This fear began to foster dialog between Israel and Arabs where none had previously existed.
The incoming Trump administration brought with it numerous senior officials who were not only pro-Israel but recognized the danger to the region posed by Iran.
On President Trump’s visit, while many were obsessing over the significance of Trump participating in a sword dance
(just be glad it wasn’t Scotland or you’d still be using eye-bleach and brain-Drain-o)
and infuriated over Toby Keith doing a concert with an all-male audience
Trump was floating his idea for an Arab-Israel “NATO.”
Since then, several interesting things have happened. Perhaps the most significant was that Trump announced that the US Embassy would be moving to Jerusalem and rather than riots, there was a collective yawn by Arab governments. In fact, some started advocating that the Palestinians give up the idea of owning Jerusalem.
A couple of weeks ago, the wearing of the abaya by Saudi women was no longer required (Saudi women were allowed to drive beginning last September)
Little more than a week ago, Saudi Arabia permitted the first ever direct flight, through KSA airspace, to Israel. Allowing El Al overflight or landing rights is not in the offing but this move has huge significance.
But the major sign of a sea change in the geopolitics of the region came yesterday. The heir apparent to the throne of KSA, Mohammed bin Salman was interviewed by The Atlantic
Asked if he believes the Jewish people have a right to a nation state in at least part of their ancestral homeland, Mohammed bin Salman was quoted by U.S. magazine The Atlantic as saying:
“I believe the Palestinians and the Israelis have the right to have their own land. But we have to have a peace agreement to assure the stability for everyone and to have normal relations.”
Saudi Arabia – birthplace of Islam and site of its holiest shrines – does not officially recognize Israel. It has maintained for years that normalizing relations hinges on an Israeli withdrawal from Arab lands captured in the 1967 Middle East war – territory Palestinians seek for a future state.
“We have religious concerns about the fate of the holy mosque in Jerusalem and about the rights of the Palestinian people. This is what we have. We don’t have any objection against any other people,” said Prince Mohammed, who is touring the United States to drum up investments and support for his efforts to contain Iranian influence.
Increased tension between Tehran and Riyadh has fueled speculation that shared interests may push Saudi Arabia and Israel to work together against what they regard as a common Iranian threat.
“There are a lot of interests we share with Israel and if there is peace, there would be a lot of interest between Israel and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries,” Prince Mohammed added.
This is nearly unthinkable. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is not only recognizing Israel’s right to exist in its current territory but it is opening the door to a peace treaty with Israel that would lead to extensive military and economic cooperation.
Trump was not my choice for president, but I’ll give him his due. His administration (and therefore him) has deftly played the Arab fear of Iran into–potentially–a re-ordering of the way the Middle East is organized.